Review 1790: Mrs. Tim of the Regiment

I accidentally read Mrs. Tim Gets a Job first, but when I discovered it was third in a series, I decided to read the rest in order. Mrs. Tim of the Regiment is the first.

Hester Christie (Mrs. Tim—I didn’t discover her first name until I read this book) leads an active and happy life where her husband’s Scottish regiment is based in Southern England. However, her life is upended when her husband is temporarily transferred to Westburgh, Scotland. She must find a house, move, and then try to create a new social life. She feels especially close to her neighbor, Mrs. Loudon.

It isn’t long, though, before her husband gets his majority, which means they must move right back to where the regiment is stationed. Tim is sent back almost immediately, while Mrs. Tim prepares for the move. Before she leaves, though, she is invited to see the real Scotland by staying with Mrs. Loudon farther north.

At first, with its diary entry format, this novel was so full of little everyday events that, even though amusing, it began to seem too like the Provincial woman series. However, it eventually develops more of a plot, in particular, Hester’s attempts to help Mrs. Loudon, whose son Guthrie has fallen for an unsuitable young lady.

Although written in 1940, Mrs. Tim of the Regiment is set earlier. The exact year isn’t stated, but the soldiers all have relatively recent memories of World War I. This is a charming novel, although it does have some snobbery toward some wealthy acquaintances. However, Hester is a lively, likable heroine.

Mrs. Tim Gets a Job

Miss Buncle’s Book

Miss Buncle Married

Review 1788: Miss Plum and Miss Penny

At 40, Miss Penny leads a full life in the village. She has her village activities and her two close friends, Hubert, the vicar, a timid widower with a son, and Stanley, a self-pleasing fussy man. Miss Penny always receives a birthday letter from George, the suitor her parents disapproved of, but this year it doesn’t arrive. Miss Penny is hurt and begins to wonder what her life would be if she had left with George.

On her way to the movies, Miss Penny stops a woman from drowning herself in the duck pond. When she finds out the woman has no money and nowhere to go, she takes her home and is soon nursing her through an illness. Miss Plum turns out to be a whiny neurotic who bursts into tears and complains about her hard life. She also shows a tendency to hero-worship Miss Penny.

This darkish comedy shows an insight into human character, for you needn’t make the mistake of thinking Miss Penny’s efforts are rewarded with gratitude. In fact, she is soon consumed by only one thought—how to get Miss Plum out of her house.

This fun novel is filled with eccentric characters. I enjoyed it a lot and was happy to read it for my Classics Club list.

O, The Brave Music

The Stone of Chastity

All Done By Kindness

Review 1787: The Girl from the Channel Islands

I selected this book mostly because of its setting. That it is based on a true story sounded intriguing, too.

About a hundred pages in, I began to think about not only why I wasn’t buying this novel but also why it it made me uncomfortable. Perhaps this is a politically incorrect statement these days, but for me to accept the idea of a Jewish girl having a romance with a German officer during World War II, I had to feel the love. But I wasn’t feeling it or reading about it. I was reading about sex, and I didn’t think a Jewish girl who knew what was going on in those times would risk everything for sex.

This is down to the author, I’m afraid, whose writing is merely workmanlike. I didn’t believe this story, true or not, so I stopped reading it.

Salt to the Sea

To Bed with Grand Music

Lilac Girls

Review 1786: The Unforeseen

Although I haven’t yet read Dorothy Macardle’s The Uninvited, the movie based on it remains one of my favorites for Halloween. I didn’t realize that The Unforeseen is not a sequel to it but a follow-up and that a few of the characters make a reappearance. So, I’m reading and reviewing out of order.

Virgilia Wilde cannot afford to live in the city while she is sending her daughter Nan to art school in London, so she buys a cottage in the wilds of Wicklow. There she enjoys herself rambling the countryside and working on a children’s book about birds. However, she begins having strange experiences. First, she thinks she is seeing ghosts—a shadow in the doorway when no one is there, a telegram being delivered when one isn’t. She fears she is losing her mind so consults Dr. Franks, a psychiatrist. But he thinks there is nothing wrong with her. He consults his son Perry, who is a doctor with an interest in parapsychology, and eventually they realize that Virgilia is having visions of the future.

In the meantime, Nan has a frightening encounter with a sculptor and decides to come home for the summer while she works on illustrations for a book. Virgilia doesn’t want Nan to know about her visions, but soon she has some frightening ones.

This is a good little thriller with a supernatural angle to it. It has convincing characters and beautiful descriptions of the Irish countryside, reflecting the relative peace of Ireland during World War II.

Dark Enchantment

The Uninhabited House

The Victorian Chaise-Longue

Review 1785: The Half-Crown House

The Half-Crown House is Fountain Court, a once-stately home that has fallen into disrepair after years of money and estate mismanagement and crippling death taxes. Its heir is Victor Hornbeam, a little boy who is coming to live there for the first time, his widowed mother preparing to marry. The property has been supported for years by Victor’s young aunt, Henrietta, who opens the house for viewing, and her cousin Charles, wounded during the war, who runs a market garden. They are struggling to support the estate so that they can hand over something to Victor when he comes of age. The only other family member living in the house is their grandmother, now bedridden, whose ferocious spending and mismanagement has bankrupted the family.

