Archive for the ‘Susan Pleydell’ Category

Rainy Day by George Ellis Carpenter

Rainy Day by George Ellis Carpenter

Few publishers provide as many excellent comfort reads – perfect for any season but especially the dark, cool days of autumn and winter – as the Edinburgh-based publishers Greyladies.  I own a handful of their books and have reviewed some here already (Eliza for Common, Summer Term, A Young Man’s Fancy) and have many more I can’t wait to read.  These are comfort books extraordinaire, the sort of reading that you long for when ill or upset, or simply too exhausted to focus on anything remotely challenging or clever.  Their two newest releases – The Glenvarroch Gathering by Susan Pleydell and Under the Rainbow by Susan Scarlett – arrived on my doorstep recently, though at the time I was too busy between work and studying for an exam to read them.  This week, having passed the exam and having somewhat settled into work, I read them both with delight.

Under the RainbowSusan Scarlett was the penname used by Noel Streatfeild for her light and formulaic but still enjoyable romances.  In Under the Rainbow, she writes about a young vicar, Martin Richards, who feels that it is his calling to work among the poor.  Spiritually, it is work he is well-suited for.  Physically, the harsh conditions in the London slums where he begins his career destroy his health.  Sent by his Bishop to an idyllic corner of Sussex, Martin is aghast when he sees his new home:

He nearly had a fit when he first saw the vicarage.  It was one of those enormous vicarages built in the early days of the last century, when the vicar always had a large family, when the cost of living was far lower, and when the vicar was usually a younger son with just sufficient allowed him by his father to enable him to keep a horse, officially for riding around his parish, but actually for hunting two days a week. 

Longing for a dirty tenement or a simple cottage, the vicarage is not at all the home he wants.  But it is the home he gets and, before long, it begins to fill up.  First, he acquires a housekeeper, the invaluable Bertha.  Then, an elderly and mean-spirited aunt arrives.  Shortly after that, his niece and nephew are orphaned and so they too come to live at the vicarage.  Finally, to take care of them and mediate the power struggles between Bertha and Aunt Connie, Judy Griffiths, a nice and extraordinarily capable young woman with a mysterious past, also moves into the vicarage.

It is a simple story and utterly predictable but I loved it.  I stumbled a bit over the more religious passages – something I don’t remember from the two or three other Streatfeild books I’ve read.  They are logically incorporated but still a bit surprisingly.

The Glenvarroch GatheringA little (but only a little) less cosy and altogether more energetic was The Glenvarroch Gathering by Susan Pleydell.  In order to make a little more money one summer, the McKechnie family (or, more specifically, the University-aged McKechnie children) decide to take in paying guests.  They have a large home by the sea in the West Highlands and, to the family’s surprise, they manage to find a group of people eager to come and stay: a good-natured American couple, a schoolboy who is classmates with the youngest McKechnie boy, a young University lecturer working on a grim novel, a schoolmistress longing for something more adventurous than her life in the Midlands, and a glamourous brother and sister from London.  The younger visitors are quickly taken up by the McKechnies and a busy summer begins, full of picnics, hikes, and flirtations.  But some of the visitors are not what they seem and the uncovering of sinister secrets leads to a dramatic (but relatively quickly and harmlessly resolved) sequence of events.  Everyone ends up with the person they should and it is all quite excellent.  Reels are danced, kilts are worn, bad guys are caught…what more could I ask for?

Though I enjoyed all of the characters in this book, I had a few particular favourites.  Pat McKechnie and Jo, both schoolboys of eighteen, were each a wonderful combination of childish enthusiasm and adult clear sightedness.  They admire the older girls they are surrounded by and Jo is rather taken with Fiona McKechnie but, unlike the older set, they do not get caught up in any messy flirtations, leaving them free for much more enjoyable activities.  But they are useful and Jo is particularly observant.  As a Trollope fan, I loved the moment when he realised who it was that one of the McKechnie’s friends reminded him of:

He searched his mind for what it was that made Maisie seem faintly familiar, and got it with some intellectual triumph.  He had lately discovered the works of Anthony Trollope, and Maisie was like some of those girls, very, very pretty and neat and you noticed how good her manners were, and yet she was comfortable and full of fun. 

My other favourite was Mrs McKechnie, the universally-beloved lady of the house.  Though her husband, the Professor, is rather distant and spends much of the book hidden in his study, Mrs McKechnie sees all without even interfering too much.  An ideal mother, really.  I also loved that she was an early riser; her early morning routine, possible thanks to a husband who is a very sound sleeper, sounds most appealing:

Mrs McKechnie very rarely did anything outside herself, so to speak, during her morning solitude.  She had developed a highly efficient routine, and the position of the pillows, easy accessibility of tea-tray and cigarettes, the ancient woolly, so familiar that it almost wrapped itself around her shoulders, and the replenished hot-water bottle if the morning were chilly made together a perfect, luxurious comfort in which she half sat, half lay blissfully alone and gave herself up to thought.  She enjoyed thinking, and she did it well, not after the fashion of her husband’s scholarly mind, concentrating on one subject to unfathomable depths, but with a wide range and a livelier imagination than his, though a similar capacity for immersing herself in the thought of the moment enabled her to understand his detachment. 

I had never heard of Pleydell before Greyladies started reprinting her books but, having now read three of them, I cannot wait to read the rest.  Please, please, please let her other books be in their sights for future publication!

