Ploughing on through my 20 Books of Summer project now, and getting through towards the end of the war in my Thirkells. Of course this then also comes under All Virago/All August territory so I feel like I’m doing terribly well! I’m part-way through “Peace Breaks Out” alongside my delicious pile of review books for Shiny New Books and am fairly sure I will finish my 20, read and reviewed and tidy, by the end of the month.

I received this book as part of my LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa group gift from Cate in 2018 and have been saving it since then to read it in the right order (my Pile of such books will be disappearing soon!).

How are you getting on if you’re doing 10/15/20 Books of Summer/Winter?

Angela Thirkell – “Miss Bunting”

(25 December 2018 – from Cate)

It did not pay, the Admiral said, to ask people politely if you wanted anything done. The Adamses gave their orders and took it for granted that they would be obeyed; just as he, the Admiral, had done in his flagship. Why had the leadership passed from the Admiral and his like? (p. 179)

This was quite an elegaic book in a way, the war is winding on, people are tired, the cakes are getting worse and everyone’s managing with too few servants. There’s also woven throughout this novel the clash between the old values of The County, the old guard, a sort of benevolent feudalism and definite care for the proprieties, and the new world of industry and commerce, represented by factory owner Sam Adam and his slightl-less-gauche-now daughter, Heather (we met them in the last book). Sam has the old guard on his board of directors but then has got onto the magistrate’s bench and pops up in the Archaeological Society and other local organisations, determined to work his way into The County but not sure of the niceties. I don’t think Thirkell is completely against his kind, though, as she shows Sam and Heather being softened by their encounters with her more favoured characters, and Sam does acts of genuine kindness.

The other main characters are Robin Dale, son of the elderly rector, invalided out of the war and running a boys’ school locally while his old boss at the big school wants him back, Jane Gresham, living with her father and her delightful if slightly Tony Morland-ish son, Frank, unclear as to whether her husband Francis, lost in the Far East, is alive or dead and not knowing how she feels about either, and Anne Fielding, recovering invalid, who is in the village to pick up her education with the renowned Miss Bunting, who has appeared here and there before, Bunny’s last project, and a satisfying one at that, before she lapses into happy retirement.

So there’s a sadness through the book – Robin’s lost a foot and feels lost himself, Jane doesn’t know how she feels but has a weight pressing on her constantly and Miss Bunting looks back at so many pupils in so many theatres of war, and her dream of laying down her life to protect theirs is incredibly poignant. There’s plenty of comedy and set-pieces from the side-characters and of course a Mixo-Lydian refugee for the author to sneer at (although this one holds her own and is accomplished and resilient) but that’s the over-riding feel of the book, with some gentle romance woven in.

There are the usual references back to Trollope and side-references keeping us up to date with characters from other books – I was sad to only have tiny glimpses of the Beltons from the last book, though. And although Mr Middleton and Mr Tebben’s one-upmanship in boringness at the Archaeological is a bit more tedious than it should be, a random mention of the former’s trip to Iceland and his “great walk over the country of Njal and Gunnar of Lithend” (p. 243) [there’s now a petrol station at Hliðarendi and I’ve had a slice of pizza there] was cheering.

This was Book 19 in my 20 Books of Summer project and Book 6 in AV/AA