Fair Stood the Wind for France by H.E. Bates

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

I am reviewing this book as part of the #1944club, initiated by Simon David Thomas of ‘Stuck in a Book’and Karen of ‘Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling’.

To take a look at other books published in the same year, reviewed by other bloggers, please take a look at the round up posts that should be up on the previously mentioned blogs.

‘Fair Stood the Wind for France’ by H E Bates is a war time work of fiction that deals with the story of a group of British airmen, who are compelled to make a forced landing in occupied France and have to take refuge in the home of a kind French family, who risk all they hold dear to help the men. In particular it is the beautiful story of the love and trust that grows between the injured head flight pilot and the daughter of the French family.

HE Bates’ ‘Darling Buds’ series is one that I read in my early teens and it has always been very dear to me. Apart from the obvious humour in the stories of the inimitable Larkin family, there is a beauty in Bates’ writing that brings out the best in all natural things. Moreover his writing has a sensual quality. With a keen eye for observing small details, one gets the idea, that here is a writer who knows how to live life to the lees and appreciates the small things.

The beautiful nature writing, descriptions of food, sensuality in describing human interactions and emotions is rendered just as beautifully in ‘Fair Stood the Wind France’. To add to that you have a moving love story and an epic struggle where the protagonists strive to find freedom.

The story starts with the British plane hovering over the French Alps during the night. There are some wonderful descriptions of the snow glistening on the mountains beneath the aircraft.

Sometimes the Alps lying below in the moonlight had the appearance of crisp folds of crumpled cloth. The glacial valleys were alternately shadowy and white as starch in the blank glare of the full moon; and then in the distances, in all directions, as far as it was possible to see, the high snow peaks were fluid and glistening as crests of misty water.

The man in charge of the aircraft, one John Franklin, feels a deep sense of responsibility for his crew of four sergeants, a responsibility that has grown over the year that they have flown together. It is the third summer of the War, tempers are rising, impatience is growing, a sense of uncertainty prevails.

When the engine of the aircraft fails, Franklin is forced to make an abrupt landing, in the dead of the night, in marshy terrain, in what they hope is Occupied France. I’m still confused why landing in this part of France was preferable.

Franklin seriously injures his arm during the impact of an abrupt landing. The crew take recourse to the medical help provided by a local French family. The family, consisting of a mill owner, his beautiful French daughter and aged mother provide the airmen with shelter at the risk of being shot and discovered.

Moreover, papers are procured for the British airmen- false papers that will take them across the border to unoccupied France and further to England. The path to safety is a long one and one that holds considerable risk. Even when the airmen reach the relative safety of unoccupied France, there is the risk from the French people themselves, who are impoverished and in need of food and money themselves.

The world that Bates paints is fraught with much strife, pain, suffering and uncertainty.

In fact this sense of uncertainty and helplessness pervades the entirety of the novel. From a year of publication perspective, the fact that the novel was published in 1944, when the outcome of the war effort was still uncertain, surely contributes to set the tone of the novel. Moreover, there is an overwhelming sense of sorrow, a deep sense of grief for the war and everything that it stands for, and the monstrous face of what it has turned the world and it’s people into.

He felt she was crying for something that he could never have understood without her and now did understand because of her. Deep and complete within himself, all these things were part of the same thing, and he knew that what she was crying for was the agony of all that was happening in the world.

’Fair Stood the Wind for France’ may  have become one of my most beloved wartime novels. The story is full of heartache and poignancy. I wonder how much of it was based on what Bates himself saw first hand, as a writer, commissioned by the RAF to write short stories?

Miss Silver Comes to Stay by Patricia Wentworth

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

‘Miss Silver Comes to Stay’ is the sixteenth book in Patricia Wentworth’s ‘Miss Silver’ series. It’s the second Miss Silver mystery that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

As far as I can tell, each of the Miss Silver mystery stories can be read as standalones- at least this particular story was not reliant on any previous knowledge of characters, apart from Miss Silver herself.

