There is a great deal of yarn to be knitted ….

…. and so I have three lovely projects to tell you about.

For the last three years I have knitted my mother a cardigan for her birthday at the end of November, and she’s loved picking the pattern and the yarn and watching her present grow, but this year, because I nearly lost her in the spring I had to let go of that tradition.

That told me that it was time for the Man of the House to have the classic Aran sweater he’s been wanting for a while.

He knew that he wanted the classic, cream Aran colour, and I gave him a range of pattens to choose from. I showed him Alice Starmore Books, Rowan magazines, and a few others that I’d bookmarked on Ravelry. He said ‘maybe’ to one or two, but in the end he said that what he really wanted was one like the one my mum knitted for my dad ….

When my father died my mother shrank that sweater in the washing machine so the she could wear it. She was very proud of that jumper, and I still have it, draped over the back of her chair.

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(Mine is above and my mother’s is below.)

Isn’t it strange the way things work out? My mother is delighted that I’m knitting ‘her’ pattern, and though I would have liked something more modern and more intricate, I like the classic elements in this pattern, and I like that the pattern is very intuitive.

One month on, the back is nearly done, and I’m on schedule have a sweater finished for Christmas.

In between times, I’m knitting Heike from Rowan 56 for me. I needed some simple knitting, for odd moments when I didn’t want to get into Aran knitting. This is very simple, but the colour-blocking makes it interesting. I had two colour, in Rowan Scottish Tweed, from a project that never happened, and so I just had to buy the third colour. In Rowan Felted Tweed, which I’ve been wanting to try.

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Progress has been rapid – when I was knitting small things with odd balls of wool earlier in the year I forgot how quickly plain sweater pieces in worsted/ aran weight knitted up.

So it’s goodbye to my little knitting resolution bags for now – but not forever.

I wasn’t looking for a third project, but I found one that was irresistable.

A Kaffe Fasset Mystery Knitalong!!!

I love his work and I’ve wanted to get back into colour-work.

There are three possible projects and four suggested colourways – I’m going for the cushion in the brown colourway. The clues will arrive every ten days, starting 1st October and finishing a week before Christamas, and I need to knit two 7.5″ squares each time.

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(I’ve no idea how the colours will work together, but I trust Kaffe Fassett!)

I think it can be done, with a little more knitting time as the nights draw in. And maybe a few more audiobooks and a few less paper books.

I’m thinking my mother will enjoy watching the squares mount up, and the finished cushion will make a lovely Christmas present for her.

That all adds up to a lot of knitting, but I’m looking forward to it, because I can’t help feeling that the pieces have fallen into place beautifully.

Acquisitions and Imprints

When you buy used books – if you buy used books – do you shop by imprint?

Earlier today, as I rifled through a ‘3 for £1′ table in a local charity shop, I was very aware that I did.

I brought home one or two books simply on the strength of the name and the logo on the spine.

Editions

Working from the bottom up:

The Assassin’s Cloak isn’t for me, it’s for the man of the house, who doesn’t read fiction, who loves volumes of letters and diaries. I once hesitated over a rather overpriced hardback copy in another charity shop, lost it and regretted it, so when I saw this copy I pounced.

I remember seeing titles by The Women’s Press alongside Virago Modern Classics in the Silver Moon Bookshop in the early eighties.  If I’d known then what I know now, if I hadn’t been a poor student, I’d have bought stacks of them. I’d never heard of Early Spring, or of Tove Ditlevsen, but, as the cover told me that the book was the story of the childhood of one of Denmark’s best loved writers, as I had faith in the publisher, I picked the book up.

The Pandora Press has faded into obscurity, and when I saw the name I recognised it but I couldn’t place it. A little research told me that Pandora published the writings of Victorian women on the 1980s; so I’m pleased to add one of its books to my collections, and even more pleased that I have added four short stories by Elizabeth Gaskell:

The Three Eras of Libbie Marsh
Lizzie Leigh
The Well of Pen-Morfa
The Manchester Marriage

There’s what looks like a very good introduction too, but I want to save it for the right moment.

