So, two books to catch up on today, one non-fiction, one fiction. So... different but in actual fact... not so different. Both of these books feature quite heavily British country life in the 1950s, one in the Borders of Scotland, the other, rural Wiltshire in England.
First, Dear Hugo by Molly Clavering.
Sara Monteith has moved to the Scottish Border town of Ravenskirk. She's alone and unmarried because her fiancé, Ivo, was killed in the second world war. He actually came from Ravenskirk but Sara decides not to tell anyone that. She recounts her experiences, meeting new people from the village, walking the beautiful surrounding countryside, to Ivo's brother, Hugo, who lives in South Africa (or maybe it was Rhodesia, not quite sure now) by letter, so this is an epistolary novel. The village is inhabited with the usual motley array of folk, there're the friendly and welcoming such as Elizabeth Drysdale and her large brood and the Curries, mum and daughter. There's Mrs. Bonaly, judgemental to the core and there's cleaner, Mrs. Marchbanks and her daughter Madge who's an unmarried mum... nothing to us these days but a real scandal in the early fifties. Sara takes Madge on as a cleaner and is frowned upon in the village for doing it. It's not long before she has an addition to the household in the shape of Arthur, twelve-ish and at private school but basically homeless because his mother died and his father has remarried and gone to the US with his new family. 'Atty' is related to Sara but I forget the relationship now, his father might be Sara's cousin, something like that. Sara quite likes her own company, working in the garden, going for long walks, but is thwarted in this because there always seems to be something going on or people demanding her attention and things become even more hectic when her correspondent, Hugo, decides to come home for a holiday. Well, this was such a beautiful, gentle, relaxing book, but not without its point to make... so many women widowed or who lost a fiancés in the war. Sons and daughters lost too, or children left homeless after losing parents or, as in Atty's case, still having a father but said father hardly knew him and was not all that interested in his wellbeing. So many war-related stories, some uplifting of course, but many really sad, requiring people to step up to the mark and help out as best they could. It was lovely to see Sara and Atty settle in together and become very close. He was just what Sara needed really. I loved this book. I did wonder, in the manner of these epistolary novels, whether people would be 'quite' so forth-coming as to write 'everything' down and send it to someone they didn't know all that well. But that's a minor quibble. I think I've read three novels by Molly Clavering now and loved them all.
Lastly, The Necessary Aptitude by poet, Pam Ayres.
Pam Ayres is a bit of a national treasure in the UK. She writes and recites her own humorous poetry and has been appearing on TV and publishing books for about forty years. I'm sure there're those who are not fans at all but I am. Her poems have always cracked me up with their keen observations of the human condition. She's recently been on C5 with two doc. series about the Cotswolds and its surrounds. Delightful. This is her autobiography, published in 2012, so I've had it hanging around for a while now. About half the book concentrates on her childhood and teenage years at home in the village of Stanford in Wiltshire. She was the youngest of six, four boys and two girls, and they were not at all well off. Quite the opposite and life was pretty tough but there was a lot of love in the shape of the children's mother. Anyone interested in English social history of the 1950s could do a lot worse than read this book, it's incredibly detailed about life in rural villages at the time. Having been brought up in a coastal town, I have little experience of land-locked villages so found it all fascinating, quite like reading a Miss Read book to be honest. And here's a strange coincidence, one of the lodgings Pam had in her twenties had previously had another writer living there, one Dora Saint... who was of course, Miss Read. The title, The Necessary Aptitude, refers to Pam never having it. Whatever job she turned to, she never seemed to be quite up to it, even when she spent several years in the WRAF, including a year in Singapore, she always felt her ability fell short of what was required. The only thing she felt she was any good at was writing. Luckily she found her niche and the rest is history. This book was so interesting and delightful that I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.
Here's a shortish sample of Pam's work, a tale we can all identify with: Round and Round the Car Park.
So, today is Armistice Day and a small link that binds these two books together is that of men coming back damaged from WW2. Sara's nextdoor neighbour is one such man and his wife is of course impacted by trying to cope with this. And Pam Ayres always thought her father's explosive temper which would cause horrible atmospheres in the house for weeks on end, was a result of things he saw in the war. I think quite a few people of a certain age who had parents serving in the war would have similar kinds of stories to tell, and how tragic is that.
So, my current read is this:
I might just be the last person in the world to read Where the Crawdads Sing, but I've been saving it for my Book Voyage challenge, the November region being North America. I'm enjoying it so far. Wonderful sense of place (North Carolina).
I'm also about to start my 3rd. or 4th. reread of this wonderful classic for the Book Bingo and Classics challenges I'm doing this year.
I did a post HERE which shows a few of the absolutely gorgeous illustrations in this version of The Wind in the Willows. I must confess it's a book I have several versions of and love very much.
I hope you're all keeping well and enjoying some good autumn reading.