There are 32 Miss Silver mysteries published over a period from 1928 to 1961. They do have a listed chronology. The first mystery in the series is ‘Grey Mask’ and I had the pleasure of reading it in 2011, when I commuted daily on long train rides to and from Boston.

I remember being totally in thrall of the rich atmosphere of the book. I felt I had slipped into a black and white film noir.
I must admit that one of the negatives of such standalone mysteries is that you don’t get very much time to acquaint yourself with a host of new characters. I did enjoy getting to know Miss Maud Silver better.

Miss Maud Silver predates Miss Jane Marple by a few years and one can’t help thinking that they might be closely related to one another. Silver haired, soft spoken but with the most piercing eyes that ask the most pertinent questions- being interviewed by Miss Silver is enough to intimidate the most wily criminal.

In ‘Miss Silver Comes to Stay’, Miss Silver visits her friend in a quiet English Village, but as ‘luck’ would have it, a murder occurs.

The victim is a 41 year old James Lessiter, who arrives in the village after 20 years as an extremely wealthy man, who has inherited his Mother’s large property in the village.

He has a number of scores to settle with numerous people in the village. There is the case of Catherine Lee- who has embezzled a large portion of his Mother’s personal fortune. Then there is Rietta Cray- his sweetheart of many years ago, whom he broke up with in a quite unpleasant manner.

There are several other people who might stand to gain from James Lessiter’s death- and so when he is murdered – there are many possible suspects.

It’s left to Miss Maud Silver to place the pieces of the puzzle together and help out the local police force.

Though we didn’t get to see too much of Miss Silver, I did enjoy the little bits in the story where we glimpsed into her brilliant mind.

The story had a number of red herrings, like most Golden Age mysteries and I must say that the mystery aspect of the book was rather good.

I remember finding Grey Mask quite scintillating – so for me, this mystery paled a little in comparison. Nevertheless, with all 32 of the Miss Silver mysteries packed into my Kindle (picked up on a great deal during a Black Friday sale, when I used to live in the States), I’ll be eagerly reading through everything else Wentworth had to write.

I’ll then be moving on to Marsh and Allingham.

Do you enjoy Golden Age mystery and have you read Patricia Wentworth?

Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton

Processed with VSCO with a4 presetI must admit that ‘Guard Your Daughters’ was one of those books, where one paragraph in, I just knew that this was going to be one of my most favourite books.

One can’t but help draw a comparison between Dodie Smith’s voice in ‘I Capture the Castle’ and Diana Tutton’s in this particular novel.

There are heaps of whimsical characters, a novel writing Father who keeps himself locked up in his dressing room, an unconventional upbringing, a sort of coming-of-age story but here the similarities end.

Guard Your Daughters deals with the unconventional upbringing of five daughters. Five daughters, who despite a lack of formal education, shine in different ways.

Their father is an eminent detective novel writer, their mother is a delicate lady, suffering from unknown neuroses- the main one being the relative sequestration of her daughters from mainstream society. The Mother strives through various means to ‘protect’ her girls by not sending them to school, discouraging them from going to parties or dances, and not having a social life. The girls strive to never cross their Mother, mainly due to the constant watchfulness of their Father but there are stray incidents that threaten to upset the delicate balance of the family.

The daughters, devise various ways of meeting young men. A certain gentleman is literally pounced upon when his car breaks down in front of the family homestead. Another young man is befriended at the cinema. None of them is encouraged to visit the isolated family.

Due to the fame of the literary father, none of the girls needs to venture out of the house to earn a living. There is no dearth of money as such – but the limitations and deprivations of post war rationing are evident in the conjuring up of the family meals. As the girls observe – Father is never stingy with his money but there’s a mystery about where all the money goes, given his great fame and fortune.

It’s only during the last few pages of the novel that you realize that Guard Your Daughters is quite a serious novel and it deals with quite a serious subject- that of mental health. In retrospect, one appreciates that the author has been building up slowly to this realization through the entirety of the storytelling process.

