The first four or five days I was at home, I had a headache. It’s related to a tooth problem, which hopefully will get sorted out, and I’ve become a cheerleader for various painkillers and antibiotics this week – but, more to the point, I needed something to read. I couldn’t cope with anything stylistically sophisticated or experimental, or even anything which could be considered demanding in any sense of the word. What could I choose? Well, I’d never read anything by Miss Read, and she seemed to fit the bill. I have three on my shelf, picked up cheaply somewhere, and so I chose one from the middle of her writing – Gossip from Thrush Green (1981).
Although I had never previously read a word by Miss Read, it was exactly what I expected. Thoroughly enjoyable, and utterly forgettable. It’s a little village where everyone knows each other, and cares for each other – the only differences being that some show this care, and some hide it. Everyone gossips, especially the men, and a mischievous cat is about as traumatic as a burnt down vicarage (incidentally, not the most restful scenario to read whilst sitting in a vicarage!)
It’s been less than a week, and already all the characters and events are fading from my mind… I think the characters recur throughout the series of Thrush Green novels, so other readers might already be fond of blunt Ella, dotty Dotty, kind vicar’s wife Dimity etc. I liked them all, but – differently though they were described – all of them spoke in the same warm, sensible way. Miss Read (or Dora Saint, as she was called) writes in a very workmanlike way, getting the job done – which is perfectly good enough, because she clearly isn’t trying to be experimental. With my headache, I was grateful. Although set around 1981, when it was published, this was only clear because they talked about decimalisation. Apart from that, it could easily have been 1950 or 1930 or even earlier. It’s all bathed in nostalgia. Villages still have these sorts of friendships and acquaintances – everyone is interested in each other – but they’re not quite so cut off from the rest of the world.
But how could I not warm to a novelist who takes it for granted that we know who the Provincial Lady is?
“‘When in doubt, don’t’, is my motto,” said Ella forthrightly. “And as for love, well, you know what the Provincial Lady maintained. She reckoned that a sound bank balance and good teeth far outweighed it in value.”
And how could I not nod my head to this?
“A quarter past three,” she exclaimed, catching sight of the bedside clock. “What a time to be drinking tea!””Anytime,” Harold told her, “is time to be drinking tea.”
All in all, this was the perfect book for me to read this week, but I think I’ll be keeping Miss Read to days when I can’t cope with anything else. I know she has her besotted fans – Our Vicar’s Wife has read them all several times, I believe – but when I’m after comfort reading I’d rather run back to the 1920s.