Katherine Wentworth by D E Stevenson

When you need a book to be a security blanket, as I did this week, you could do well to turn to the work of D E Stevenson.

This isn’t her best book; it isn’t a book that would stand up to very much scrutiny; but it is mid 20th century romantic fiction done rather well.

Katherine Wentworth was a young widow, living in Edinburgh in the most genteel kind of poverty, and bringing up a teenage stepson and two young twins. She missed her husband terribly, but she knew that he would have wanted her to carry on and to make a happy home for their family, and she knew that was the very best thing for her to do with her life.

She did well, and I found that I liked Katherine and her family – her sensible step-son, and her adorable twins – very much.

Over the course of one spring and summer a great deal happened.

2730f1542f902e75970454e6a67444341587343Katherine met Zilla, an old school-friend. She was surprised at how delighted Zilla was to see her, as they hadn’t been close at all; and as she saw more of her she was disappointed that Zilla didn’t appreciate that lifestyle and choices that her wealth gave her, or the lovely home that she shared with her brother. That brother became a good, supportive friend to Katherine, and he clearly enjoyed visiting a family home, forming a lovely relationship with her children along the way.

When Simon, Katherine’s step-son, came home from school for the holidays received an invitation from his father’s family. Katherine was concerned, because though her husband had said little about his family she knew that he had not come from a happy home and that he had never had any thought of building bridges. She and Simom talked about that, and they decided that they would go as a family, leaving the twins with her aunt.

After what happened there, Katherine was glad that seized the chance of a family holiday, in a cottage in the Highlands. It was idyllic, her twins, Daisy and Denis, were in their element, and their mother loved seeing the enjoying themselves, as well as enjoying her own escape.

But, of course, real life – the good things and the bad things – caught up with Katherine, allowing things to be tied up nicely and the story to reach the conclusion that I had been expecting from the start.

That ending was a little rushed but it was a very good ending; a proper conclusion but plenty of potential for a sequel.

The story is predictable. I correctly predicted how each character’s storyline would play out as soon as they appeared; and I spotted so any familiar elements that appear in so many of D E Stevenson’s works.

But the emotions were real, and they rang very true. D E Stevenson was very good at emotions, and at families, and at places.

Storylines and character’s fates played out exactly as I wanted them too, but there was just enough depth to the story to make it interesting; and I have to admit that I rather like this idealised era when the war was long ago, the modern age was far ahead, and the world was so much simpler and nicer.

Some of the characterisation is less than subtle; and the parts of the story that deal with bad behaviour and mental health suggest that D E Stevenson had little experience of that side of life and didn’t do much in the way of research.

I’m inclined to think that she sailed blithely past those things because she liked Katherine and her family, and because she wanted to reached the Highland setting that she so clearly loved.

That allowed me to do just the same; and I have to say that this was a definite case of the right book at the right time.

10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

It’s taken me a very long time to get to this second report for my 100 Years of Books project.

That’s partly because I’ve read a couple of big books that were published before 1850 – The Count of Monte Cristo and Vanity Fair – and partly because I ‘ve been going back to authors – Margaret Kennedy, Anthony Trollope, Angela Thirkell – and I want 100 authors for my 100 years so each author only gets one appearance.

And it’s also because I began to have doubts about whether this was the right project. Because I feel differently about the two centuries I’ve brought together. The twentieth century is home and the nineteenth century is somewhere I love to visit, so I thought that maybe I should have two projects, one short term and one long term.

That thinking distracted me for a while, but in the end I decided I would stick to the original plan; to read the books I picked up naturally and to read the books that I didn’t pick up quite as naturally but really appreciated when I did.

I may struggle to fill some of the earlier years but …. I think I have to try.

So, my first report is here, and this is the second:

1866 – Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade

“Charles Reade was once a very popular author; and, though his historical novel ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’ was his most acclaimed work, ‘Griffith Gaunt’ was his personal favourite. You might call it a sensation novel, and it is a sensation novel, but its much more than that. This is a book that grows from a melodrama, into a psychological novel, into a courtroom drama ….”

1878 – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“Listening highlighted the quality of the storytelling, the characters, the prose, and the wonderful, wonderful rhythm of the words. That was something I would never have picked up if I’d read from a book. It didn’t take long at all for me to be smitten ….”

