The Fortnight In September. The two weeks when the Stevens family left their South London home for their annual holiday, by the sea in Bognor.
It sounds simple, and yes it is, but it is also lovely.
One summer, between the wars, R C Sherriff visited Bognor. As he sat on the seafront, watching streams of visitors pass by, he realised what he wanted to write.
“I began to feel the itch to take one of those families at random and build up an imaginary story of their annual holiday by the sea.
It couldn’t be a play. It wasn’t the sort of story for the theatre, and in any case plays were done with.
It would have to be a novel …”
And so a novel it was. A very successful novel.
And so I was able to watch two weeks in the lives of the Stevens family. Mr and Mrs Stevens and their three children: Mary, who was twenty and at work for a seamstress; Dick, aged seventeen, who had just left school and found a job in a local business; and Ernie, who at ten years old was still young to believe that anything was possible.
Preparations are, of course an important part of any holiday. Lists must be made. Packing must be well organised. Arrangements with the neighbour, for minding the family pets and keeping an eye on the pets, must be finalised. Everything must be ready for departure day.
I was reminded of holiday planning when I was a child, and I still have lists that I made and journals that my mother encouraged me to keep tucked away.
Mr Stevens was in his element, organising things exactly as he had for the past twenty years.
He had the journey organised too. There was luggage to be sent on. Connections to organise. A compartment to secure. And familiar sights – including their own street – to watched out for.
I thought we were never going to reach our destination, but of course we got there in the end. Bognor!
The guest house was a little shabby, but it was as familiar as home. The Stevens had stayed with the Huggetts every year when the came to Bognor, but this year things would be a little different. Mr Huggett had died and Mrs Huggett was having to manage things on her own. So, even though they noticed that things were a little shabbier than usual, the family would not dream of saying a word.
They settled into their holiday routine. Mr Stevens secured a beach hut, and they would bathe, play ball on the sand, watch the world go by. They would visit familiar attractions too. And journey out into the surrounding countryside.
There was time and space to think too. Mr Stevens worried about his position in the world. Dick wondered where he was going in life, what possibilities were open to him.
Mary fell in love. And Mrs Stevens broke with convention to sit down with he landlady, to offer a sympathetic ear when she spoke of her concerns about the future.
Lives were changing, and the world was changing.
And so, while the Stevens assured themselves they would be back again next year, that things would be just as they had always be, a question hung in the air. Would they?
Every detail, every emotion, that makes up a holiday is here, perfectly realised.
The time and the place came to life.
And a family so very well drawn, whose the story catches so much that is important in life: home, family, friendship, love, the passing of the years, disappointment, acceptance … with wonderful subtlety and honesty.
My fortnight with the Stevens ended when they set out on their homeward journey. I wondered for a while what their future held, but they quickly faded.
Back into the anonymous crowd where the author had found them.
Their world was so completely realised that I could only watch, I couldn’t step inside
But I have to say that R C Sherriff did exactly what he set out to do, and he did Bognor and the Stevens family proud.
How lovely this sounds, Jane. I do like novels set between the wars in England. Must hunt down this one.
You must Tui, you will love it!
This is a delightful book – I have an old copy and the cover is a delight, too.
How wonderful. The story opens the door for a cover artist to do wonderful work, doesn’t it?
I read this book some time ago, and reading your review urges me to reread it. I must have enjoyed it the first time round, as it survived the recent Great Bookcase Purge. Thanks for the lovely review
I think this is a book that you could happily revisit – much as you could a favourite holiday destination – som I’m very glad it survived the Great Bookcase Purge!
I read Sheriff’s ‘The Hopkins Manuscript’ some time ago and adored it. I know this book is very different indeed, but have only heard good things about it, with your review added now – and I did go to Bognor on holiday as a child.