Three Thirkell novelsI’ve been continuing to work my way through Thirkell’s Second World War novels, which basically tell the story of the war as it’s going on, this one being published originally in 1943 and now republished by Virago, in a funny order but finishing off the series (I have two more to read before I get to “Peace Breaks Out”, the third one published this August, one of which I acquired in 2018 and the other in 2019, as they came out!). I’m finding I’m falling in love with her work all over again, as these books are detailed, careful and very poignant, with little of the snobbery, xenophobia and racism we can find in her novels. Just two book confessions after the review …

Angela Thirkell – “Growing Up”

(20 August 2020)

The young people we’ve been encountering in the novels are growing up and assuming responsibility for people, houses and their own ongoing lives in this installment. Even more poignant than the previous ones, as the war grinds on (it also opens with the death of a cat; however, I’m glad to say that his replacement flourishes), we’re at the Priory near Winter Overcotes with its fascinating two-level railway station, and Sir Harry and Lady Waring take in their niece Leslie after her health breaks down, plus Noel and Lydia Merton, Lydia so much more sensible than when she was Lydia Keith but still a jolly and attractive character who always tries to do her best for people. The Warings lost their son in 1918 so are old hands at grief and loss, but also know that the Priory will pass to Leslie’s brother, and both Lydia and Leslie have much-loved brothers overseas; the station master, Mr Beedle, has a son in a prisoner-of-war camp and everyone is trying to keep their spirits up but showing the strain. The feudal responsibility we saw in the last novel is strong here in Sir Harry:

What a weary business it all was, giving one’s best to a place where one’s widow wouldn’t even have the right to live. Still, one could keep the place going … and there were old men about the place who had known his father, and young men who looked to Sir Harry to get them out of trouble … One must keep going  for them. (p. 33)

As well as the interweaving stories of finding work and finding love, making friendships (that of Lydia and Leslie, both practical women, is particularly nicely done) and the amusing incidents of the convalescent troops from the big house at the kitchen door of the attractive housekeeper we have lovely set pieces, for example Mrs Morland’s attempt at a lecture to the troops (and I loved the passage about how difficult she’s finding it writing novels through the war when all her heroes and heroines have got separated), the young woman porters bringing new life to the railway station, the quick mentions or scenes with characters from previous novels (even Captain Barclay gets a mention, and Mrs Spender and Octavia put in an appearance) and the nods back to Trollope’s own Barsetshire novels.

A good and absorbing read.

Kitted OutOne book in from the publisher, The History Press, to review for Shiny New Books – they sent a PDF but then very kindly sent me a hard copy too, which is useful, because there are some lovely illustrations and I’ll be wanting to flick forwards and back to them as I read. “Kitted out: Style and Youth Culture in the Second World War” by Caroline Young looks at young people around the world taking part in the war, whether on the home front or the land or in active service, and how they perceived, adapted and wore the uniforms, official or unofficial, of their times. It looks fascinating and I will be reading it soon as it’s out already.

Then I spotted Neil Price’s “Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings” on NetGalley and even risked going under my 80% review rate to request it. I can’t resist a book on the Vikings and that’s all there is to say about that. This was published in August so another one I hope to get to soon.

I’m ahead of myself in terms of reading vs. reviews, so by the time this is published I may well be on to the next volume (“The Headmistress”). I’ve read my Paul Magrs for the month and review a very interesting book on the science of rewilding in a couple of days …