Review 2029: Long Summer Day

R. F. Delderfield is known for his ability to capture slices of English life, and he certainly does that in this long volume, the first book of A Horseman Riding By.

Paul Craddock is just recovering from being seriously wounded in the Boer War when he learns that his father has died, leaving him a great deal of money and a half share in a scrap metal business. Paul wants nothing to do with scrap metal but thinks he’d like to buy a farm. However, Franz Zorndorff, his father’s business partner, sends him to the West Country to look at Shallowford, a large estate that’s for sale. Although it is much bigger than he had in mind, he ends up buying it.

At first people tend to treat Paul as a dabbler, but he begins to win over the regard of the people in the dale by making improvements to his tenant’s property and by his commitment to his new life. He makes friends with Claire Derwent, and people expect them to marry, but on his original trip to look over the property, he was struck by Grace Lovell.

This novel covers the first nine years of Paul’s Westcountry life, beginning with the accession to the throne of Edward VII in 1902 and ending with the accession of George V. Of course, by then, the First World War is approaching, but not many of the characters in the novel seem to be aware of it. The novel gets somewhat involved in the politics of the time and in the suffragette movement, but it mostly centers on life in the valley.

There is a strong awareness of the dale with many descriptions of it. The novel itself is slow moving with only a few major events, mostly to do with the private lives of the inhabitants—marriages, births, and deaths among them. One thing I found surprising was that there was so little emphasis on actual farming issues. It’s like the estate just runs itself.

There was much of interest about this novel, but for me some of it was hampered by Delderfield’s writing style. He likes long, involved sentences that verge on being and sometimes are run-ons. He also has the odd habit of leaving out the comma in a compound sentence, which many times forced me to reread. Even with the modern tendency to use fewer commas, I’ve never seen anyone else do that and am surprised his editors didn’t add in a bunch of commas.

Am I ready to read the second book? I don’t think so. The novel has a lot to recommend it, but at 800+ pages, this first book in the series indicates that it will be very lengthy.

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