I read this one well before Christmas but have been procrastinating over writing about it - amongst all the delights of reading older fiction there is one recurring thorny issue politely referred to as 'opinions reflecting their time'. I had thought about trying to organise my ideas on this and using a particular passage in 'Wild Strawberries' as an illustration but so far so disorganised and it's a theme I'll have plenty of opportunity to return to.
Meanwhile back to 'Wild Strawberries' before my memory fades. It's not (in my opinion) quite as much fun as 'High Rising', it lacks a Tony Morland, and the eccentric Lady Emily is no substitute for Laura Morland either. Lady Emily is an immensely irritating woman who is always late, always losing things and always re-organising things that were working just fine before she interfered with them - I sensed that even Thirkell was fed up with her by the end of the book as she allows a certain amount of criticism to drift into the narrative. Annoying as she can be though Lady Emily is still a living breathing character you can believe in- the vicar who perhaps suffers most from her ability to disturb the peace is determined to speak stern words to her until he sees her touched by tragedy. The bitter sweet moments that Thirkell creates for Lady Emily and her husband are one of the strengths of this book - and one of the things that marks it out from being a standard read once and throw away romance.
Being Thirkell however there is plenty of romance - mostly for Mary Preston, Mary has been having a hard time at home looking after her mother and holding down a job. The job is fairly meaningless but the Preston's really aren't at all well off so Mary is grateful for an invitation to her relations country house for the summer - where she promptly falls in love with a glamorous sort of cousin who turns out to be as unreliable as he is attractive. Will she realise in time that her affections are being wasted on the playboy type and that there's a much more suitable alternative right under her nose? Of course she will, it wouldn't be a very satisfactory romance without a happy ending.
The joy of Angela Thirkell for me is partly that she makes for enjoyable light reading and so often that's just what I need at the end of the day, the other side of what she does is throw a light on a particular way of life in the 1930's. For someone who delighted first in P.G Wodehouse and later in Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford anything from the 30's raises a bit of interest, but much as I love those writers they're not great for domestic detail. Thirkell's world feels more or less real and it's fascinating.
I still hope that Virago plan to publish lots more Thirkell's, so am delighted to see that 'Pomfret Towers' is coming out in November (shame about the long wait) especially as it's one that I haven't read and is prohibitively expensive second hand. With luck it will come out in a pair as 'Wild Strawberries' and 'High Rising' did but either way is set to be one of the highlights of my bookish year.