As the novel opens, Victor is arriving on one of the visitor’s days. Henrietta has a wealthy American suitor who wants to buy one of the valuable paintings, and she is hoping to sell it. However, that morning her grandmother tells her that it, along with many of the other paintings and jewels in the house, is a worthless copy that she had made when she needed to sell the original to pay her debts.

The household is wondering if Henrietta will marry the American, but it was apparent to me early on that her heart lay elsewhere. That only increases the little bit of suspense around this decision.

This novel is a meandering one. At times, it is much more concerned with the past elegance of the house and the events of the long-dead Hornbeams than with the living, for it goes off into little vignettes either through the memories of its inhabitants or during the descriptions of its current state. Thus, it particularizes the postwar state of the country, when many large homes were being dismantled or sold.

It’s an odd little book that reminded me a bit of Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary and a couple of Rumer Godden novels that center around a house over the generations.

Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary

China Court

A Harp in Lowndes Square

Review 1783: Himself

Mahony has been raised to believe that his mother abandoned him on the steps of an orphanage. However, when Sister Veronica, who hated him, dies, he finds out that he was left with a note telling him his true name, his mother’s name, and “she was the curse of the town, so they took her from you.” So, he travels to Mulderrig, County Mayo, to find out what happened to Orla Sweeney.

Mahony is an attractive young man, and at first he is warmly received despite his mid-70’s hippie rig. Soon, though, the word is out, and most of the townspeople want him gone. Orla was wild, a thief and a prostitute, and she just up and left. But he finds a few supporters who believe she was murdered: Mrs. Cauley, an impressive old actress; Bridget Doosey, the slatternly housekeeper for the nasty local priest; and Shawna Blake, who takes care of Mrs. Cauley.

And, although they can’t really help him, Mahony can see the dead. When he was a child he saw them, but they faded until he set foot in the town. There’s only one dead person he can’t see—Orla.

This is a peculiar, dark story. I loved it. I first read Kidd about six months ago, and she hasn’t disappointed.

The Hoarder (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort)

Things in Jars

The Haunting of L.

Review 1778: #ThirkellBar! The Brandons

Although I know the season is busy, I hope some others of you joined me in reading The Brandons for Reading Thirkell’s Barsetshire Series in Order.

Mrs. Brandon attributes her good temper and blooming if languid looks to having been many years a widow. She also likes to imply that she was unhappily married even though she had just started to be bored by her husband when he died. Whatever the reason, she is charming and captivating enough to make men fall devotedly in love with her, including the vicar, Mr. Miller, and his pupil, Mr. Grant, who is the same age as her son Francis.

Mrs. Brandon’s elderly aunt by marriage, Miss Brandon, has been holding the bequest of her money and hideous house over Francis’s head for years, hinting when she is displeased—which is almost always—that she will leave it to someone else. Francis doesn’t want it, but when she summons them all to her house, Mrs. Brandon feels that they must go. There she finds that Miss Brandon has been ill and is actively mistreating her companion, Miss Morris.

At her house they also find Mr. Grant, who it turns out is a cousin in the same situation as Francis, alternately promised and denied a legacy that he doesn’t want. Part of the novel deals with what happens when Miss Brandon dies.

Thirkell is brilliant at describing the silliness of infatuations, and here she does not spare Mrs. Brandon’s admirers. A delight of this book is its conversations, especially those involving such eccentric characters as Mrs. Grant, Mr. Grant’s mother, who patronizes others about her life in Italy and constantly embarrasses her son with her lack of manners and clanking jewelry. Some favorites reappear in this novel, including Mrs. Morland and Tony, Lydia Keith, and Noel Morton.

Thirkell continues to entertain us with her witty and charming novels.

Pomfret Towers

Summer Half

August Folly

Review 1766: China Court

Old Mrs. Quin dies, leaving her beloved house, China Court, dilapidated from lack of money and her even more beloved garden tended only in a few places. Her descendants gather, assuming the house and contents will have to be sold to pay for the taxes and the leftover money divided. Among them is Tracy, her only grandchild, who loved the house as a child but was taken away by her mother to lead a wandering existence. Mrs. Quin’s children are indignant about the presence of Peter St. Omer, who abandoned an aimless life four years ago to work the estate farm at Mrs. Quin’s encouragement.

When the will is read, there is a surprise for all, as Mrs. Quin has left the house to Tracy and the farm to Peter with an unusual proviso. But can they find the money to save the properties?

China Court was the novel I chose to read for Rumer Godden Week, hosted by Brona at This Reading Life. With a great deal of fluidity, it tells the story of the lives of several generations of Quins in their home of China Court. It moves back and forth among generations, the shifts triggered by an object or a smell, as it tells what happened to the family—the smart girl denied an education because of her sex, the wife madly in love whose husband was unfaithful at the first opportunity, the girl in love with one brother who married another.

