Archive for the ‘Ruby Ferguson’ Category

Scene in Glencoe Pass, Scotland, in the Summer of 1937 by Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook

Scene in Glencoe Pass, Scotland, in the Summer of 1937 by Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook

Last weekend, with a mind weak with exhaustion after some heavy-duty studying and rather giddy at the realisation that there were no more exams left on the horizon, I settled down for some light and frivolous reading with, as is so often the case with me, a Scottish theme.  While neither Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher or Apricot Sky by Ruby Ferguson are destined to become great favourites, they certainly helped me unwind after a stressful period.

Winter SolsticeWinter Solstice was only my second encounter with Pilcher.  I’d read Coming Home as a pre-teen and thought it was just about the trashiest thing I’d ever read up to that point in my life.  A subsequent rereading didn’t do much to change my mind.  Still, enough of my blogging friends are fans of Pilcher that I wanted to give her another try and Winter Solstice had been recommended as a perfect winter read.  Well, it is very wintery – the story focuses on a group of troubled people who find themselves spending Christmas together in the Scottish Highlands – but I could not stand the book.  I loved the concept and the writing was bland but unobjectionable, but the characterization would have had me throwing the book across the room if I hadn’t been reading it as a library e-book – my lovely Kobo should not be punished for what I load onto it.  I hung on until the end, hoping that something might happen to redeem it but that never happened.  If anything, I only got more frustrated.  I can see how in certain moods others could find Pilcher’s writing comforting and enjoyably but she is decidedly not for me.

Apricot SkyApricot Sky by Ruby Ferguson, though not particularly inspired, was much more enjoyable.  Described by Scott as “the best approximation I’ve found of a D.E. Stevenson novel not written by Stevenson herself”, it is the story of Cleo MacAlvey, who returns to Scotland after three years working in America, and the rest of the MacAlvey family.  It is 1948 and quiet Cleo, now thirty, has been in love with Neil Garvine for the past ten years, though the dour Neil is completely oblivious to her adoration.  Their more outgoing (and altogether delightful) younger siblings – Raine MacAlvey and Ian Garvine – are about to be married and so, much to both her discomfort and her pleasure, Cleo finds herself frequently in Neil’s company, though she can’t seem to string a sensible or half-way interesting sentence together any time he is near.

Cleo is unobjectionable but I do wish she were more compelling.  Her younger nieces and nephews, who get quite a lot of the author’s attention, are quite interesting but it is her sister Raine who provided the bulk of the entertainment here.  She is bright and outgoing, happy to barge “through life without caring whether people liked her or not, and […]about as introverted as a fox-terrier puppy.”  Her blunt exchanges with her equally affable fiancé were my favourite parts of the novel and left me caring far more for them than I did for any of the other characters.

The book is overly long, full of characters who ought to be more interesting than they are, and generally lacking a sense of humour but it is all still very pleasant.  Not quite up to D.E. Stevenson level, I think, but rather more akin to the works of Susan Pleydell or Noel Streatfeild’s Susan Scarlett novels.  I wouldn’t rush out to buy one of the absurdly-priced second-hand copies but if Greyladies were to reissue it, and it would be a perfect title for them, then I would be happy to have a copy of my own.

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I can’t believe it has taken me more than two months to review Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson.  I could not put it down once I started reading and from the first page to the last I was utterly enraptured by this very charming Scottish tale.  The Persephone description of it is absolutely spot-on, calling it “a fairy tale for grown-ups, but one ‘with an uneasy crash into social reality.’”

The novel begins in the early 1930s, with an English couple, the Dacres, and their American friend arriving at the gates of Keepsfield, Lady Rose’s once glorious now sadly vacant Scottish mansion.  The caretaker, Mrs Memmary, is happy to show them about and, as she does so, share stories with the captivated Mrs Dacre about the owner, Lady Victoria Elspeth Rose Grahame-Rooth.  Spanning from the 1860s to the 1930s, we see Lady Rose progress through the years, from her deliriously happy childhood at Keepsfield to her years away at school in England, from her debut in a whirl of music and dancing to her life as young wife and mother, through to the scandal that forced her to leave her beloved home.

Just like Mrs Dacre, I found it impossible not to love Lady Rose once I started learning about her.  That energetic six year old we meet first completely won me over and I remained loyally enraptured forever after.  Typical of her class and the era, her parents are distant figures in her life, seen rarely but loved nonetheless, though admired might be a more apt word than loved.  Lady Rose, as child and adult, is filled with love and happiness, even when those around her don’t necessarily reciprocate in kind, which is part of what makes her so sympathetic and appealing.  I did not pity her, she certainly did not pity herself, but I did always wish the best for her.

As the years pass, Lady Rose only endeared herself to me more, particularly through her letters to her mother during Rose’s years at school in England (in which, for example, she laments that they never learn any of the violence-filled Scottish ballads since “in English ballads people never seem to do anything but gather roses and go to the fair.”).  And the lengthy description of a teenage Rose’s attitude towards marriage had me smiling but, at the same time, sighing because there is only one way such naivety is ever answered in a novel:

Rose indulged in the most romantic dreams about marriage.  Of course they were all delightfully vague and abstract, and for all practical purposes they began and ended with white satin and pearls and sheaves of flowers at St George’s, and red carpet in front of Aunt Violet’s house in Belgrave Square, and tears, and hundreds of presents.  After that came a kind of ideal and undefined state in which you lived blissfully under a new name, and had your own carriage, and didn’t have to ask permission from mamma when you wanted to go out.  Floating airily through all of this, of course, was a man.  He was not like any man you had ever seen; they were just men.  This man – your husband, queer, mysterious word – was hardly human at all.  He was dreadfully handsome, and a little frightening, but of course you didn’t see very much of him.  When you did see him there were love scenes.  He always called you ‘my darling’ in a deep, tender voice; and he gave you jewels and flowers, and sometimes went down on his bended knees to kiss your hand.  All this came out of the books you had read.  Some day, almost any time after you were presented and began to go about with Mamma, you would suddenly meet this marvelous being.  You would be in love.  You would be married.  And that was the end, except that, of course, you would live happily ever after.

Trouble follows, of course, and Rose is eventually forced to choose between continuing with her comfortable, aristocratic life, lived well within the confines of Victorian society, and rebelling, abandoning all that she knows to seize the opportunity to finally love and be loved.  Honestly, it was this most romantic section of the novel that appealed the least to me.  I could not sympathize with Rose’s choice and did not understand the reasoning behind it or, more importantly, how she was prepared to forgo everything she would have had had she chosen differently.

Still, I was delighted by this book, even when I wasn’t fully in sympathy with Lady Rose’s decisions.  Her passion for her home (meaning both Keepsfield and Scotland) was a dominant theme and fiercely expressed – I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book with a character more endearingly proud of their nationality and their country’s history.  While the story clearly shows how Rose’s life is shaped by the strict social mores of the day, Rose is generally quite content with her lot in life, taking and creating happiness where she can, never sulking about, feeling miserable and unfulfilled as some tiresome heroines feel the need to do.  Initially, I was uncertain about the framing device of Mrs Memmary telling Mrs Dacre the stories about Lady Rose, but, in the end, I thought it worked surprisingly well, perhaps because I came to feel such kinship with Mrs Dacre, who, like me, only wanted to hear more and more of Rose’s story.  One of my favourite Persephone reading experiences so far.

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