debodacious put me on to Victoria Clayton as an author of light fiction I might enjoy so I grabbed Clouds among the Stars with glee when I saw it at the library. At over five hundred pages it’s light only in one sense but I read it quickly and was sorry when it ended.
The Byng family are eccentrics. Pa is a famous actor, Ma a former actress; they tend to converse entirely in Shakespearian quotations. There’s something Mitford-esque about the children: four beautiful girls and one son. The ‘Fanny’ role is played by Harriet, the only one in the family not entirely self-obsessed and self-confident. As soon as she appeared, I saw her looking like the drawings of another Harriet, the one in Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots, all long legs and long black hair. This is strange because the book gets a name check later. When Harriet and her precocious younger sister Cordelia (twelve going on twenty) are in Derbyshire for Christmas they go skating: (Cordelia) had fallen in love at an early age with Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots. I could see she was planning to cut a dash before a marvelling world, as the beautiful, talented, tempestuous Lalla Moore. There are many other references to children’s books.
The household is upset when Pa is arrested for murder. This is one of several plotlines (none of which matter very much) and serves the same function as the disappearance of parents in children’s books (there we go again): it leaves everyone to their own devices and allows Harriet and Cordelia to visit Pye Place with Rupert Wolvespurges and Archie, every woman’s perfect gay man. Hawk-eyed readers will spot that anyone called Rupert Wolvespurges will be a hero. He is straight out of Georgette Heyer, as is some of the language; Jonno, heir to Pye Hall, speaks of girls having ‘a fit of the sullens’, which is hardly modern usage. When the family fortunes fall, with Pa banged up and Ma selfishly off having a chin tuck, Rupert steps in to help, on condition everyone gets a job. Harriet finds work as a journalist, writing mostly about ghosts, so ghosts and mysteries tend to dominate life at Pye Place. It’s not a ghost story though, or even really a mystery, as it’s the characters, their conversations and the descriptions of places which make the book so enjoyable. Harriet finds somewhere to write: A narrow flight of stairs led from the drawing room to what was called the Little Parlour. It was hardly more than ten feet square, with painted green panelling and an arched window that looked on to the waterfall. It had in it a desk, a table lamp, an armchair and a bookcase. There was a charming little fireplace with Delft tiles … Don’t you want to appropriate it immediately for your study?
What with all the actors involved, the lovely sisters and the police (Chief Inspector Foy is a delight) there’s quite a tangled web of fluctuating relationships. The reader’s sympathy is always, quite rightly, with Harriet; trying to please everyone (succeeding only too well in some cases), left entirely in charge of Cordelia, the only worrier in the family and the fondest of her Micawber-ish father. Does it come right for her? Aha! I recommend this book highly as a lose-yourself-in-it romantic novel.