1911 – Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole

“Mr Traill is a new master, in his first teaching post. He knows that it is first step on the ladder. He is young, handsome, athletic, charming, and the boys love him. But he is oblivious to the tension in the air, and he is incredulous when one of his colleagues warns him to get out as soon as he can ….”

1923 – None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick

“I found myself listening  to Mary Clarendon, as she spoke about what happened  when she and her husband moved from London to a Cornish cottage they named ‘None-Go-By’, and it’s lovely because her voice is so real, open and honest; and because she catches people and their relationships so beautifully.”

1925 – The Mother’s Recompense by Edith Wharton

“It was not easy to feel sympathy for a woman who had abandoned her daughter, but I did. Because Kate Clephane was a real, complex, human being, and she was as interesting as any woman I have met in the pages of an Edith Wharton novel. “

1932 – Three Fevers by Leo Walmsley

“I learned recently that Leo Walmsley’s father, Ulric, studied art in Newlyn under Stanhope Forbes. and that pointed me to the best way that I could explain why this book is so readable: Leo Walmsley captured his fishing community in words every bit as well as Stanhope Forbes and his contemporaries captured the fishing community in Newlyn.”

1934 – Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

“‘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 ….”

1939 – Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish

“When I read the extract from her book I fell in love with her voice; it was the voice of a woman talking openly and honestly to a friend, a woman with lots and lots of great stories to tell. I so wanted to read everything that she had written, but there was not a copy of her book to be had. Until I found that I could borrow a copy from Open Library ….”

 1940 – The English Air by D E Stevenson

“The story played out beautifully, moving between Franz and his English family. It grew naturally from the characters I had come to like and to care about; it caught the times, the early days of the war, perfectly; and though it wasn’t entirely predictable it was entirely right. Even better – maybe because ‘The English Air’ was written and published while was still raging – the ending was uncontrived and natural. And that’s not always the case with D E Stevenson’s novel ….”

 1941 – The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goudge

“This is a story of the darkest days of World War II, when only England stood against the Nazi forces advancing across Europe, and when the fear of invasion was very, very real. Elizabeth Goudge lived on the south coast of England then, close to the eye of the storm, it was during the war that she wrote this book, and it was clear as I read that she knew and she that understood ….”

And that’s it! It shouldn’t be such a wait for the next report ….

Sixes

It was Jo’s idea a couple of years ago, and now it’s become an annual event – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books I’ve read and the books I’ve discovered.

Here are my six sixes:

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Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
The English Air by D E Stevenson
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goodge
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

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Six books from the present that took me to the past

The Visitors by Rebecca Maskell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Turning the Stones by Debra Daley
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray

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Six books from the past that pulled me back there

Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
Esther Waters by George Moore
Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade
Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

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Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Wake by Anna Hope
Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin
The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell
Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick

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Six successful second meeting with authors

The Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin
The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell
Her by Harriet Lane

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Six used books added to my shelves

The Heroes of Clone by Margaret Kennedy
The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken
Portrait of a Village by Francis Brett Young
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
The Stag at Bay by Rachel Ferguson
Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Boorman

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Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

The Blue Sapphire by D E Stevenson

Oh, this really should be a play!

Picture, if you will, the opening scene.

On a beautiful spring day, a young woman –  Julia – wearing a white dress and a large straw hat with a sapphire-blue ribbon that exactly matches her eyes, is sitting on a bench in Kensington Gardens. She is waiting for her fiancé to arrive.  A handsome young man – Stephen – sits down beside her. He is a stranger but he charms her, explaining that he is there to ward off unwanted attention, and that he will absent himself the moment. And he does just that ….

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Julia was waiting to make an important announcement to her fiancé  – Morland. She had decided to leave home, to find lodgings, and to find a job to support herself, so that she wouldn’t be dependent on the allowance her father gave her. They weren’t close, they never had been, and though Julia’s young stepmother was bright and friendly Julia knew that a step-daughter had never been part of her plans. And so Julia’s plans made perfect sense; a little independence before matrimony, when Morland secured an essential promotion.

Morland was not impressed, but Julia held her ground. And – as you would expect in a D E Stevenson novel – things fell into place very nicely. Julia secured a lovely attic room in a boarding house run by the wonderful Miss May Martineau, a theatrical lady who usually let her rooms to theatrical folk. Miss Martineau took a shine to Julia, even finding her a job in a hat shop, where the proprietor, Madame Claire, took a shine to Julia – who had a natural aptitude for the job and who could speak French with her – too.

