Ann Laventie comes from an artistic and elegant family, all of whom are witty and have excellent taste. All, that is, except for Ann, who thinks they are wonderful but likes ordinary things and people. While her family disdains their solid Sussex neighbors and stays away from them, she likes them, especially the large and noisy Gayford family. Still, she feels she must be at fault.
A young film maker, Gilbert Croy, comes to stay and pays Ann a lot of attention. After Ann’s sister Elizabeth moves to London, Ann goes to visit her, convinced that she is in love with Croy and determined to come back engaged. But once in London, she begins to notice things. Her brother Dick’s sculptures, for example, all look alike. She absolutely adores a girl that everyone in her siblings’ group of friends shuns.
Rhododendron Pie is Margery Sharp’s first novel, and it’s quite funny as it explores the bohemian world of her upbringing versus the more mundane. Ann is an appealing heroine, and frankly I liked the Gayfords a lot better than the Laventies, especially in their reaction to Ann’s engagement. Her mother, though, an invalid who is mostly just a presence in the novel, gives a wonderful speech at the end. A fun one from Margery Sharp. I’m glad to have read it for my Classics Club list.
The Stone of Chastity
After reading Joanna Godden, I was excited to learn there was a sequel. “Joanna Godden Married” is a longish short story or a short novella, in this volume combined with several other stories.
To say much about “Joanna Godden Married,” I must include spoilers for the previous novel. Joanna has sold her farm and moved because of the disgrace of being an unwed mother. She is looking for a new farm to buy as a hobby, determined to devote her attention to her baby son, Martin. But Joanna is a woman of so much energy that being a hobbyist won’t last long.
Most of the other stories are about ordinary people living in the marshlands of Sussex. In “Mrs. Ardis,” a woman on a remote farm hides Peter Crouch for the sake of his friendship with her son after he has shot a gamekeeper while poaching. In “The Mockbeggar,” an old Romany couple encounters an upper-class runaway couple while sheltering in an abandoned house. In “Good Wits Jump,” after working hard to save money for her marriage, Nellie learns her old friend is ill and needy.
Other stories are about a woman determined to break with a careless lover, a Romany family who decide to thank an old farmer in their own way, and a woman who goes to tea with an old lover, perhaps whom she should have married.
I liked these stories, although some were sad. However, after reading a few pages, I did not read the last two, described as “Christian fairy tales.”
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
That Lass o’Lowrie’s
In 1938, Phyllis Forrester and her family return to England from a long period of living abroad. Phyllis has been yearning to be near her two sisters, so they settle down on the Sussex coast.
Through her sisters, Phyllis gets involved with two different sets of people, with some overlap. Her socialite and snobbish sister Patricia introduces her to an upperclass group interested in social events. Her activist sister Nina is involved in the new Peace Party that runs educational classes and camps for youngsters. It’s not too difficult to figure out that their revered leader is Oswald Mosley.
It’s difficult to decide whether Phyllis is an unreliable narrator through innocence, obliviousness, or lying. I think most likely both of the first two. Certainly, this novel downplays the most negative aspects of Mosley’s party. Anti-semitism is mentioned but is not emphasized, and Phyllis denies the group is Fascist, which of course is what Mosley thought would be best for England. No mention at all is made of the blackshirts or links to Germany. But perhaps Connolly trapped herself into this point of view by using Phyllis as the narrator. In any case, for me the effect was a sort of whitewashing of this movement.
The novel starts slowly and takes a long time to get to its meat, which is the imprisonment of Phyllis and her husband without any due process. If Phyllis can be believed, her activities were fairly benign and this imprisonment was uncalled for. It also involves a betrayal.
I didn’t have much sympathy for Phyllis or really anyone in her circle. The socialites early on are involved in an incident of throwing a terrified pig off a balcony, which some of them seem to think is funny. Although Phyllis doesn’t seem to think it was funny, she also doesn’t seem horrified by it, either. It’s not clear to me what the author’s intent is toward any of her characters unless she is criticizing the class as a whole, both in their leisure and political activities. If so, the criticism is muted.
Periodically, we hear from Phyllis in 1979 when she is being interviewed by someone. If anything, her views have become more right wing. I found this novel rather unsatisfying. Is it a sympathetic one for someone unfairly imprisoned or does it chillingly depict these upperclass people? The novel is one I read for my Walter Scott project.
The Remains of the Day
Hons and Rebels
The House of Mitford
I decided to read The Bookshop after seeing the movie of the same name. The two are very similar, but the movie doesn’t convey the subtlety of the book, which is a little more remorseless.
Post World War I, the widow Florence Green decides to open a bookshop in her East Sussex village of Hardborough, which does not have one. For the premises, she purchases the Old House, which has been vacant for seven years and is in need of a lot of work. It is also rumored to be haunted.
Her aims seem worthy and harmless, but no sooner does she purchase the Old House than a local worthy, Mrs. Gamart, invites her to a party only to inform her that she, Mrs. Gamart, intended the Old House for an arts center. Florence has no idea who she’s dealing with when she asks Mrs. Gamart why then she didn’t buy the house any time in the past seven years and refuses to let it go.
This novel seems to be light fare, but it has some cynical observations about small-town gentry and betrayal. It is short, fully engaging, sparely and beautifully written, and sad.
John Rother sets off from Chalklands Farm for a holiday, but later his car is discovered not far from home. There is evidence of a struggle, and his bloody cap is found next to the car. But has John been kidnapped, attacked? There is no way to know.
Superintendent Meredith can’t help suspecting that John’s brother, William, had something to do with John’s disappearance. The two brothers co-own the farm and a lime-burning concern on the property, and rumor has it that John was flirting with William’s wife, Janet. But Meredith can’t prove John has been harmed.
Then one of the Rothers’ lime customers reports finding a bone in the lime. The bone is found to be a human tibia. When Meredith’s men go through the lime shipped since the murder, they find more bones. Moreover, Janet was spotted taking a package out to the lime kilns.
From the minimal information they start with, the police begin to collect more, but it doesn’t make sense. A strange man is seen fleeing the area where John’s car was found. Was he an accomplice? A bogus message lured William out on the night of his disappearance. Still, it looks like William murdered his brother, and Meredith is about to arrest him when he is found dead, an apparent suicide.
This mystery is fairly complicated, but I had an inkling of what was going on almost from the beginning and never changed my mind. I turned out to be right. As with the other Bude mysteries, the emphasis is on the puzzle. The characters, except for Meredith, are cyphers.
The Cornish Coast Murder
Death on the Riviera
The Lake District Murder