Godden does this skillfully, inserting the seeds of the stories into the first chapter so that readers want to find out about them. She structures the novel by dividing it up like a book of hours, beginning each chapter with a description of the page of that hour from a specific book. I was perplexed about the reason for this device, but all is eventually made clear.

Godden uses a similar technique in A Fugue in Time (written in 1945) but less successfully there, I think. In this novel I became very involved in the stories of some of the characters and the fate of the house. Godden has perfected this approach to fiction by the time she published this book in 1961.

A Fugue in Time

The Lady and the Unicorn

A Harp in Lowndes Square

Review 1765: Brooklyn

It wasn’t until I finished reading Colm Tóibín’s latest novel on Sunday that I noticed no review for Brooklyn, which I was sure I had read. I looked back at my old records, and sure enough, I read it in March 2016, but mistakenly removed the flag from my notes that indicates I haven’t reviewed it yet. So, here goes.

Brooklyn is a quiet story set in post-World War II Ireland and New York. It is about the tension between yearning for home and desiring to make your own way in the world.

Eilis Lacey has finished a bookkeeping course and is eager for work, but the only job she can find in her small Irish home town is clerking at Miss Kelly’s store on Sunday mornings. Her brothers have emigrated to England for work, and the family is supported by her older sister Rose, who works as a bookkeeper. Rose wants more for Eilis, so she arranges for Father Flood, a visiting priest, to find Eilis a job in Brooklyn.

The best he can do for her is a clerk’s job in a department store, Bartocci’s. Eilis enjoys her job, but she is frightfully homesick and does not much enjoy living in Mrs. Kehoe’s boardinghouse. Reasoning that being busy will make her less homesick, Father Flood signs her up for courses at Brooklyn College.

Soon, she is making a new life for herself, doing well in her courses, and even finding a boyfriend, a cheerful Italian plumber named Tony. She is finally settling into her new life when something unexpected occurs that takes her back to Ireland and a choice between her two lives.

Written in Tóibín’s graceful prose, Brooklyn is a quiet but powerful character study and exploration of the immigrant experience in post-World War II America.

Nora Webster

The Empty Family

Galway Bay

Review 1764: Literary Wives! The Summer Wives

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.

Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Eva of Paperback Princess
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

In the summer of 1951, young Miranda Schuyler arrives on Winthrop Island for her mother’s wedding to Hugh Fisher. There, she is immediately drawn to the young fisherman, Joseph Vargas, one of the lower class full-time population of the island that is in summer also occupied by the wealthy elite. She doesn’t care about his social position, but her new stepsister, Isobel, claims him for her own despite being engaged to someone else.

In the summer of 1930, a very young and naïve Bianca Medeiro falls madly in love with Hugh Fisher. She does not understand how he views their relative social positions and believes that having sex with him means they are spiritually married, despite his engagement to another girl.

In the summer of 1969, Miranda, now a movie star, returns to the island, where she has been a pariah since the events of 1951. Slowly, we learn what happened back then and what led to Joseph’s imprisonment for the murder of Hugh Fisher.

My Review

Literary Wives logo

First, I have to say that this is absolutely not my kind of book, so I only read it because it was a selection for Literary Wives. I have read one other book by Beatriz Williams, but I’m guessing it was improved by being a collaboration with two other writers, Lauren Willig and Karen White. The Summer Wives is definitely chick lit, which I do not read, so I will attempt to comment on the other aspects of it.

The plot develops so slowly that I considered quitting about page 50, when nothing much had happened except girls swooning over boys. I was about at page 5 when I thought I knew every secret that was going to be revealed, and I was just about right, barring that by then only a few of the characters had appeared. I also expected more of a sense of what the island looked like and who the characters were, but they were very much one- or maybe two-dimensional.

The dialogue was uninteresting, and the writing was either fairly mundane or overstated. For example, Bianca is stunned at being given gin to drink, not surprised, not startled, but stunned.

The novel picked up a little at the end, but had a frankly unbelievable ending. And what is this fascination chick lit books seem to have with wealth? The novels all seem to be about rich people or poor girls brought into worlds of wealth. So, of course, Miranda’s mother marries a wealthy man and despite Miranda having been ostracized from the family at a young age, she doesn’t become just an actress but a movie star.

What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

Well, really not much. Despite its title, the novel isn’t really about wives so much as a series of illicit relationships and love affairs. In fact, the word “wives” is used ironically, I think. Bianca considers herself married to Hugh despite his engagement to another woman and is shocked when he actually marries her. The marriages that are depicted are all in some sort of dysfunction. Hugh Fisher and Bianca Medeiro marry others but cheat their spouses throughout their marriages. Miranda has just left her abusive husband who, of course, is a movie director. Another middle-aged wife has been seducing the young men on the island. These are not sincere depictions of marriage but stereotypes, and I find nothing much to say about them.

The Forgotten Room

War of the Wives

An American Marriage