Elizabeth Fair seaview house furrowed middlebrow dean street pressI was very lucky to be sent e-book copies of Dean Street Press‘s SIX Elizabeth Fair offerings via their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint in February, at the same time as receiving the lovely copy of E. Nesbit’s “The Lark” (click link for pic and review). I couldn’t wait to dive in as they looked just my thing, gentle comedies of manners set in small communities, described somewhere as having a dash of lemon to add tartness to the experience. Based on this one, I can’t wait to read the others! Look at them all, lined up on my Kindle and ready to read (they have pretty covers, too, and you can see those here).

I’m not sure why I started with this one, although I thought it was the one Ali was reading (it, of course, wasn’t) but the seaside town setting did appeal to me, and rightly so …

Elizabeth Fair – “Seaview House”

(e-book, 21 February 2017)

Lucy lives with her widowed mother, Rose,and her aunt, Edith (beautiful and wispy and practical and resilient, respectively) in a seaside hotel they run, Edith and Rose having come firmly down in the world from being Canon Newby’s feted daughters. They now live in cramped quarters, crammed in with all the “good” furniture and pictures, including one of their late father that sneers down at visitors, for fear of their heirlooms being destroyed by their guests. Lucy’s oldest and best friends are Nevil, an ineffectual school master with ideas of socialism, who it’s always somehow been her unspoken fate to marry, and the deliciously awful Philippa, who is obviously “fast” and wears tight jeans and has pretensions to an acting career.

Into this staid and settled life comes Edward, the recently rediscovered godson of the delightfully peevish and waspish Mr Heritage – the best portrait in the book by far, and you just ITCH to see him get his comeuppance – apparently Fair has a good line in these bachelor gossips which is something to look forward to). Edward is here to oversee the building of some holiday let cottages which are just the start of the regeneration of this sleepy and backward seaside hamlet and which have predictably divided the community (again, apparently Fair likes an architect and enjoys describing houses, so more to love there, too).

So, we have a disruptor of community and relationships who has a reason to keep returning, a house (his godfather’s) to stay in and a more attractive household (Seaview House) to visit and even play waiter in, something Nevil’s too lofty to do, how will this skew things in the village and the hotel?

On the basis of this read, Elizabeth Fair occupies the intersection between Dorothy Whipple (though her books are shorter) and Barbara Pym: although the book is not laugh-out-loud funny, there are some great set-pieces and there is close observation of family relationships, a slightly hopeless and old-fashioned central character, terrible servants, widows, clergymen and gossipy neighbours. Marvellous stuff!

Thank you to Dean Street Press for this book, sent in return for an honest review. I’ve got some book confessions but they will have to wait for another post …