I came to A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair with no preconceptions. I had read nothing about it so was intrigued when a couple of people said they’d be interested to know what I thought of it. A domestic novel about the Second World War? Just the kind of book I like. Comparisons (in the introduction) with One Fine Day (Mollie Panter-Downes) and Mrs Miniver? Well, sit me down in front of Brief Encounter and I’m in heaven. Sadly, I think this is a really terrible book and can’t understand why Persephone thought it deserved to be reprinted.
Beautiful, widowed Cressida lives at Brede, a lovely country house belonging to Charles, whom she has loved for years. She lets rooms in the house to people with nowhere else to go: soldiers, a romantic Polish resistance fighter. Cressida cooks, cleans, nurtures everyone, neglects her son (my opinion), dreams about Charles and never lets her emotions show. These chapters are interspersed with scenes where Charles (murderer!) drifts in a lifeboat for fourteen days, thinking (allegedly philosophically but in reality like a schoolboy) about the nature of war and his own reasons for fighting.
In Put Out More Flags, Evelyn Waugh says more in one paragraph about wartime life in a large country house than Jocelyn Playfair manages in a whole book. Not all writers can be towering geniuses like Waugh but they can at least try to tell a story in plain English. I think this is the problem; Playfair was trying to Write with a very capital ‘W’ and didn’t pull it off. It doesn’t help that Cressida, held up as an example of the correct wartime spirit, is actually as crashing a snob as the author’s hate-characters and that Charles is completely unbelievable. Hardly surprising that the author gave up writing in favour of other hobbies. The best thing about this book is the endpaper design; I'd love to own that scarf!