Such wonderful settings and characters!

Life wasn’t perfect – Julia had to deal with jealous co-workers, and with Moreland who was still not at all pleased with her – but she coped. With the help of Stephen, her new best friend ….

That was the end of the first act. The story was poised beautifully.

I would love to see it as a film, but it would also make a lovely film. A musical even – something like ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ ….

It had been delightful to meet such a fine cast of characters, to have the story play out just as I would have wanted, and to have it written with such a sure touch; I loved the mix of humour, romance and intrigue.

The intrigue revolves around a real blue sapphire, but I don’t want to say too much ….

But the start of the second act Julia left all of that behind.

A  letter arrived, from her father’s estranged brother in Scotland, asking Julia visit him before he dies. Moreland told her not to go, she knew that her father wouldn’t approve, but she went anyway. She knew that it was the right thing to do.

Julia fell in love with Scotland, and with her uncle. He became the father she had never had, and she became the daughter he had never had. But, though his spirits were high, he was growing weaker. He was dying ….

The second act was nearly as lovely as the first, but I had some reservations.

It took time to adjust to the change in pace; I missed the buzz of London and, though the new characters I met were lovely, I did miss the others that were left behind.

And the contrivances became more noticeable – the speed with which Julia became part of the family and the community, the way she was able to extend her stay without having to worry about her job or her room, and one or two other things I won’t mention because I really am trying not to give away too much of the plot. I expect contrivances in D E Stevenson novels, but these were a little too much, and some of the pieces fell into place rather too quickly.

To her credit though the author didn’t try to tie up all of the loose ends. Indeed she left so many dangling that I wondered if she had planned a sequel or simply lost interest. I know Miss Martineau makes an appearance in ‘The House on the Cliff’ but that’s all I know ….

But I did get the ending I wanted – the ending that I could have predicted a long time before it happened.

Every time I read one of D E Stevenson’s books I think that she was my mother would call a ‘people person.’ That she loved people and she loved writing about them.

That makes her books so very readable.

 I am so pleased that I read this one, and that I saw  Julia find her own particular place in the world.

The English Air by D E Stevenson

When Claire wrote ‘The English Air by D.E. Stevenson might just be my new favourite DES book’ a year or so ago I sat up and took notice, because I knew that she loved the author and that she had read a great many of her books.

The book was out of print, used copies were horrible expensive, but I was delighted when a search of my library catalogue found a copy. And then I was both sad and cross when I clicked on it to find ‘no copy available’ – experience has taught me that’s library-speak for ‘we’ve lost it.’

Fortunately Open Library came to my rescue and now I have read the book. I’m not quite sure its my favourite of her books – I have a weakness for her more sentimental stories – but I can say that it is a book with wonderful qualities, that it is a book without – or at least with less of – her weaknesses, and that it is a book I would love to add to my shelves if only some kind publisher would bring it back into print.

1404706Not long before the outbreak of World War I a bright young Englishwoman met a quiet young German. He took her home as his bride, they had a son, and they named him Franz. Franz’s mother lost touch with her friends and family in England during the was and she died not long after it ended, leaving Franz to be brought up by his strict German father, not knowing his English family at all.

The story begins in the summer of 1938. Franz has just turned twenty years old, he is a quiet and serious-minded young man, and he has invited himself to stay with his English relations. He wants to improve his English, and to learn more about the country and his culture.

Franz’s relationship with his cousins, and the lessons he learns about the English, are drawn quite beautifully. He was baffled at first by English irony and understatement, and he had no idea what to take seriously and what to take as a joke.  But he was quick to learn, and he came to appreciate the strong bonds and the sense of community that underpinned so many seemingly casual ways.

This part of the story was lovely to read. Of course families and village communities are one of the authors greatest strengths, but what I appreciated here was that she told her story through characters without the faintest hint of a stereotype.

Wynne was the same age as Franz, and she was a genuinely nice, warm, bright girl; a true English rose. She drew Franz into her circle of friends without a moment’s hesitation, and the friendship between them grew into love. It was a relationship that might echo that of Franz’s parents.