One of the things that drew me to Guard Your Daughters was the strength of the mother and father’s relationship. It was very beautiful to see, especially given the sacrifices the father made to appease his wife.

Guard Your Daughters would have undoubtedly been one of my favourite novels – given the sprinkling of odd characters, memorable situations, sparkling and witty dialogue and creation of beautiful moments. But for me, Diana Tutton takes the story to an entirely new level with her dexterity in storytelling, and her ability to convey raw emotions. I will be thinking about this book for a very long time.

The juxtaposition of the funny and the extremely sad has been so skillfully managed by Tutton. In a modern world where mental health issues are so frighteningly relevant, Tutton seems to strike a very raw chord. If you were to read only one Persephone book this year, please make it this one.

The Bird in the Tree

‘The Bird in the Tree’ was the first Elizabeth Goudge novel I’ve ever read and certainly won’t be my last.

Published in 1940, The Bird in the Tree, is the first in a trio of novels – collectively called the Eliot Chronicles. The second and third books in the trilogy are ‘The Herb of Grace’ and ‘The Heart of the Family’.

For the Eliots of Damerosehay, the family homestead, Damerosehay, as such, is very much the central character in the story.

The Eliots are a large family and their story is as intricate and detailed as most familial tales. The matriarch, Lucilla, is still living- Mother to many children and grandmother to many more.

The children- her beloved son Maurice (father to David) and Roger have died in the Great War. All who remain are an unmarried daughter, Margaret , a son Hilary- a parson, Stephen and George who lives in India.

Damerosehay means a lot to Lucilla. She found it during a particularly troubled time in her life and sold the dwindling family fortunes to create a home – a sanctuary of sorts – that would protect her and her descendants for years to come.

Damerosehay is a large homestead situated along the Hampshire Coast. Surrounded by sprawling gardens, woods and marshes – the sea is not that far away and is a part of the charm of living at Damerosehay.

Grandson David, son of her favourite child Maurice, is the apple of Lucilla’s eye. They see eye to eye on many things- one of them being their shared passion for Damerosehay. Lucilla deems that David is the true future protector of the family fortunes – and she decides to bequeath Damerosehay to him upon her death. The other grandchildren, George’s children are still too young and uninitiated as to the great value of the estate.

However, David has a guilty secret of his own to disclose- a secret that threatens to break the Eliot family apart and the homestead that provides a roof over their heads.

Rather than fight a battle with David, Lucilla trusts that David’s love for Damerosehay will win through in the end and he will forsake his private passions for the greater good of the family.

In trying to persuade David to do this, Lucilla reveals secrets from her own past that are quite personal and that provide an example of her past sacrifices for her family.

Without giving too much of the plot away – the book is a gentle dialogue on the tousle men and women have of choosing between personal gratification or making choices that benefit family and future generations.

Whilst the story was a compelling one, what drew me to the book was Goudge’s unhurried storytelling, her talent for noticing the small things in life and her gift for writing beautifully about nature.

I’m quite eager to carry on with this family saga- and follow the future fortunes of the Eliots of Damerosehay.

Have you read this particular book and do you have a favourite Goudge novel?

FB5BA429-1A36-4C81-90DB-29CDC3E96F61.png

Revisiting the Chalet School Series by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

D81B984F-EC0F-43E8-B382-4449D357E5EB.pngI had a such a lovely time revisiting the first in a series of books written by the school story writer Elinor M Brent-Dyer.

Best known for her prolific Chalet School series, the book that I am speaking of is ‘The School at the Chalet’.

 

The Legacy of the Chalet School Series

The Setting of the Chalet School

The setting is the glorious cold climes of the Tyrolean Alps, to be more exact a small lakeside village perched up in the mountains above Innsbruck. The time is the interwar years.

Madge Bettany finds herself left with a small legacy and the predicament of having to look after herself and her younger sister. Their brother Dick Bettany is posted in the Forestry Department in India but living there poses a problem for the delicate health of Jo Bettany, Madge and Dick’s young sister.

To Madge’s mind, opening a small English boarding school in the Alps is a solution to all their problems. It provides Madge a source of income and allows Joey to recover her health.

