Another lovely novel from Elizabeth Fair, kindly supplied to me by Dean Street Press‘s in their excellent Furrowed Middlebrow imprint. I read “Seaview House” last month, too (I finished “A Winter Away” on Friday) and I’d be hard-pressed to say which I enjoyed most. If you like a family-based story with an interesting heroine and quirky, eccentric characters, a bit like Margery Sharp, you will enjoy these books.
Elizabeth Fair – “A Winter Away”
(21 February 2017 ebook)
Another super novel. Maud, who used to be delicate (but firmly is not now), comes to live with her elderly cousin Alice (firmly not an aunt) and her rather terrifying companion, Con, along with their spoiled and unpleasant dog (nothing happens to any of the animals in the book) to work as secretary to Old M, an irascible chap who lives a somewhat miserly existence in the Big House in the village. He’s got a dull son and an exciting and possibly renegade nephew, and there’s a hint of a family falling-out, all of which get Maud’s nerve-endings twitching and looking for excitement, although she’s too sensible and moral to get mixed up in too much excitement.
Add in a retired vicar, his downtrodden daughter and the curate she yearns for and a nouveau riche and rather glamorous family with a whiff of divorce about them who like to throw very carefully arranged parties, and you’ve got a set of lovely eccentric people to have fun with.
Maud is a great heroine, her development as a real secretary after going to secretarial college is hilarious as she grapples with too-fast dictation and an incomprehensible accounting system (this reminded me of some Victoria Clayton heroines, too, or a touch of the Dodie Smiths). She’s able to grow and perceive where she’s misjudged people, and while she genuinely wants to help people along their way, tries hard not to meddle. And she’s got a bit of a temper, which gets her into some trouble.
Alice and Con’s relationship is cleverly drawn and although they’re gently satirised for their modern methods of preserving vitamins and inedible biscuits, it’s gentle and kind. The plot does rely a tiny bit on Alice slowly warming to Maud while rebelling against Con’s strictures, and telling her things she really shouldn’t do, but as the whole plot revolves around secrets and unveilings, it’s not implausible as such plots go and you can forgive this for the delicious tete-a-tetes they indulge in. There’s also plenty of tartness, for example when Con, trying to oust Maud, tells her she’s made mistakes and left taps running before “she” actually “has”.
Very satisfying and another lovely read.
Heaven-Ali has also read and reviewed this book and you can read her review here.