Sophie was Wynne’s mother; a widow who was a wonderful mixture of scattiness and practicality. She and Franz’s mother had been close; she was pleased to see that her son had grown up so well, and she appreciated talking with him and sharing memories as much as he appreciated hearing about his mother and being drawn into her family.

And Dane was Franz’s uncle. He had concerns –  he worked in military intelligence and he knew that Franz’s father had risen high in the Nazi party – but he was prepared to watch and wait. Because he liked the young man, who was respectful, who was interested, who was always prepared to listen and think.

Franz never lost his love for his German homeland,but in time he began to question some of the policies that the leader he respected was putting in place.  The Munich agreement came to him as a profound relief, allowing him to continue to love both his countries; but when it was broken he was devastated.

He was relieved that he had taken Dane’s advice to wait before acting on his feelings for Wynne.

He knew that he had to act, and act he did.

The story played out beautifully, moving between Franz and his English family. It grew naturally from the characters I had come to like and to care about; it caught the times, the early days of the war, perfectly; and though it wasn’t entirely predictable it was entirely right. Even better – maybe because ‘The English Air’ was written and published while was still raging – the ending was uncontrived and natural. And that’s not always the case with D E Stevenson’s novel ….

I was a little disappointed that Wynne wasn’t a stronger presence in the story, but having Franz in the foreground was wonderful. He really was such an interesting character, and it was lovely to watch him learn and grow as he faced challenges big and small. That he, his situation, his divided loyalties were set out with such empathy and understanding are what make this story so special.

And the lightness of touch and the perfectly wrought English backdrop make it so very readable …

A Box of Books for 2013

I have a love-hate relationship with year-end lists.

I have loved lists – writing them, reading them, studying and analysing them – since I was a child. And yet I find it difficult to sum up a year of reading in a list or two. I know that it’s for the best of reasons: I have learned that there are so many wonderful books out there, and so I have learned to read the books that call; the books I want to read, rather than the books I ought to read.

So I’m going to do what I did last year. I’m going to assemble a virtual box of books to capture all of the things that I’ve loved in this year’s reading. It might sound like a list, and maybe it is, but to me feels like I’ve pulled some great books from the shelves because those are the books I want to pull from the shelves right now. It’s not quite so definitive.

And here it is – in the order that I read them:

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Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard

“What a wonderful idea: the story of the sixty something years when Queen Victoria reigned, told through the experiences of the men and women who served her. The experiences of high-ranking courtiers, who were close enough to see how the queen and her family lived, who were not overawed by the world they found themselves in, and who, of course, left letters and diaries to speak for them.”

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

“I must confess that, though I loved the recent film adaptation of The Painted Veil, I have been circling my copy of the book for a long, long time. Because for years Maugham lived in my box marked ‘A Great Author But Not For Me.’ Wrong, wrong, wrong!”

The Love-Charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel

“I was smitten with ‘The Love-Charm of Bombs’ from the very first time I read about it. The prospect of seeing London in the Second World War through the eyes of five remarkable writers – Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Hilde Spiel and Henry Yorke (who wrote under the name Henry Green) – was simply irresistible.”

A Pixy in Petticoats by John Trevena

“Some people look at a hedgerow and see just that. A hedgerow. But others see more: a network of different plants, signs of the wildlife that live there, evidence of what the weather had been doing. John Trevena saw those things and he was able to bring that to life on the page, to pull his readers into his village and over the moors.”

The Pinecone by Jenny Uglow

“In 1869, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, staying with friends near Carlisle, reported in a letter to his mother that he had come across ‘some most remarkable architectural works by a former Miss Losh. She must have been really a great genius,’ he wrote, ‘and should be better known.’ She should.”

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Mariana by Monica Dickens

“Now it has to be said that Mary is not the most sympathetic of characters. She is often awkward, thoughtless, selfish even. But she was real, and for all her failing I did like her, I did want her to find her path in life, her place in the world. Sometimes fallible heroines are so much easier to love.”

Death of Lyndon Wilder and the Consequences Thereof by E.A. Dineley

“It’s a lovely period piece, full of lovely characters, pieces of history, references to beloved books, clever plotting, well-chosen details … and it’s utterly, utterly readable.”

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

“Barbara Pym constructed her story so cleverly and told it beautifully. There is wit, intelligence and insight, and such a very light touch and a natural charm. A simple story, but the details made it sing. It was so very believable. It offers a window to look clearly at a world that existed not so long ago, but that has changed now so completely.”

