Oh, this really should be a play!
Picture, if you will, the opening scene.
On a beautiful spring day, a young woman – Julia – wearing a white dress and a large straw hat with a sapphire-blue ribbon that exactly matches her eyes, is sitting on a bench in Kensington Gardens. She is waiting for her fiancé to arrive. A handsome young man - Stephen - sits down beside her. He is a stranger but he charms her, explaining that he is there to ward off unwanted attention, and that he will absent himself the moment. And he does just that ….
Julia was waiting to make an important announcement to her fiancé - Morland. She had decided to leave home, to find lodgings, and to find a job to support herself, so that she wouldn’t be dependent on the allowance her father gave her. They weren’t close, they never had been, and though Julia’s young stepmother was bright and friendly Julia knew that a step-daughter had never been part of her plans. And so Julia’s plans made perfect sense; a little independence before matrimony, when Morland secured an essential promotion.
Morland was not impressed, but Julia held her ground. And – as you would expect in a D E Stevenson novel – things fell into place very nicely. Julia secured a lovely attic room in a boarding house run by the wonderful Miss May Martineau, a theatrical lady who usually let her rooms to theatrical folk. Miss Martineau took a shine to Julia, even finding her a job in a hat shop, where the proprietor, Madame Claire, took a shine to Julia – who had a natural aptitude for the job and who could speak French with her – too.
Such wonderful settings and characters!
Life wasn’t perfect – Julia had to deal with jealous co-workers, and with Moreland who was still not at all pleased with her – but she coped. With the help of Stephen, her new best friend ….
That was the end of the first act. The story was poised beautifully.
I would love to see it as a film, but it would also make a lovely film. A musical even – something like ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ ….
It had been delightful to meet such a fine cast of characters, to have the story play out just as I would have wanted, and to have it written with such a sure touch; I loved the mix of humour, romance and intrigue.
The intrigue revolves around a real blue sapphire, but I don’t want to say too much ….
But the start of the second act Julia left all of that behind.
A letter arrived, from her father’s estranged brother in Scotland, asking Julia visit him before he dies. Moreland told her not to go, she knew that her father wouldn’t approve, but she went anyway. She knew that it was the right thing to do.
Julia fell in love with Scotland, and with her uncle. He became the father she had never had, and she became the daughter he had never had. But, though his spirits were high, he was growing weaker. He was dying ….
The second act was nearly as lovely as the first, but I had some reservations.
It took time to adjust to the change in pace; I missed the buzz of London and, though the new characters I met were lovely, I did miss the others that were left behind.
And the contrivances became more noticeable – the speed with which Julia became part of the family and the community, the way she was able to extend her stay without having to worry about her job or her room, and one or two other things I won’t mention because I really am trying not to give away too much of the plot. I expect contrivances in D E Stevenson novels, but these were a little too much, and some of the pieces fell into place rather too quickly.
To her credit though the author didn’t try to tie up all of the loose ends. Indeed she left so many dangling that I wondered if she had planned a sequel or simply lost interest. I know Miss Martineau makes an appearance in ‘The House on the Cliff’ but that’s all I know ….
But I did get the ending I wanted – the ending that I could have predicted a long time before it happened.
Every time I read one of D E Stevenson’s books I think that she was my mother would call a ‘people person.’ That she loved people and she loved writing about them.
That makes her books so very readable.
I am so pleased that I read this one, and that I saw Julia find her own particular place in the world.