I haven’t read Graham Greene for years and I thought that No Man’s Land – published by The Hesperus Press and containing two shorter works, published in between The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair (which I love)  – might be a good place to start again.

I have a copy of Cindie by Jean Devanny, but it was an Australian Virago Modern Classic and I’ve had a very good run of those, because I’ve had  because it’s not one I see very often, I thought I should bring it home. I’m hoping to draw someone on this year’s Virago Secret Santa who doesn’t have a copy, but, if I draw someone who does, I know enough Virago lovers to be confident of finding this book a good new home.

I love Tauchnitz Editions! I love that a German publisher published a wonderful range of novels in English over the course of a century, and so I always pick up their books when I spot them.

Here are some of their authors:

Daphne Du Maurier
Thomas Hardy
Hugh Walpole
Elizabeth Taylor
Anthony Trollope
Somerset Maugham
Margery Sharp …. my copy of ‘Four Gardens’ is a Tauchnitz Edition ….

I know nothing about Lord Belhaven, I now nothing about The Eagle and The Sun, except that it is set in ancient Rome, and I’m not sure it will be my kind of book, but I had to give it a chance.

I think my £2 was very well spent!

Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud

Early in the twentieth century Thomas Maggs grew up in the Blue Anchor public house on the coast of Suffolk. When his parents took on the lease they had six children in infancy, only two young daughters, Mary and Ann survived, and they hoped that starting a new life would bring them luck, and a son who survived.

Thomas was born with a twisted leg but he was strong; he did survive.

21950245By 1914 Mary had gone into service, Ann was very nearly grown up, and Thomas was thirteen. Life at home was not easy; his father drank heavily; his mother was overworked, and so Thomas escaped whenever he could. After school her worked for the local rope maker in order to earn a few pennies. And he gazed across the country, towards the sea, watching the fisherman, looking at the girls who came to gut and pack the herrings that those fisherman caught, and dreaming of going to sea.

Esther Freud sets the scene beautifully; capturing the country and the community at the very edge of the land; capturing a way of life that had remained the same for generations, and that moved slowly with the seasons; capturing a world that was about to be changed for ever by the Great War.

He prose is simple, clear, and so very, very evocative.

As soon as the scene is set she gives Thomas his voice, because this is his story. She’s very good at child narrators, and that voice rings true.

I was quick to realise that this was a book to read slowly, because each and every short chapter painted a picture that I had to absorb. It was very easy to read, very easy to linger.

When Mr and Mrs Mac came to settle in the area the locals gossiped. Who was this man who spent hours out in the country and gazing out to sea, before setting up his easel to paint landscapes and flowers?

He was Charles Rennie Macintosh.

Thomas was fascinated by the newcomers and they warmed to him, encouraging his own artistic aspirations.

Meanwhile, young men were being billeted in the village on their way to the war, and when news arrived of the slaughter of a local regiment the villagers began to realize how terrible the consequences of that was would be.

There were repercussions for Thomas’s family.

And there were repercussions for his friend, who was an outsider, who looked out to see towards Germany, who had links with Germany and received a letter addressed to ‘Herr Macintosh’ ….

Esther Freud too a real incident from the artist’s life and brought it together with a boy’s coming of age to wonderful effect.

Thomas maybe sees and understands a little too much, but she gets away with it, because her story is so quietly compelling. I was captivated.

The vivid descriptions of the country and the coastline are captivating; the community lives and breathes, and the dialogue, the actions, the reactions, are utterly believable; and the way the war encroached on lives was portrayed beautifully and movingly.

I loved watching Thomas watching the artists; that was so very well observed.

The different strands of the story were balanced beautifully, and my only disappointment was with a little unevenness in the pace and a little predictability in certain places.

So I don’t think this is quite Esther Freud’s masterpiece, but it is definitely a step towards it. Her eighth novel is her best to date, and a very, very good book.

Its images are still swirling in my head ….

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

I loved ‘Thornyhold’ every bit as much as I had expected. And maybe even a little more.

