Ruby Ferguson is best known for her children’s books about Jill and her ponies but she also wrote adult novels, both romances and thrillers. Until now, Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary has probably been the best known. I have an old H&S paperback copy and it’s been reprinted by Persephone. Wonderful Dean Street Press are now reprinting Apricot Sky as part of their Furrowed Middlebrow series. I didn’t want to finish this. It must be the archetypal middlebrow ‘nice book’ which people allegedly used to demand in libraries. It describes a summer in the Highlands and has all the ingredients for comfort reading: beautiful scenery, old houses and their furnishings, gardens, lots of food, romance and humour.
Mr & Mrs MacAlvey live at Kilchro House, which must be pretty big. Besides themselves there’s daughter Raine, elder daughter Cleo, just back from three years in America, three orphaned grandchildren, two house guests and two visiting cousins from England. Also, Vannah Paige, a sort of factotum-cum-housekeeper who is treated as a friend of the family, a cook and at least one maid. The war is not long over and rationing and coupons get several mentions but no one starves here. Two sons never came back from the war but no one goes on about it. The third son lives nearby with a wife no one can stand and two sad, repressed children. ‘It was understood in the village that none of the MacAlveys were quite all there…’ They are, of course, a delightful family.
Raine is engaged to Ian Garvine, who farms locally at Larrich with his elder brother Neil, known as ‘The Larrich’ because he’s the local laird. Poor Cleo is in love with handsome Neil and spends most of the book feeling that every time they meet, she makes a fool of herself. The four of them have a good time deciding how the ancestral home, sadly neglected, is to be made fit for a bride. Weddings are taken very seriously. The grandchildren are just like all the Highland children I’ve ever read about: thin, brown and spending all their time outdoors, preferably sailing. They dread the arrival of the English cousins, who are always clean and tidy, good at everything and great snobs. Needless to say, in the Highlands, the grander you are, the shabbier you look.
Apart from the romances, the book is almost plotless, just a lovely description of a way of life. If it upsets you that just after the war people can still have plenty to eat, keep servants and send their children to boarding school, this book is not for you. It will be out on June 21st. I’d suggest not reading the introduction until you’ve finished the book. Not to avoid spoilers but because the use of words like ‘liminal’ may put you off what is a very light, amusing book. I loved it so much that although Dean Street sent me an e-book, I may splash out on a hard copy.
You can see the full list of the upcoming Furrowed Middlebrow issues here.