The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter

“In ‘The Sea Change’, Joanna Rossiter spins her story around a mother and daughter, both caught up in life changing events – real, historical events – that are very different and yet have similar consequences. She does it so very well that I can scarcely believe it is her debut. But it is.”

The Young Clementina by D E Stevenson

“I was so sorry to have to say goodbye to Charlotte and her world, after being caught up in her life and her world from start to finish. That points to very clever writing and plotting. Charlotte’s world, the people in it, all of the things she lived through were painted richly and beautifully. Her story lived and breathed.”

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The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait

“That I felt so deeply for these three siblings, that I was so upset, is a measure of what Rebecca Wait has achieved in her debut novel. I never doubted that she really knew, that she really understood, and that her accounts of depression, of bereavement, of grief, were utterly, utterly credible.  And the simplicity and the clarity of her story and her writing allowed that understanding to shine.”

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson (re-read)

“Lady Rose was the only child and the heir, thanks to the good graces of Queen Victoria, of the Earl of Lochule. She was pretty, warm, bright,  and her open heart, her boundless curiosity, her love of life, charmed everyone she met. And she grew into a proud Scot and a true romantic, inspired by the writings of Walter Scott, the history of Mary Queen of Scots, and, most of all, her beloved home and lands.”

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

“Best of all, the story of the golem and the djinni spoke profoundly of humanity, of its strengths and weaknesses, and of what it is that makes us human.”

No More Than Human by Maura Laverty

“She set off for Madrid,  to become a ‘professora’ – a free-lance tutor and  chaperone. It was an independent lifestyle that suited Delia very well, but it wasn’t easy to establish herself when she was so young, and maybe her reputation would follow her. But Delia was determined, and soon she was setting her sights even higher …..

Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy

“There was no wedding: Lucy was jilted, and of course she was devastated. She knew she had to carry on, and she knew she had to get away. She hated watching people being tactful, knowing she was being talked about, seeing reminders everywhere. And so, when she saw on opening for  a drama teacher at an arts institute, she grabbed it with both hands.”

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The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns (re-read)

“Barbara Comyns tells all of this so well, at times painting pictures with every sentence, and balancing the commonplace and the highly improbable so well that I was completely captivated by a story that was somehow dark and colourful at exactly the same time.”

The Misbegotten by Katherine Webb

“I was captivated by ‘The Misbegotten’, a wonderfully readable, utterly compelling story, set early in the eighteenth century. It is story of dark secrets, terrible losses, devastating lies, of the lives that they affect, and of truths that may be brought to light at a very high price.”

Penmarric by Susan Howatch (re-read)

“The story is told in six volumes, by five different narrators: Mark Castellack, his wife, one of his illegitimate sons, and two of his legitimate sons who would, in their turn, be master of Penmarric. Sixty years pass – from the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign to the end of World War II full of every kind of family drama you could imagine. In the wrong hands it would be a mess, but Susan Howatch made it work.”

Nearest Thing to Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes

“It was all so horribly believable. And it was unsettling, seeing how easily a life could be knocked off course, a mind knocked off balance. The story built , slowly and steadily, never losing it’s grip, towards a very clever ending. An ending that I really didn’t see coming, but an ending that made perfect sense.”

Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll

“Frost Hollow Hall is more than a ghost story; it’s a story that lives and breathes, and paint wonderful pictures, and it’s a story about love, family, loss, regret, and learning to let go, told beautifully, with both subtlety and charm.”

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The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman (re-read)

“The story begins with Richard as a small child and follows him through the course of his life, in exile when the House of Lancaster is in the ascendancy, and at court when the House of York rises. He becomes a formidable battlefield commander; he becomes a trusted lieutenant of the brother, Edward IV; he becomes the husband of Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker, who he has loved since child; and eventually, of course, he comes king.”

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton (re-read)

“Now I find myself wanting to do what Alice did at the end of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I want to throw you in the air and say, “You’re just a fictional character!” But I can’t. Because you are so utterly real; not a heroine, not a villainess, but a vivid, three-dimensional human being, with strengths and weaknesses.”

The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox

“I loved the way that the story of Shiva and Pravati, and stories of her family, were woven into Alice’s own story. The contrast between India and England was very, very effective, and there were so many lovely things to notice along the way: bookish references, period details, real history – everything you could want.”

