I bought this book partly because it had such an awful cover - I've been lucky that way before with Hesperus (the L M Montgomery titles they've published have two of the nastiest covers I've ever seen, both are wonderful books) so it seemed worth taking a chance on this Dodie Smith.
'A Tale of Two Families' was first published in 1970, and as with Stella Gibbons 'Pure Juliet' it took a moment to adjust my expectations - in this case from the world if 'I Capture The Castle', or even '101 Dalmations'. When I had adjusted (it didn't take long) I really enjoyed 'A Tale of Two Families'.
It's an odd little book; two sisters, May, and June, have married two brothers, George, and Robert. George is very successful at something in the city so he and May have plenty of money, Robert is a respected writer and critic but not financially successful. George also has a wondering eye. Fed up of his affairs taking place under her nose, but equally determined not to make a fuss, May has decided it's time to leave London for a house in the country. Having identified a suitable house she also decides that June and Robert should move with them.
For June it's a fraught decision as she's long harboured a crush on George, harmless enough when they don't live to close together, but potentially explosive in this new country set up. Meanwhile the girl's mother, Fran, and the men's father, Baggy also move in and there are further complications caused by their children - a son and daughter each, who are far to close for May's comfort. There is also a dalmation and a crazy maiden aunt...
May and George are almost, or so it seemed to me, oppressively generous, so much so that initially it seemed that would be the real cause of friction within the family, but I was wrong. The situation Smith sets up is a little odd, but not impossible (I know sisters married to brothers) and once in it everyone behaves as they might - apart, perhaps, from the crazy maiden aunt. She's believable but also really disturbing. Otherwise it's a book where the most of the drama centres on small things; a missing dog, too much asparagus, an ageing woman realising she's truly no longer young, and they're all as important and absorbing as the bigger things that happen.
It's not another 'I Capture The Castle' but it is an unexpectedly charming book, or at least for me it's a book that's charming in unexpected ways. Hesperus - don't judge by the cover - and if it a stinker, take a chance on it.