Geillis  was a lonely child, the only daughter of undemonstrative parents, but her godmother, a herbalist and maybe a white witch, understood and showed her the magic in the world that she had always wanted to see:

“Everything, suddenly, seemed outlined in light. The dog-daisies, white and gold, and taller than I was, stirred and swayed above my head as if combed through by a strong breeze. In its wake the air stilled again, thick with scents. The birds stopped singing, the grasshoppers were silent. I sat there, as still as a snail on the stem, in the middle of a full and living world and saw it for the first time, and for the first time knew myself to be a part of it.

She sank down beside me on the grass. She seemed to manage it without disturbing the dog-daisies. she ran a forefinger up the stem of one daisy, and a ladybird came off it on the finger and clung there.

“Look,” she said. “Quickly. count the spots.”

I had loved Gilly from the start, and I was as captivated by her godmother and by the magic in the world as she was.

ThornyholdThat visit was magical, but life was difficult.

Gilly had to leave university early to look after her newly widowed father; and when he died she found herself alone in the world, with no job, little money, and no idea how she should live.

Until she inherited Thornyhold, her godmother’s woodland cottage, and just enough money to live on.

Gilly fell in love with her home, and so did I, as Mary Stewart described everything that she saw, everything that she felt so beautifully.

I would love to curl up and read in the bedroom:

“After what I had seen downstairs, the bathroom was a surprise. It was a big room with two tall windows giving on the back, or south side of the house. In each with a wide window seat, set in the depth of the wall. The fireplace was delicate, with pretty flowered tiles. A bow-fronted chest did duty as a dressing-table, and a deep cupboard beside the fireplace stood open, showing the hanging-room of a big wardrobe. The bed was double, and high. The carpet was a soft green, lining the room, as it were, with the woods outside. By one of the windows was an easy chair. A lovely room.”

I would love to step outside:

“All that remained of the original plan was the broad flagged wall that ran straight from the house, bisecting the lawn, to a belvedere at the river’s edge. This was a paved half-moon, edged with a low balustrade, holding a pair of curved stone benches. Between these a shallow flight of steps led down to the water  where just below the surface could be seen a row of stepping-stones that would, in summer or a low water, be uncovered. On the opposite bank willows trailed their hair in the shallows, and golden flakes of fallen leaves turned idly on the current before floating downstream. Coppices of hazel framed the entrance to an overgrown forest ride stretching up through the trees.”

Gilly’s story works wonderfully as an ‘inheriting a house book’ and could stand happily alongside books like ‘The Scent of Water’ by Elizabeth Goudge, ‘The House on the Cliff’ by D E Stevenson, ‘The Heir’ by Vita SackvilleWest …. and if you can think of others that I might not have read I’d love to know …..

This is one of Mary Stewart’s later works, and there is less action and intrigue than there is in her earlier works of romantic suspense, but the more thoughtful, more contemplative feel of this book works wonderfully.

There is a little mystery.

Gilly finds that she has inherited a book of spells and a black cat named Hodge. Was her godmother really a witch? Why is the housekeeper so interested?  What is happening in the house?

There is a little romance too.

It’s engaging, but it does become a little silly at times, and the plot is not quite as strong as the writing in the latter part of the story.

I loved following Gilly’s progress , I loved seeing the world through her eyes, and the way that the pieces fell into place was wonderful.

I suspect that there were loose ends, and unanswered questions, but I’m not going to worry about them; because I loved that heart and soul of this book.

Four Gardens by Margery Sharp

Caroline  – the heroine of ‘Four Gardens’ – would be of the same generation as my grandmother. My mother’s mother that is; my father’s mother was a good deal younger.

They were born when Queen Victoria was on the throne, near the end of her reign but not so near the end that they didn’t remember her. Their values were formed by that age, and by the Edwardian era that followed, and after that they lived through Great War and the repercussions that reverberated through the twenties, the thirties ….

‘Four Gardens’ was published in the thirties, and I do hope that my grandmother read it. I loved it, and I am quite sure that she would have loved it too.