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A Young Man's FancyA Young Man’s Fancy by Susan Pleydell is the book that I had hoped Summer Term would be.  A sort-of sequel, it returns to Ledenham School which, four years earlier, had experienced an eventful summer term when the headmaster’s daughter and niece were both in residence.  Now, with both women happily married off, the focus shifts to the headmaster’s youngest daughter, Alison Fielding.

At twenty-one, Alison is just as friendly and sensible as her older sister Clare but lacks the career ambition that gave Clare, a nurse, such purpose.  Now graduated from her domestic science program and back from travelling abroad, Alison is happy to settle down at Ledenham for the spring term with her parents:

Alison was one of those girls for whom no obvious career presents itself.  Her scholastic record was unimpressive, she had no particular bent and no ambition.  Her choice had finally fallen on domestic science on the grounds that people always have to eat and any mutt could do it, but when she finished her training she was in no hurry to begin.  As she left college an opportunity was offered to her to go abroad and now she was home and intending that a judicious choosiness about jobs would keep her there for some time.  The School House at Ledenham was a very good home and in her view she had not had nearly enough of it.

At first, her leisurely life at Ledenham seems very appealing.  She has her cousin Frances nearby (Frances having married one of the Ledenham School masters) and is great friends with all the young bachelor masters.  Predictably, there is one young master with whom she is particularly close: Angus Cameron has been her closest friend at Ledenham since he arrived there four years before.   It isn’t long before they both realise that something has changed in their friendship and Alison’s dream of a relaxing term is squashed as she and Angus struggle to conduct an awkward romance in full sight of an entire school’s worth of interested masters and boys.

There are subplots – another young master is in love with a Norwegian au pair but is also the target of an aspiring school governor’s daughter’s romantic fantasies; said aspiring school governor makes lots of trouble for Headmaster Fielding; and Oonagh, the headmaster’s replacement secretary, meddles in everyone’s business – but, unlike Summer Term, there is balance to the story.  Summer Term had too many surprises and slightly bizarre plotting.  Here, everything is nicely regulated.  Alison and Angus’s romance runs the course of the book and nothing feels rushed.  In Summer Term, I felt cheated because Clare, after winning the reader’s respect and affection, was hurriedly provided with a fiancé without any hint of prior romance and the focus shifted to Frances, who was largely ignored through the first half of the book.  In A Young Man’s Fancy, we stick to Alison throughout and it is a relief.   We get to know her far better than we did any of the characters in Summer Term and, more interestingly, we get to witness quite a few all-male scenes as the bachelor masters, who are housed together, discuss their various romantic struggles.  The characterization isn’t deep but it is far better than what was on offer in Summer Term and I did love getting to see more from the male perspective.

It is the perfect light novel, predictable and satisfying.  It is not great literature but it is just the thing to pick up when you want a nice, undemanding story – it would be the perfect sick bed book.  I can see myself rereading it with pleasure for years to come.

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Summer TermWhen I was feeling sad for myself last week, coughing and sniffling away with only a box of Kleenex to keep me company, I went in search of an undemanding comfort read, picking up Summer Term by Susan Pleydell.  Reprinted a few years ago by Greyladies in Edinburgh, it was certainly undemanding enough to suit my weakened attention span but it wasn’t quite as satisfying as I had hoped, leaving me a little more frustrated than pleased.

As the book begins, Clare Fielding has returned home to Ledenham to assume housekeeping and hostessing duties for her father, the headmaster of a boy’s school, while her mother is away recovering from illness.  Having grown up at Ledenham School, Clare is used to the all-male environment; she is on easy terms of friendship with the young masters and is more than capable of handling any young boy who crosses her path.  But when her beautiful, glamourous cousin Frances arrives to stay with the Fieldings, the peaceful summer term Clare had imagined vanishes, as masters young and not so young fall over themselves to catch Frances’ attention.

Clare, though as shallow and undeveloped as all the characters here, is likeable.  Sensible, affectionate, and very capable (as befits her training as a nurse), everyone likes and respects her.  She loves her car, enjoys fishing, and is more at ease in slacks than a silk dress.  My greatest disappointment throughout the entire book was discovering that Clare was not to be the romantic heroine.  The first half of the book sets her up very nicely to be just that, until the sudden arrival of her long-standing love interest dashed all those hopes.  Yes, it is very nice that she found an excellent man to marry but how frustrating that he was so firmly established already and the reader was cheated out of witnessing any romantic developments.   And how disruptive that as soon as he arrived, attention suddenly switched to Frances and work began (a little late) on building her up into a likeable character, worthy of being called our heroine.

The campaign to popularize Frances relies on a) having a pompous character fall in love with her and be terrifyingly, sinisterly determined to pursue her despite her politely-stated disinterest in him, and b) reminding us that all the really nice characters – Clare, Mr Fielding, all the jolly, sporting young masters – like her.  For me, it was a case of too little too late or perhaps simply too much absurdity too late.  The behaviour of the unwanted lover, Henry Courtney, is so hysterical and theatrical.  He goes from urbane snob to unbalanced obsessive in unbelievably quick progression.  Without this excessive drama, I would have enjoyed the book so much more.

Summer Term is a nice, easy book but perhaps a little too disjointed to be truly satisfying as a comfort read.  Still, there are many nice, simple things about that I did like about it: Mr Fielding is a dear; Angus Cameron, a young, new Scottish master who is briefly infatuated with Frances, is very winning; and the solid reliability of Patsy, another of the masters, is appealing to both Frances and me.  Thankfully, despite not adoring this, I did move on to read A Young Man’s Fancy, which follows up with the residents of Ledenham School four years after the events of Summer Term (and which I’ll try to review soon), and that book was quite perfect.

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