It was a few years ago now, but I can still remember the day I found my copy of The King of a Rainy County. I was in Falmouth, for the first time in years, trawling the bookshops with my fiance. I picked up eight green Virago Modren Classics – including this one – in one shop, a few more in another, and a few other books I can’t quite remember. Out last port of call was the Oxfam bookshop and we dropped our bags by the counter while we looked around. When we went back they were gone.
We worked out that another lady who had been there with several bags must have picked ours up too. The lady in the shop didn’t know her, and we didn’t know when she’d notice. And when she did would she realise where she picked them up? Would she know where to bring them back? And if she did, when? Falmouth is just that far away that it isn’t easy to just pop back.
But luck was with us – when we went outside and looked up and down the street I spotted a lady coming towards us with a bag I recognised!
So the book came home, but I must confess I catalogued it, but it on a shelf and forgot about it.
Until late last year, when I received an email from The Coelacanth Press advocating a book that they clearly loved. I realised that it would fit nicely into my Century of Books. I realised that it would work for Venice in February. And so I took my copy off the shelf and read it!
I have to say that it was a very good book, and that I could see that Brigid Brophy had a wonderful talent for writing. A lovely, distinctive way with descriptive prose; the ability to draw engaging characters with a few simple strokes; and the ability to spin a story full of ideas.
That story unfolded in three acts.
In grey, rainy, post-war London Susan found a job with a slightly shady publisher. And she moved on with Neale, who might have been a boyfriend, or might have been a friend who was a boy. They lived in a way that some would call bohemian but I’d be more inclined to all post-student.
One day at work, quite by chance, Susan saw a striking photograph of Cynthia. She and Susan had been at school together, they were classmates, and they might have been friends or they might have been rather more to one another.
Susan decided that she must find Cynthia, and Neale showed an interest in finding her too. They discovered that she was in Venice, and decided that they must find a way to get there.
I liked them both, I wanted to know them better and understand their relationship, so I was always going to follow.
Susan and Neale showed wonderful initiative, finding jobs as couriers on a coach tour that would end in Venice. And the story shifted into colourful comedy, as the novice couriers were kept busy managing a coachload of brash American tourists. They managed things magnificently, and they enjoyed the journey too,
The shift was dramatic, and I’m not usually a lover of comic writing, but I have to say that I was glad when we arrived in Venice.
In Venice the story shifted again, it became more quiet, more subtle, in a way that suited the setting and the story perfectly. Susan and Neale saw the city and they were very taken with it. They found Cynthia, they met her friend, the famous singer, Helena Buchan, and they met a gentleman who might have been her companion or might not.
There are a lot of mights in this book, and they work very well.
I rather liked Helena, but I couldn’t take to Cynthia I’m afraid.
Another story unfolds in Venice, of course it does, but I shouldn’t say exactly what that was. But it was intriguing, it was surprising, and it was entirely right.
As was the ending, back in London. Though it was one of those endings that wasn’t really an ending, it was the start of a different life.
I’d had a wonderful life watching lives full of possibility, seeing wonderful places, and being given so many ideas – both big and small to turn over in my mind.
And yet it wasn’t demanding at all; I found myself reading easily and naturally, and I was always eager to know what would happen next.
Brigid Brophy has a style entirely own, but I’d venture to suggest that if you like authors like Muriel Spark and Beryl Bainbridge there’s every chance you’ll really like The King of a Rainy Country.
This is my second book for Venice in February.
After reading The Fool of the Family, which opened in Venice and then moved to London it seemed logical to make the reverse journey, and to finish Venice in February back where I started.
Two very different journeys, with two very different books …