Caroline grew up in a country town, the daughter of the town grocer, and the daughter of a widowed mother. She grew up in a world where the social order was clear, and it worked well.

‘People on the Common ‘inhabited large detached houses, employed whole-time gardeners, and drove carriage and pair. People in the Town lived in streets, rows, and crescents, had the gardener half a day a week, and transported themselves on foot, in ‘buses, and occasionally on bicycles.’

Caroline and her mother lived quietly and happily in the town, and so Caroline grew up to be quiet, thoughtful and accepting. Sometimes she wondered what life might hold for her, but she didn’t go out and look for it, she just waited quietly for it to happen.

But Caroline did look for gardens. She gazed, rapt, into gardens when she and her mother went out for walks. Most of all she loved the wild, neglected garden of an abandoned manor house. In her seventeenth year she found a way into that garden, and she came to think of it as hers. She met a young man, who thought it was his, and that was her first brush with romance.

Caroline hoped that it would be her happy-ever-after, but it wasn’t. He was from the common and she was from the town.

“You shouldn’t hate anyone, Carrie.”
“Except the wicked,” said Caroline promptly.
“But we don’t know any wicked, dear,” said Mrs. Chase

She mourned for a while, but she accepted that her dream would not come true.

4gardensCaroline makes a sensible marriage, to a man who, though he was not the love of the life, was a good man. She was content with her role, as a dutiful wife, a loving mother, and a thoughtful daughter. It was a nice, quiet, sensible life, and when adversity came down the values she had been raised with and her love for her family her gave her the strength she needed to prevail.

And her second garden, a very small garden where she grew vegetables, is where she finds solace.

Time brings changes, and her husband’s success gives Caroline a new home; a big grand house on the common.  It doesn’t change her, but it does change her life. She learns to manage her household, and she finds that Lady Tregarthan, who she feared would be too grand for the likes of her, was a kindred spirit.

“I see you’ve been cleaning silver,” said Lady Tregarthan loudly. “If I’d known I’d have come earlier and lent a hand.”

“Well!” said Caroline, quite struck. “Do you like it too?”

“Love it,” said Lady Tregarthan. “When I was a small child I used to be allowed, as a Saturday treat, to clean the tops of my mother’s scent bottle. That is how we were brought up.”

They become the best of friends.

Caroline loves the grounds and the gardens of her new home; but she regrets that the presence of a gardener means that it can never be truly hers.

When her children grow, when her husband dies she needs to find strength again; to set them on the right path, and to meet another change of circumstances.

Caroline’s fourth home – and her fourth garden – give her the most happiness. Because she knows that she has played her part – as daughter, wife and mother – and because she found them, she made them, herself.

They where what her first garden had been, in her dreams.

I have to believe that Margery Sharp loved people; that sometimes they saddened her, sometimes they amused her; that maybe, like me, that there were so many people in the world and that they all had their own life stories that might be told.

She clearly loved and Caroline; she blessed her with a lovely inner voice and she gave her story exactly the right tone.

There’s gentle wit, wry humour and acute observation in this story of a life well lived.

I wish I could find more words, but sometimes a book is simply so right that the words won’t come.

Caroline’s story ends in the thirties, but I could so easily believe that she was one of the elegant elderly ladies I remember my mother speaking with after church on Sundays when I was a very small girl. They would have been friends of my grandmother.

Now I’m wondering what their stories might have been ….

Sara Dane by Catherine Gaskin

I read all of Catherine Gaskin’s books years and years ago. I can’t remember which one I read first, but I do remember that I loved it and that I sought out all of her other books. Some I liked more than others, but I grew to love the author and so I was always happy to find a new title and I was sorry when, one day, there were no more titles to find.

All of this came back to me when I was given the chance to read a new edition, published by Corazon Books, I had to say yes, and I am so glad that I did.

‘Sara Dane’ is a very fine historical romance. The kind that makes me think that its author grew up loving the great Victorian novelists and the other wonderful storytellers of the twentieth century who followed in their footsteps; that she loved and was interested in people, and in the world and its history; and that she loved the art of storytelling, and being a storyteller.

