This rather charming book by Miss Read was published in 1955. Miss Read is the pseudonym for Dora Saint, a school teacher who had written many books and scripts for BBC.
I was rather amazed when I started reading. How could this book, about people’s lives in rural England in the fifties be interesting? The book goes against the many concepts I learnt about novel-writing. Firstly, there are too many characters, with new ones added in whenever a character is needed. Within the first few chapters, I was thoroughly confused as to who’s who and their relationship.
While the main character is a rector – Charles, the plot does not really revolves around him. Instead, we get snippets of stories from many characters in the English village of Lulling and Thrush Green.
What that is lacking in plots, suspense or climax in the book, the writer makes it up by giving us likeable characters.
There is the Rector Charles and his wife Dimity. Charles had just succeeded from a charismatic and rich predecessor to look after three churches, a huge shoes to fill. He goes around the village and render his assistance to the poor and the sick, performs marriage ceremony and gives marriage counseling.
Dimity’s good friend is a chain-smoking artist, Ella. Then there is the builder Edward Young who is building homes for the aged. In the village school, there are teachers Agnes Fogerty and Dorothy Potter. In another home lives three spinsters, the Lovelock Sisters. Other characters include Aunt and niece pair Connie and Dotty, friends Jenny and Winnie Bailey, and estranged couple Albert and Nella. The characters are simple folks who go about their daily lives – no complex personalities that needed any dwellings on.
We get glimpses of the weather- from cold winter to sunny summer; what was served at tea or supper – as little as corn beef and a hard-boiled egg to typical English fare such as steak and liver.
What caught my attention is that the village seems to be an aging one. Although there is an elementary school, the main characters all seem to have no children and are of retirement age. The loss of youth is reflected sadly in these passages.
‘The sense of shock had remained with him throughout the day. The death of one parent’s generation one could accept, albeit with sadness. When the time of life came, as it had to Charles, that his own contemporaries were common in the obituary columns , it was always with sever shock.‘
Or as Violet notes: ‘her hair was still thick and wavy, but wholly silver in colour. Her neck was scrawny, her mouth had little lines radiating from it, and two tears shone on her peppery cheeks. The hand she lifted to wipe them away was bent and bony, old and claw-like. There she was, an ancient crone becoming more fragile and forgetful every year.’
The neighbors provide support for each other, but that also means news are never kept and gossips are rampant.
Having connections is deemed important. As was noted, ‘I know that he is seriously addicted to drugs, and has spent several months in prison, but he is very well connected’ It seemed to excuse all.
Halfway through the book, the charm of rural English life permeates to the readers, which I had the pleasure of experiencing, for that one year the story spanned.