I’m slowly working my way through Elizabeth Fair’s novels, which have been kindly supplied to me by Dean Street Press in their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint. I’ve previously read “Seaview House” and “A Winter Away“; I’d say this is more gentle than either of those, but a really lovely read still. I also share some MORE acquisitions tomorrow, which arrived over the weekend (oops – not oops). Thank you, Dean Street Press for this lovely read!

Elizabeth Fair – “Landscape in Sunlight”

(21 February 2017 ebook)

In this very gentle book on village life a few years after the second world war, we get a feeling of not much change, of a few newcomers to the village bedding in (or maybe not) and of the seasons of tennis when the lawn dries out enough and the Church fete carrying on as before. This would have been reassuring at the time it was published, in 1953, and is reassuring now, especially in uncertain times. A bit of escapism is no bad thing, and well-written escapism into characters you can enjoy and their varied relationships is, in my opinion, a Very Good Thing to have.

We are introduced to the main families in the village in turn – the Custances, made up of the absent-minded vicar, his wife, a woman of uncertain temper and sudden dislikes, and their daughter Cassandra, who they’ve probably kept with them too long and who doesn’t care for make-up and men; the Temples, brother and sister raising their niece and nephews, and various relatives associated with them; the Midges, a too-close mother and son combo; and the Brighams at the Manor House, George desperate to make some money and therefore going into trade, to the horror of his father.

All of the older characters have their ways and eccentricities, Mrs Custance with her ability to mend anything mechanical, Eustace Templer with his fear of scorpions and hatred of artists, and there’s a clutch of other odd characters in the village, all watching each other’s affairs. There’s a tension between the houses, with Cassandra working as a governess at the Templers’ and forced to stay there when her parents are made to go on holiday, and George Brigham at the Manor, formally intimate with the other families, being in some kind of exile following an ill-judged engagement.

Matters coalesce around the most perfectly observed and awkward picnic ever, complete with a self-proclaimed jolly chap falling into the sandwiches, and the Church Fete, highlight of Mrs Custance’s year and driven on by her into a kind of obsession for everyone, and featuring lots of hard work, imagined grievances and Unfortunatenesses. It is a very gentle, Miss Read kind of read (or Angela Thirkell without the snobbishness and odd children), with great character observation and lots going on under the surface; you will root for a happy ending among all the misunderstandings.