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‘Sara Dane’ was Catherine Gaskin’s greatest success, selling in excess of 2 million copies since its first publication in the 1950s, and becoming a television mini-series in the 1980s.

This is a story built on fact: on the story of Mary Reibey, a woman convict who married an officer while travelling to Australia, went on to become a successful businesswoman in her own right. And its clear that Catherine Gaskin researched that story and the history of Australia meticulously, and used what she learned with the greatest of respect as she spun a wonderful fiction around those facts.

The story opens in 1792 on a ship transporting goods, livestock, and a convicts, who are to populate the colony and provide a workforce for the new colonial farmers. A couple who planned to become farmers were on board with their young family, looking for a new life and a stake in a new world. When their servant fell ill and died they told the captain that, before they left England, friends had told them of a former servant who was being transported. Might she be on board? Might she take the place of their servant?

Her name was Sara Dane, and of course she was on board. She was found in the prisoners’ hold, she was set to work, and the family – parents and children – came to love her, and she came to love them.

Sara had been destined for greater things, her widowed father was a tutor, but his fondness of drink, his unexpected death left her alone in the world; her love for one of his students made her vulnerable; and an impulsive action – made with no criminal intent – leads to a criminal conviction and transportation.

Her history made a wonderful story, and she became a wonderful character. I saw echoes of Becky Sharp, echoes of Bathsheba Everdene, but Sara was entirely her own woman, and the more I read that more I understood how she became the person that she was.

A young naval officer who fell in love with Sara during the voyage. He told her of his plans to settle in Australia and farm, and he asked her to be his wife. Sara had misgivings. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, but she knew that as convict she would always carry a stigma, and she knew that might affect him and his future and, in time, his feelings about her. But he had an argument to match every one of hers, and it wasn’t long before he won her over.

Andrew Maclay was the right man in the right place at the right time. He was a shrewd businessman, and an excellent judge of character. He was ambitious, and he saw how much was possible. And Sarah matched him. They were so alike, they understood each other, and together they faced natural disasters, social approbation, convict rebellions, and more besides, as they raised a family and built formidable farming, shipping and trading businesses.

Sara plays her part, as a businesswoman, as a wife, as a mother; but she cannot escape the stigma of having been a convict. She is accepted by society only when her husband is by her side. And she knows she must keep that position, to assure her children’s futures.

Over the years she will cross paths with her childhood sweetheart, with an aristocratic French landowner, and with a principled Irish political prisoner. She is drawn to them all, for different reason, and they to her, and they will all influence a future.

Always her goal is to maintain the empire she and her husband built, and to maintain their position in society, because that will be her legacy to her children – and to the future.

But is that what they want? Is Sara blind to other possibilities?

So much happens over the years. Triumph and disaster. Joy and tragedy. Often I could see what was coming, but it was lovely to see events play out.

This is not a deep or complex story, but it rings true.

The historical details were fascinating, and they were woven into the story wonderfully well. And that story is so very well told.

I’d shelve Catherine Gaskin’s books alongside Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt. Three very different writers, but there is a thread that links them, and if you like one there is every chance you will like the others ….

Mirror of Danger (Come Back, Lucy) by Pamela Sykes

This is one of those books that I would love to talk about, would love more people to read, but I know that I can’t say very much at all without giving too much away.

The book was published in 1974. ‘Come Back, Lucy’ was the British title and ‘Mirror of Danger’ the American. There was a television adaptation in the late 1970s, Pamela Sykes wrote a number of books for young readers that were well liked and are fondly remembered, but I haven’t been able to find out anything else about her.

Thank goodness though for Open Library, where so many novels that were loved but have been forgotten find a home.

And so to the book.

I might express it as a recipe:

Mix equal amounts of:

- Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer
- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
– Tryst by Elswyth Thane

 Dust with Victoriana and then leave it to rest in the 1970s …..

