This is one of the British Library’s new, beautiful Women Writers reissues, which I was fortunate enough to be sent by the publisher – I have been a little lax in getting to it and reviewing it, for which I apologise. It was an excellent, quirky read, with the usual excellent additional material you can expect from this reprint series. I have “O, the Brave Music” to read and will get to that as soon as I can.

Mary Essex – “Tea is so Intoxicating”

(29 August 2020)

It’s always interesting to have a book with an entirely unsympathetic main character – or a person who you assume is the main character, in this case Commander David Tompkins, who has never developed an attractive character or the knack of getting on with people. However, this and his one adventure into matters of the heart notwithstanding, first he runs off with someone’s wife, then he determines to start a tea house, with no experience or bonhomie, against the express wishes of said wife and the friends from whom he tries to get money, which is bound to fail. Oh, dear! However, it turns out that Germayne, the stolen wife, is really the central character, and while she’s pretty ineffectual, you do have to worry for her and like her, with her inappropriate woolly stockings and drooping hems. Because it’s set in a village (and I do so love a book set in a village) there is also a bluff pub landlord, a farmer and a termagant lady of the manor, as well as a retired colonial officer, and we also have introduced what can only be described as someone who purports to be a dolly-bird while actually being a calculating woman of steel, and Germayne’s daughter, a terrible bobby-soxer waiting to be released into society. And is Germayne’s first husband going to stand by and see her ruined?

The author was hugely prolific under a number of pen-names and she handles her content skillfully and confidently, with a slightly flat and artless narrative voice that I really liked. She has the skill to drop in a character or event then come back to it chapters later.

The book comes with a 1950s timeline, a biography of the author and a preface, as well as an afterword by series consultant Simon Thomas which takes in the author and the history of tea shops, making this a great package. It’s another pretty book, too, with French flaps and a pattern and silhouette. These really do make lovely gifts.

Thank you very much to British Library Publishing for sending me a print copy of this book in return for an honest review.