High Rising by Angela Thirkell

“It’s a simple story, but it plays out beautifully, because it is adorned with so many lovely dialogues, so many interesting incidents; and because everything works beautifully with the characters and their situations.”

Maidens’ Trip by Emma Smith

“It is a wonderful adventure for three young women  – Nanette, Emma and Charity – all from conventional, middle-class backgrounds, who have completed basic training and have been dropped into the very different world of the boating fraternity.”

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And that is very nearly the end of my reading year.

All that remains is to tell you about the very last book I read for my Century of Books, and to wind up that project …..

Rochester’s Wife by D E Stevenson

I found this in a bargain bin, I was thrilled to find an out of print book by D E Stevenson, but sadly I was to find that Rochester’s Wife was not D E Stevenson at her best.

The story begins with Doctor Kit Stone has returning to England after four years of travelling the world. As a child he had dreamed of being sailor, but he was the son of a widowed doctor who dreamed of seeing one of his sons take over the family practice. But Kit’s father died before he completed his studies, and so the practice was old instead and the proceeds were divided between his two sons. When he qualified, Kit used his legacy to travel, to see the world.

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Kit was happy to be back in England, but he didn’t feel ready to settle. He let himself be steered though. Kit’s elder brother, Henry, had used his own legacy to advance his career as a stockbroker. One of his partners, Jack Rochester, lived in a small town, not far from London, and he knew that the town doctor was growing old and in need of support. The suggestion was made, first to the doctor and then to Kit, that he join the town practice.

The old doctor and the young doctor were both wary, but they soon formed an understanding, and Kit moved into the Peabody household. He and the gruff Doctor Peabody enjoyed working together, and it was clear that the elderly doctor was pleased to have another man in the house. He grew fond of the doctor’s young grandson, the charmingly precocious and eminently likeable Jem, whose parents were abroad; a lovely elder-younger brother relationship grew between the two of them. He was less successful with Miss Peabody, Ethel, the doctor’s unmarried and unhappy daughter; but he got on very well with Dolly, the doctor’s recently married daughter, who came home when her husband had to go abroad, as she was expecting her first child.

The potential was there for an interesting story. The characters were likeable – D E Stevenson’s books always suggest to me that she likes people, that she has empathy with all of her characters – and it was lovely to watch Kit settling in, appreciating living in the country, being drawn into the country, practicing his profession …

It seemed that every time a place was mentioned Kit had been there on his travels, and that every time a problem surfaced Kit could call on experiences he’s had abroad. He must have had an extraordinary itinerary; he must have been vigilant, perceptive, and so very receptive … It was highly unlikely, but it would have been forgiveable if the heart of the story had been right.

It wasn’t.

When Kit met the Rochesters he was smitten with Mrs Rochester, who was beautiful, charming, and quietly compassionate. She was lovely, and it was understandable that Kit fell in love with her. But of course there was an impediment: she had a husband, she loved him, and she was loyal to him. And there was another problem: Mr Rochester was clearly unstable, and his wife was struggling to keep things together. Kit believed him to be insane, Doctor Peabody confirmed his diagnosis, and they had to work out what to do, given that they had not been called on in a professional capacity, given that they did not want Mrs Rochester – Mardie – to be upset.

The way that this story plays out is too melodramatic, interesting characters are side-lined, and, most of all, its presentation of mental illness is not right – even given that times and ideas have changed. I’m inclined to say that this is a classic case of an author picking a subject that doesn’t suit her, and sticking with it regardless.

There are some lovely scenes along the way. It became clear that Mardie cared for Kit as much as he cared for her. Jem – who had a wonderful talent for imitating the people around him – was always a joy. And there was a wonderful trip to Scotland. The story was readable, and was always going to keep reading to find out what happened.

The ending was odd, a strange mix of things that were right and things the were wrong, contrived so that everything could be resolved. The resolution was right but the way it was reached was wrong.

I could say almost the same thing about the book as a whole. There was the potential for a much more interesting story with the characters, and with their circumstances.

And as it stands the story feels unpolished, and it was maddening because with just a little reworking – in particular with the word ‘breakdown’ replacing the word ‘insane’ – I’m sure it could have been so much better.

Could have been …