Lucy was an orphan and she had been raised by her Aunt Olive. Raised in the same way that Aunt Olive was raised in many years earlier. She was educated at home, she learned the domestic arts, she read Victorian novels, and in the evenings she played cribbage and made scrapbooks with her aunt.

She was happy, with just the two of them, but of course she was totally lost when her aunt died.

Mirror of DangerShe coped by daydreaming, by taking remembering happy times and building lovely fantasies.

Lucy was lucky. She had relations who had never met her, but they were ready to offer a home, to bring her up alongside their own children in the lovely Victorian house they were renovating.

They were lovely, but everything about their lives was alien to Lucy. It wasn’t that they were odd, they lived as people did in the 1970s, but Lucy wasn’t used to that at all. She didn’t like it at all. She didn’t understand them and they didn’t understand her.

She carried on daydreaming. And she thought that maybe she had dreamed up Alice; who was like her, who understood.

But Lucy hadn’t dreamed up Alice. She had lived –  a hundred years ago …..

Pamela Sykes tells this story so well. The characters were so believable, the details were so right, and I had to keep turning the pages.

I felt for Lucy from the start, as she was bereft, as she tried to fit so many of the things she loved from her home to her new life. And I loved so much about the way Aunt Olive had brought her up; I just wished that she hadn’t kept Lucy quite so close, that she had allowed her to see just a little of the modern world.

I understood her bewilderment in her new world, and her reluctance to let go of the way she had been taught to live.

Her family were good people, they really did their best to understand and to make Lucy part of their family, but at times she drove them to distraction.

But that wasn’t Lucy. That was Alice ….

The intensity of the story grows and grows.

And then, suddenly it is over. There is no final resolution, there are unanswered questions; but there is a sea change, and it is the right ending.

It leave the way open for a sequel; there is a sequel, but Open Library doesn’t have it and used copies are stupidly expensive.

But I think it might be better to just read this book, and then think about it, and the possibilities it opens up ….

No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie

The story, the fourteenth in the series that Deborah Crombie has spun around Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James, opens with a compelling piece of writing:

“Heart thumping, she moved across the cottage’s shadowy garden and through the gate that led out onto the Thames Path. Tendrils of mist were beginning to rise from the water. The river had a particular smell in the evenings, damp and alive and somehow primeval. The gunmetal surface of the water looked placid as a pond, but she knew that for an illusion. The current, swift here as the river made its way towards the roar of the weir below Hambleden Mill, was a treacherous trap for the unwary or the overconfident ….”

Rebecca Meredith worked the Metropolitan Police, and she had risen to the rank of Detective Chief Inspector, but she was ready to take a career break. Because her first love had been rowing; she was going to go back to that, and she was going to do everything she could to reach the Olympics. That was why she went out, alone, to train on the river in Henley on a dark afternoon in late October.

Rebecca didn’t come back. And when the Search & Rescue Team found her body it was clear that there had been foul play.

no Mark Upon herDuncan Kincaid had been on annual leave, after his and Gemma’s wedding, but he was sent in to lead the investigation. Because Scotland Yard wanted one of their own. A safe paid of hands.

Becca’s ex husband is the most obvious suspect. And he word of elite rowing is ferociously competitive. But Duncan learns from Becca’s colleagues that she had, in private, made serious allegations against a very senior police officer; and that she had been ready to make those allegations public.

He found himself being steered in a particular direction, but he resisted.

A well though out and well structured plot unfolds steadily as the police meet the team Becca worked with, the people at her rowing club, the people who might know more about the allegations she had been ready to make public. The characters were well drawn, and the possibilities were intriguing.

Duncan and Gemma used to work together, but as their relationship grew their professional lives separated. But Deborah Crombie has very cleverly continued to draw them both into the same cases. This time around Gemma had come into contact with the man who was the subject of Becca’s allegations. And her own experience left her in no doubt that the allegations were true. She was still on annual leave, but she had a friend and former colleague who might be in a position to help Duncan make his case.

