This is a re-read as having completed the collection, I’m now reading all Thirkell’s WW2 novels in order. They were written as the war was going on, which always moves me, and I had fortunately remembered this as being a good one. This was part of my Christmas 2018 haul and I read it before I realised I’d missed “Cheerfulness Breaks in” in my reading, as it hadn’t been published yet. I was going to just write a little review alongside my review for the next one, “Marling Hall” but then wrote a page on it anyway so thought I’d share here. I have started “Marling Hall” but read one in between (better read some non-fiction soon to redress the balance!).

Angela Thirkell – “Northbridge Rectory”

(25 December 2018)

In every war, however unpleasant, there are a certain number of people who with a shriek of joy take possession of a world made for them. (p. 3)

We’ve found similar sentiments in other WW2 books, haven’t we, and there are certainly some winners here, making people like our heroine feel inadequate.

We’re at the rectory, where kind Mrs Villars, adapting to her new role after her head teacher husband has taken orders, who needs to rest every afternoon for some unspecified complaint, does her best billetting a band of officers – and one of the officer’s comedy wives. They are all nicely described and very sweet.

There’s an echo of current times, as I keep finding in Home Front novels, with people refusing to clean the tins they are asked to recycle for the Cause because “this was a free country”. Another nicer link is found in the harking back at one stage to the days of Mrs Grantly (from Trollop’s Barchester, rather than Thirkell’s) and with “Cheerfulness Breaks in” when we thankfully hear in a sentence or two what became of Lydia Keith, left on a cliffhanger at the end of that novel.

This time I noticed more pathos and the acuity of both the religious men the book centres on, with Father Fewling, pursued by women parishioners, taking naval pride in his ARP watching point and being perceptive about when people are going to ask him to pray for them and why – this is why we stick with Thirkell, I think, for these moments of her own perception. There are also a few delicious moments of meta fiction, for example when she admits,

Just as she was thinking of beginning to cry the telephone rang, and by one of those coincidences which we can only explain by saying that in no other way could we have got rid of Mr X …  (p. 325)

My previous review of this book is here. Is it exactly the same? Hm.