July 23rd, 2011


Tried and Tested

I’ve been a bored reader recently. Too many trips to the library just to come away with nothing. Books started and cast aside. Bloggers writing about new books I couldn’t possibly want to read or old ones I know I dislike. The Booker longlist coming out soon; yawn, yawn. So I turned with a sigh of relief to Angela Thirkell and picked Before Lunch because it’s a while since I read it. My copy of the book isn’t very pretty so I’ve used a pic of part of my Thirkell shelf.The reflection is because the books have plastic covers on.

I just loved every reading moment of this book and looked forward to getting back to it. Set of course in Barsetshire (I still think Thirkell had a cheek appropriating the Trollope landscape) it features the Middletons of Laverings, Skeynes. Mr Middleton, an architect and amateur farmer, is one of the garrulous windbags Thirkell wrote about so well. These characters gave her plenty of scope for dialogue, which was what she excelled at. Mrs Middleton is a nice woman who puts up with her husband’s selfishness but often has ‘tired eyes’, as so many nice women in Barsetshire seem to. One summer (the book was published in 1939), Mr Middleton’s sister comes to stay next door with her two stepchildren, who are not much younger than she is. Daphne is a pretty and frightfully jolly girl who likes nothing better than sitting up all night for a calving; Denis is a musician who has been an invalid for most of his life.

Throw into this circle Mr Middleton’s architect partner Alister Cameron, young Mr Bond, known as CW, plus assorted lords (Bond, Stoke, Pomfret) and other neighbours we’ve met before (Palmers, Tebbens). Stir them up with love affairs, rural events like The Agricultural (show) and sundry yokels and amusing servants (sorry, you have to take the snobbery for granted). The result is a light, sparkling, funny story which is extremely well written, especially when compared with some of Thirkell’s later books. I tend to like the earlier novels like Wild Strawberries, High Rising and Summer Half. Now I’m wondering which to pick next. This could be another major re-read.