Deborah Crombie follow Duncan’s and Gemma’s lives – not just their work – and a cast of family, friends and colleagues continues to be drawn into the story. That works well, everything fitted together beautifully, and I liked remembering just how people had been drawn in and just how Duncan and Gemma had reached this point in their lives.

I still think you could pick up this book and read happily of you hadn’t read the rest of the series; just enough is explained for everything to make sense. Though I suspect you’d want to go back and find out more from those earlier books after this finish this one.

I had a few small issues with this book. There was a little too much domesticity. There were moments when Duncan’s reactions seemed a little naïve for a man with his experience. But, overall, I liked it very much.

I’d call it a classic mystery, and a fine human story.

It was very readable, I loved reading about the rowing world and life on the river, and I am so impressed at how this series has, and continues to grow.

There was a wonderful point in the story, near the end, when it shifted. What might have been the ending was actually a turning point.

The real ending was nicely dramatic, and though the resolution was mundane it was utterly believable.

I see that book sixteen will be published later in the autumn, so I really must catch up with book fifteen ….

A Wreath for the Enemy by Pamela Frankau

This is lovely: a quite beautifully written book that speaks so profoundly. I find myself wanting to say so much, and at the same time being almost lost for words.

‘A Wreath for the Enemy’ is a coming of age story, the story of a girl and a boy, whose paths cross one summer on the French Riviera.

Penelope lived there, in the hotel that her father and her step-mother. It was the most bohemian of establishments, catering for artists, performers and eccentrics. Penelope’s life had no rules, she was free to do as she pleased, and she hated it. She longed for a conventional family, and she longed to be free of the chaos that surrounded her.

21155902She watched the family staying at the villa set below the hotel – father, mother, son, daughter, baby – and she so wished that she could be one of them. She couldn’t, but she met the children, Don and Eva, and they became friends. Don and Eva were as taken with her world as she was with theirs.

Pamela Frankau captures that relationship, and the emotions of the young people, wonderfully well. Their fascination with a different world, and the tempering of that interest when faced with some of its realities. The resentment of their own reality that turns to defensiveness when it is criticised. All of those complex things.

Naturally both sets of parents are concerned and in the end a death – a quite natural death ends that friendship.

And that is the first of the three acts, told in Penelope’s voice.

Her voice rang true, and I understood exactly how she had become the girl she was: careful, naïve, and not nearly as sophisticated as the books he read and the stream of guests she met made her think she was.

The second act is Don’s. The events of the summer change him, and they make him question things that he had never thought to question before. He judges his parents, he finds them wanting, and his own interests draw him into the circle of an extraordinary man. He is an unconventional man, but he proves to be a wise counsellor.

Again Pamela Frankau captures his emotions, his growing pains quite perfectly.

He was lucky, he was gifted; but another death, another quite natural death shook him.

The third act is told in Penelope’s and in other voices. She and Don had friends in common, and the events that shook his life also touched hers. Penelope would learn lessons, would learn to see the world as an adult, before she and Don meet again.

They had both changed, but they recognised each other, and they both understood the events of the summer that changed their lives so much better.

The third act is not so easy to warm to as the first and second, because it moves between very different characters, but it is so profound. And it speaks so clearly about life, about death, about learning and growing, about penitence and forgiveness ….

Every voice rings trues, every character is beautifully realised, and every word is utterly right and utterly believable. ‘A Wreath for the Enemy’ is not a comfortable story, few of the characters are likeable, but it is – they are – fascinating.

The dialogue is pitch perfect, there’s just enough wit, and the themes and ideas that are threaded through the story work so well.

I really couldn’t have predicted the way the it played out, but it was so thought-provoking and so right.

The only thing that stops me from saying that this book is perfect is the structure. The shifting voices, the overlapping stories, worked wonderfully well, and I liked the more linear story of ‘The Willow Cabin’ a little more.

So ‘A Wreath for the Enemy’ is one small step away from perfection. One very small step. The quality of the writing, the depth of the story, the insight of the author, make this book something very special.

I’m so sorry that none of Pamela Frankau’s work is in print now, but I plan to track down and read as many of her books as I can.

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