Finally, I’m reading the first book for my own reading challenge this month: Dean Street December. You can find the main post here where I’m recording all our reviews during the month and you can see this post for all the detail. This is one of the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books; I’ve read some Molly Clavering novels before so I knew I’d like her, and I received this one from my best friend Emma for Christmas last year (for those who like to keep count, I’ve now read three of the books in this pile, but should get another four done this month).

Molly Clavering – “Near Neighbours”

(25 December 2021, from Emma)

Her very last waking thought was how astonishingly nice and good people were when you knew them; and then she was fast asleep.

What she did not know and would not have believed was that the people who knew her could not help living up to her belief in their good qualities, or that their virtues were sometimes no more than the reflection of her own shining honesty and kindliness. (p. 71)

In this fairy tale – for a fairy tale it is, if a believable one rooted in reality and with a central character who does have her flaws and failings – we meet Miss Dorothea Balfour, aged 68, whose tyrannical older sister has just died and who is able to start branching out in ways she had never expected, mainly by finally getting to meet the Lenox family next door, who she’s often watched wistfully out of the back window. Soon she’s engaging with them, providing useful advice and watching over the girls in particular as they negotiate marriage, for the oldest, and work and romance for the others. Then she has dramas of her own, including rescuing a baby and re-encountering her sister’s long-lost husband, a bit of a bounder but charming with it.

We see Miss Balfour blossom as well as watching the Lenoxes enjoy themselves and grow up as they do (or grow up, and enjoy themselves as they do). It does remind me of several other books: bouncing Holly reminds me of I think it’s Lydia Keith in Angela Thirkell’s novels, the sisters theme reminded me somehow of Stella Gibbons’ “The Pink Front Door” and the houseful of daughters E. H. Young’s “Chatterton Square“. But it’s its own book, too, and a lovely satisfying, comforting, kind one that I couldn’t put down.

This was Book 1 in my Dean Street December challenge.