I first read 'August Folly' almost exactly 3 years ago - I guess it's the August in the title that makes it seem like the right time to do it. Looking back I didn't seem to have much to say other than to have finally been able to pick up on the Trollope references but as ever (or so it seems to be turning out) Thirkell repays re-reading. The Trollope references still amuse me (there is a dramatic incident with a bull which is the making of the fortunes of both young Richard Tebben here and young Johnny Eames in 'The Small House at Allington' ) and I still think this is a good stand alone book despite it's Barsetshire setting, in fact it's a pretty good place to start with Thirkell for a couple of reasons.
The thing with Thirkell, and this is in part why this is a good book to start with, is that she can be a terrible snob. There are moments here when that snobbishness comes out, moments I thought I'd made a note of - but it turns out hadn't so I hope I'm remembering correctly, the point being that if you can't warm to Thirkell here than she's probably not for you. A much better reason to start here is that it's a charming funny book, exactly the sort of thing to lift a person out of the kind of flat mood to be found after their flat has been flooded (or at least significantly leaked into) twice in the space of a week (that's my flat people, and I'm not happy about it).
'August Folly' has two families at it's heart, the Tebben's and the Dean's. The Tebben's are a scholarly couple with not much money and a brace of grown up children who are rather a worry at the start of the book - how are they to be started out in life? Richard Tebben has just come down from Oxford with a third class degree and Margaret has returned from being an aupair in Grenoble. Both are slightly embarrassed by their parents, especially their mother who's inclined to wear shabby clothes and fuss a lot, and both are uneasily aware that they need to find jobs without being particularly qualified for anything, or well enough connected to get a helping hand.
The senior Tebbens are genuinely the sort of parents who might be a trial to their offspring and at the same time a couple who the reader really feels for. Mr Tebben is a civil servant who lived for academic argument about the Norse saga's, Mrs Tebben (who took a first in economics) supplements the family income by writing textbooks on the subject. It's the money she's earned that has built a house just a little to small in the country (where her dear family least want to be). Thirkell's characters can be a little two dimensional, but not the Tebben's, which made me wonder if they were based on real people.
The Dean's are a family of nine children ranging in age from mid twenties down to about five, only six of the children feature. Mrs Dean, despite her many children and being almost 50 is a woman still beautiful enough to be a suitable object of infatuation for a young man (Richard Tebben) her husband is a vague kind of a figure and the childre fill their various places in the plot most satisfactorily but they don't come alive in quite the same way that the Tebben's do. But then the Dean's have money, pots of money, their lives are charmed and easy in comparison to others and that's the point of them.
As it goes the love story between Margaret Tebben and Laurence Dean is more convincing than some I've found in Thirkell, and Margaret's situation calls for genuine sympathy but the real point of reading Thirkell for me is her humour. This is a book that can raise a smile (in the face of considerable domestic disasters on this readers part) through a well described pair of ears in the moonlight, there's something utterly charming and extremely English about it all - I thoroughly recommend it.