Oh, this is lovely!
‘Wild Strawberries’ is the story of one aristocratic English family and one glorious summer in between the wars. And it is set in Angela Thirkell’s Barchestershire, a place where every single person, however high or low their situation, is happy and accepting of their situation and the role they are to play.
You need to be able to accept that – and I can understand that some might not be able to – but I can, and if you can too, you will find much to enjoy in this light, bright and sparkling social comedy.
Lady Emily is the matriarch, of the Leslie family of Rushwater House. who happily manages everything for her family, even when it doesn’t need managing. She is sweetly oblivious, and wonderfully good natured, so the servants and the family have learned to listen, nod, and carry on managing things themselves.
Sir Henry and Lady Emily lost their eldest son in the Great War, and they still feel his loss, but they are happy with their home, their lives and their family around them.
The story wanders through the summer with just enough narrative threads running through the picture to make it feel like a story.
Agnes, the Leslies’ only daughter had come home for the summer, with her children, because her husband was abroad. She is had a week and tranquil nature, but she could be rather vague, and I suspected she might turn into her mother when she was a little older. It was lovely though to watch her with her children; she found such joy in being a mother, and her offspring gave the story such natural charm and comedy.
Mary was Agnes’s husband’s niece, and Agnes had invited her to Rushwater House for the summer, while her mother was abroad for the sake of her health. She was lovely, and she clearly enjoyed having a place in a large, extended family, and spending her summer in a big house set in glorious countryside. Agnes hoped that Mary would be a companion for her mother, and she also planned a little match-making so that Mary might become an in-law.
The most likely match seemed to be between Mary and David, the younger of her two surviving brother. David was handsome and charming and Mary was soon smitten, but I was not happy with the proposed match. Because David was so caught up with his own interest in concerns and he was terribly thoughtless. There was no malice in him and nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a little more life and experience: he was so blithely confident and it never occurred to him that others weren’t and could be hurt by his thoughtlessness.
Mary was hurt, when David brought another woman to lunch on her day out in London, when he completely forgot the basket of wild strawberries he had promised to bring home for her ….
David’s elder brother, John, saw the situation. He was a wonderfully sensitive and practical man; a widower whose wife died after just one year of marriage; the very model of a quiet hero. John made sure that Mary got her wild strawberries, he saw that David did not understand their significance to Mary, and yet but he let David assume the credit.
Meanwhile, the Leslies’ beloved grandson and heir was home from school for the holidays. There had been a plan for him to go to France for the summer, to learn the language, but he had wiggled out of it when he discovered that a French family would be staying at the vicarage for the summer. The elder son of the family became his tutor, and the younger son became his partner in crime.
The mix of characters – family, staff, visitors – and incidents keep things moving along nicely; the comedy rises and falls beautifully too, from laugh out loud to gentle smile; there are so many wonderful dialogues; and the quiet sorrow, from the loss of a son and a wife, bring just enough balance to stop the story feeling too frivolous.
It’s a world perfectly realised, and it was lovely to watch it for a little while.
There are high jinks at the estate party at the start of the summer, but it is at the end of the summer, at the birthday dance held on Martin’s seventeenth birthday that future paths are set ….
The ending was right; of course it was.
And the next book in the series is lined up.