Castle in the Air by Maysie Greig
Can’t Wait to get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
Miss Buncle’s Book by D E Stevenson
I’d never read anything by Fannie Flagg and had no idea what to expect. As it turned out, I smiled to myself all the way through, not because the book is screamingly funny but because I was so enjoying Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. The central character is Mrs Elner Shinfissle; very old, very tough, very independent minded. She is a constant worry to her daughter Norma and son-in-law Macky and suddenly, the worst seems to have happened. I won’t give away what it is, save to say that this crucial event allows the author to go through the day tracking the friends and neighbours who are affected by it until you feel you know all the folk in Elmwood Springs. Elner is a wonderful character and I had a lot of sympathy for poor Norma and her nerves. In another mood, I would have found the central section of the book just too feelgood but Fannie Flagg carried me along with it. The book is a delight from the first page to page 341. What happens then? The ‘dark secret’ referred to on the book cover is revealed and in my opinion it’s completely unnecessary. It adds nothing to what we already know about Elner and fails to shock as it’s presumably intended to. That aside, I loved the book.
Castle in the Air gets the booby prize here. It’s one of several romantic novels I bought because they had original 1940s dustwrappers. The cover is the best thing about this one, I’m afraid. Maysie Greig was an Australian writer, which is perhaps why her Scotland is so unconvincing. Can you imagine a Glasgow taxi driver pointing out a ship with the words, ‘That be she, miss.’? It’s a story of two couples. A rich American jilts his rich American fiancée for a beautiful English gold digger. This hussy had previously jilted her nice Scottish, scientist boyfriend because he was too poor. The two rejected ones get together, with a lot of castle mooching, and the whole of the rest of the book is devoted to untangling all the misunderstandings, dirty tricks and spanners in the works in the way of true love.
Interesting to compare that dustwrapper with another Collins one of the same era.
Meanwhile, people are no doubt tutting impatiently, wondering how I can have failed to place Miss Buncle’s Book top of my list. The book is mildly amusing in its whimsical way but I much prefer D E Stevenson’s later, Scottish books; Young Mrs Savage, for instance. I was similarly underwhelmed by Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, in which another frumpy spinster suddenly isn’t one any more. I can’t be doing with these transformations which the characters’ previous lives have given no possible hint of. Now is my chance to recommend yet again Miss Mole by E H Young. Miss Mole is not frumpy but she is a poor spinster. She changes her life all right but by making a brave decision, not with the help of a fairy wand.