On to books 15 and 16 (tomorrow) in my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and also part of my TBR project. This is one of the Dean Street Press Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books I bought in my book token splurge last summer, which is recorded in my my State of the TBR post from 1 August (I have now read all but one of the books from that splurge, with that one up next in my 20 Books!). You can read all about this one on its page on the DSP site here.

Carola Oman – “Nothing to Report”

(07 July 2021)

‘Is it the German Fleet – Zeppelins?’ asked Doris.

Mary looked and saw, rising in the furthest distance, amongst the particularly fine arrangement of billowing cloud and evening blue, a string of large silver tadpole-shaped objects. They were unquestionably air-borne, and moving slowly towards her. For a second, she honestly believed that her last hour had come. A moment later, she heard her own voice saying in rousing accents –

‘Do you know what that is, Doris? It’s the Outer Defences of London – Things going up to protect us.’ (p. 194)

Starting in February 1939, we spend the very beginning of the war years in the company of Mary Morrison (or “Button” to her friends), slightly distressed gentlewoman, living in a cottage made of two 17th century cottages in a village near to her old stately home. She has many friends in the village and an annoying sister-in-law and niece who keep threatening to come to stay. Woven into village life are Lady Merle and her various children and grandchildren, mostly old friends of Mary. Although it starts like a standard “mid-century village” novel with Mary’s old friend coming to live in the area with her husband and somewhat varied offspring, the war is everywhere, too. Being 43 at the start of the book, Mary went through the First World War and is now worried at the prospect of another; an aerodrome is being built and various sons and daughters of the village signing up for service and as usual with books published during the wars (this one in 1940), there’s a poignancy to the writing as of course Oman didn’t know what was actually going to happen.

The countryside/village setting is a delight, and the whole book was reminiscent of, yes, The Provincial Lady, as noted on the blurb, but also Angela Thirkell – so I was delighted to find in the sequel that it is indeed set in Barsetshire (that’s A.T. without the hunting, so much snobbery and funny foreigners; what foreign visitors there are are looked after, and kept apart in the case of the Czech refugee and the German of unknown provenance). There are some incredibly poignant moments, like the one quoted, as the war draws closer, and there’s an epilogue set in Midsummer 1940 which updates on the characters’ progress and almost brings to a close an intriguing relationship Mary has developed with Kit Hungerford, one of those Merle grandchildren, leading the reader to yearn for the sequel, thankfully also republished by DSP and bought by me at the same time!

In a Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment, this and “Small Miracles” (read only a book or so apart) both feature a Miss Taylor who needs an operation.

This was book number 15 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 9/28 – 19 to go (and I’ve read book 10!)