Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd

The last few days have had an oddly dream like quality. Because I'm currently unemployed and live alone I was already quite socially distanced, so this week hasn't been the big adjustment I was expecting. The current restrictions and advice on movement has taken away a lot of the worry I had about what my parents might be doing which is balancing much of the anxiety prompting news, and there's not been any difficulty buying food round here.

More than that, the weather has been magical, and the park on my doorstep fairly empty - certainly empty enough to keep a good 20m away from the half dozen other people who seem to be in it at any one time, so it's felt reasonable to sit there for a while. Most of the students have gone home so the area is almost deserted, the quiet is a bit eerie at times, but also pleasant. I don't know what's coming next, but for now things are okay.

I know they're okay because I can finally concentrate on reading more than a few pages at a time and can lose myself in a book again. I started reading 'Miss Ranskill Comes Home' weeks ago after stumbling on 'Move Over Darling' whilst channel hopping. I had it in my head that the plots were similar. They are not which became obvious immediately. A third of the way through there were things I really liked about the book, but Nona Ranskill was not one of them. I found her continued bemusement hard to swallow.

A month later I doubt I could have found a more apt book to be reading. Miss Ranskill is a well to do member of the gentry, a spinster well on the wrong side of 30 when she falls overboard and gets washed up on a desert island sometime in the summer of 1939. Her only companion is a carpenter washed up some time earlier after a similar accident. Four years later he dies of a heart attack just as the boat they've been building is almost completed. Miss Ranskill, alone, has little choice but to set off in the boat.

She's picked up by a British Convoy and lands back in an England she doesn't in the least understand. It's 1943, she's suddenly in the middle of a war she didn't know existed, and faced with a lot of rules and conventions that seem senseless to someone who has made do with next to nothing for 4 years.

With the last couple of weeks behind us I have to admit that Miss Ranskill's struggle to take in the enormity of war conditions is more or less on the nose, as are the caricatures of deeply patriotic types intent on policing the actions of others.

The plot, such as it is, doesn't really hold up to much scrutiny, but the relationship between Miss Ranskill and the Carpenter is a wonderful celebration of platonic friendship, and the skewering of social mores is elegantly done. The talk about rationing has a particular resonance whilst people still seem to be panic buying, and as someone who has bought their first tin of canned peaches in at least 15 years this particular quote struck home:

" 'But, Edith,' Protested Miss Ranskill, 'in peace-time we never had so much bottled fruit.'
   'In peace-time we could buy all the tinned fruit we wanted'.
   'But we scarcely ever did buy any.' "


  1. Glad you're getting to the unread Persephones! I love this one and I think her character is part of what I loved, but can see she wouldn't be to all tastes. But glad that didn't spoil the novel for you!

    1. I should have had a bit more faith. The experience of the last 2 weeks has changed my perspective. It's definitely one of my favourite Persephones now. The ending is perfect, and I love the unpeeling of the relationship between Miss Ranskill and the Carpenter, and between the Ranskill sisters. I had put it down somewhere around when she's just got back to England which I think is the weakest part. Everything before and after that is excellent. Reading it now was very lucky timing.