I’m so pleased that I have again a couple of Dean Street Press Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books from the publisher to review this summer. They were both published on 1 August, I reviewed Elizabeth Fair’s “The Marble Staircase” the other day, and you can read all about this one on its page on the DSP site here.

Susan Scarlett is Noel Streatfeild in disguise, and Dean Street Press is publishing all of the adult romance novels she wrote under this nom-de-plume. But to consider them “just” romances might be to underestimate them: they’re full of charm and detail, friendships and rivalries, work and families, around the romance, and the introduction makes it clear that in all of them our heroine has work that she does, here described in great detail, and in this one as a start there’s also a lovely family theme, so you could think of them as work or family novels as well as / instead of romances, if that term puts you off. Yes, there’s some wish-fulfilment and fairy-tale, but all rooted in real life with its knocks and falls, and they’re all going to be perfect comfort-reading, I’m sure. This one was published in 1939 and would have taken people’s minds off their worries for a few hours, for sure!

Susan Scarlett – “Clothes-Pegs”

(16 June 2022)

Not that Ethel minded Annabel meeting a man, but she did hope that when she did it was some nice young fellow who lived round about, who could drop in and be one of the family.

None of these thoughts showed in Ethel’s face. Even to Annabel’s self-conscious eye she appeared only to be darning hard and listening to George.

We’re thrown straight into the world of Ethel Brown, always saving for new curtains she knows she’ll never have because the money always somehow has to go towards something else, her husband George, religious and a bit set in his ways but essentially kind and loving, and her children, the beautiful Annabel, who works in the sewing room of a high-class clothes establishment, sulky Lorna who always wants to get above her station and is full of resentment, delicate Alfie who is always somehow poorly, in the time befor the NHS of course, and the youngest, Maudie, who reads very young and might have some sort of developmental delay.

Early on, Annabel thinks back to meeting two other girls on holiday who have plans for proper careers. All she really wants is a job and then to get married; she knows she’s old-fashioned but she’s happy in her ways. She’s realistic but a little starry-eyed and she knows the man of her dreams will appear one day, so doesn’t bother messing around going about with boys. While she’s innocent, she does have backbone, which she shows satisfyingly a couple of times in the novel.

Promoted to mannequin, Annabel does meet the man of her dreams, but also two bitchy colleagues who make her life very difficult, and you see her negotiating this as well as love, trying to get some nice clothes together on a budget and making friends with the fourth model. There’s also trouble at home which must be dealt with, and two very different people dropping round. And the home issues impact on the love affair, when Annabel must choose whether to meet her man to explain a mistake that’s been made or go to the hospital to be with a sick family member.

As well as romance, the book is about class and money. Annabel experiencing a very few new things, quite pathetic really – a new outfit and a go at a cocktail – has huge repercussions on the family:

But when one of the family stepped away, wore different clothes, knew different people, then it affected everybody else. She had not really changed to Dad, it was Dad who was getting self-conscious about himself because she had changed. Nothing of course could change Mum, but even she was smartening up and perhaps a bit more aware of her old curtains. But this Lorna business went deeper than that. A few months ago Lorna would have grumbled at [having to wear] the old velvet [dress to a party], but she would have worn it. In a way this mess of Lorna’s was her fault.

There’s a deliciously mean villain, misunderstandings, family worries and always the world of work and how it might wreck or save you. The world of making do and mending and harbouring dreams is familiar to Streatfield devotees. Much more than simply a romance, an absorbing and of course well-written light novel, and I will be putting print copies of all the others on my immediate wish list.

Thank you to Rupert from Dean Street Press for sending me a review copy of this book in e-book format in exchange for an honest review.