Review 2046: Dear Hugo

Sara Montieth has purchased a cottage in a small Scottish border village because she wants a quiet life. She has chosen the village because it was the boyhood home of her young man Ivo, who was killed in the war, and his brother Hugo.

Dear Hugo is an epistemological novel, consisting of Sara’s letters to Hugo, whom she has never met and who lives in Nairobi. It is about her daily life, the people she likes and dislikes, the events in the village. Although she wanted a quiet life, hers becomes eventful, especially after her cousin, who is newly remarried, asks her to take his 13-year-old son Arthur during his school holidays. It’s even more so after Hugo sends them a puppy.

The letters are written with gentle humor and describe all the village characters, including Miss Bonaly, a disapproving spinster who urges Sara not to hire Madge Marchbanks, an unwed mother, to help with the housework, and kindly, perceptive Mrs. Keith, who knew Ivo and Hugo as boys.

This is a nice, gentle novel of village life. It didn’t end quite the way I was hoping for, but I enjoyed it very much.

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Review 2013: Touch Not the Nettle

Touch Not the Nettle is not necessarily a sequel to Molly Clavering’s Susan Settles Down, but it features the same locations and some of the same characters. The Armstrongs get a call from Jed’s cousin asking if her daughter, Amanda Carmichael, can come to stay. Amanda’s husband, Cocky, an explorer, has been lost in Brazil, and Amanda is being driven crazy by her selfish mother, who is demanding that she behave like a widow when they don’t know if he is dead. Although Amanda, rather brittle from her struggles in an unhappy marriage, doesn’t really want to go stay with strangers, she soon finds herself happy to be with Jed and Susan and loving the beauty of the borderlands of Southern Scotland.

Like Susan Settles Down, Touch Not the Nettle contains many descriptions of the lovely landscape and many of the same delightful or irritating characters. It is darker, however, and I’m not sure (spoilers!) how happy I am with the love interest for Amanda, Larry with the angry temperament and drinking problem. The couple’s problems are also too magically cleared up.

Perhaps this is a deeper novel than Susan Settles Down, but it is also more facile, and I didn’t like it quite as much.

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Review 2006: Susan Settles Down

Susan Parsons has been leading a wandering life keeping house for her naval officer brother Oliver, but Oliver was badly injured in a fall months before and has left the Navy, still suffering a limp and not his old self. Then Oliver inherits a small estate in Southern Scotland. It’s not in good condition and the Parsons haven’t much money, but Oliver decides to make it their home.

While Susan struggles to get some help in the kitchen and repair the worst problems of the house, Oliver begins supervising the farm work and almost immediately meets Jed Armstrong, the farmer next door. Although they immediately become friends, Susan finds Jed rude and uncouth.

Soon, the two siblings become involved in village activities. Susan befriends Peggy Cunningham, the parson’s young daughter, who has been receiving unwelcome attentions from the organist. The Parsons become fast friends with the Cunninghams, and all try to avoid the Pringle sisters, three mischievous gossips.

This novel is a lovely tale of village life in pre-World War II rural Scotland, featuring two romances. The descriptions of the landscape are beautiful, the characters are attractive, and I enjoyed it very much. However, I continued to find problems with Furrowed Middlebrow blurbs. Twice now the main character’s name has been misspelled, and this time the blurb places the novel in the Highlands.

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