I was very fortunate to be sent this in hard copy by the lovely team at Dean Street Press – it’s one of their new Furrowed Middlebrow titles (Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow has blogged about the upcoming titles here). I also have e-books of a whole load of their Elizabeth Fair titles, which is super-exciting and I’ll be getting to those soon. Left is the lovely book accompanied by some new notebooks that also arrived when I was in Iceland – oops, looks like my book reviewing and stationery buying secrets are out! But aren’t these books pretty, with their frame of a house and subtle colours.

E. Nesbit – “The Lark”

(25 February 2017)

An incredibly charming and joyful read; it’s one of Nesbit’s adult novels but the two heroines are still young and naive and lively and you can imagine quite easily that they’re the children from one of her books for younger readers, just a bit more grown up.

Our heroines, Jane and Lucilla, cousins, are suddenly removed from the school where they’ve been languishing, waiting for their exciting lives to begin, by their mysterious guardian, who has lost their inheritance and left them with just a small house and a smaller amount of capital. But Jane, the more dominant and talkative of the two, is determined to see everything as a “lark”, and they are nothing if not resourceful. So, revelling in the new post-WWI freedoms afforded to young women (sometimes even travelling around London without a chaperone, meeting strange young men, but oh, so innocently), they have small but delightful adventures, setting themselves up as businesswomen, eschewing any attentions they might get from the young men who seem to suddenly surround them, and setting up a floristry business which somehow develops into a guest house with some rather odd guests and several difficulties with servants. I particularly liked all the detail here of exactly how they set things up, something I always appreciate in a novel.

There are disguises, revelations and yes, some love interest, mostly rebuffed, it has to be said, and very innocent. There’s also an excellent portrayal of female friendship – in all its up and downs – here, which is very well done, and reminds me of the well-drawn sibling relationships in her children’s novels. There’s also some charming metafiction: at the point where explanations are needed, the author interpolates to point out that she’s going to insert them, and there’s a discussion later in the book about whether real-life chaps are the “loverish” heroes that they have to be in books to give the books interest.

The book as a whole makes real the life-affirming statement that life’s a lark so long as you have enough to live on. Our heroines’ hard work is rewarded, as is the hard work of other characters, but it’s not preachy and is, indeed, charming. Thank you again, Dean Street Press, both for republishing this gem and for sending me a copy.