The trio travel to Briesau in the Tyrolean Alps and set up school in a chalet on the shores of an alpine lake. Initially the students are few in number, consisting of a handful of girls from England, France and a few locals. However, based on the glowing reports of the English education provided at the institution, the students swell in number.

 

The Chalet School Book Plots

Most of the Chalet School books are quite formulaic. There is usually an errant school child who tries to break the rules, causes trouble and strife and learning the fault in her ways – tries to conform.

If you can tolerate these slightly predictable plots the books have a lot more to offer. Brent-Dyer writes beautifully about the customs and cultures of Tyrol, the simple ways and endearing relationships that the Tyrolean people nurture with the British and international students at the school.

In the second book in the series, ‘Jo of the Chalet School’ a typical Tyrolean Christmas in Innsbruck is described with great charm.

 

A Portal to a Different Culture

In a way, the books provide a good example of travel writing. Ever eager to discover the world through books, the Chalet School series are the perfect portal in to discovering Austrian culture.

As the series progresses (58 or more books in total!) the school ages in real time and the effects of the Second World War are felt by the inmates of the school. Shifting to Guernsey and later to England and Wales and finally to Switzerland, we follow a protracted course in the school’s growth and development.

‘Chalet School in Exile’ is the book that describes the Chaletians fleeing from Austria to safer pastures during the ensuing Second World War.

 

The Central Characters of the Chalet School Series

Josephine Bettany is one of the most central characters in the Chalet School stories. She is a strong, independent character, blessed with great writing skills and a bad temper. She reminds me so much of another Jo- the Jo of Louisa May-Alcott. Are all great female heroines of a certain type?

Strong female characters have always been the way in the Chalet School stories. They are uplifting to read. Though the times change and school girls come and go through the hallowed precincts of the Chalet School, the example of female leadership and female education burns very bright.

 

I’ll be curious to see how my 6 year old daughter enjoys the Chalet School series. I hope to pass on the legacy of reading the Chalet School series on to her. I have twenty more books to collect in the Chalet School series. Filling the gaps in my collection of this substantial work of children’s literature has kept me busy and has been tremendously satisfying.

‘Young Anne’ By Dorothy Whipple

B14F7AF6-9896-4076-BFD9-E0728568DB65.jpeg

‘Young Anne’ is the eighth and final Dorothy Whipple novel to be published by Persephone Books but in the grand chronology of things, is Whipple’s first and most autobiographical novel.

It is set in the years leading up to the First World War and follows the life and growth of Anne Pritchard, youngest child of a middle-class, Lancastrian family. The ‘Young’ in ‘Young Anne’ not only refers to the tender age of the female protagonist, it also helps to emphasize the extreme naïveté of Anne Pritchard, the mistakes that youth often make and the consequences of immature decision making on adult life.

Anne is the daughter of Henry and Olive Pritchard. They have two other children- Gerald, the eldest and the apple of his father’s eye and the quiet, forgettable middle child- Philip. Henry Pritchard is an unforgiving, strict disciplinarian and his wife Olive is infuriatingly detached from her family. The only person who shows little Anne any love is the long-time maid of the family, Emily.

Anne is a curious, vivacious child, always getting into scrapes much to the consternation of her father. On one occasion she invokes the wrath of her father to such a great extent that she is sent as a day-boarder to the local Catholic school, even though their values do not meet that of the Pritchard families. Anne, blunders her way through school. She does quite well in her studies and manages to leave school with a first in English.

Anne is close friends with Mildred Yates, the Yates being a rich family involved in the cotton industry. George Yates is Mildred’s poor cousin and has been educated relying on the aegis of his rich Uncle, Mildred’s father.

George and Anne’s paths intertwine in their childhood and as two youth, on the brink of adulthood, they meet again and fall in love. Without giving too much of the plot away, the book deals with the unusual relationship that Anne and George have, how their paths continually intersect and diverge from one another. Young love is full of misunderstandings and the pair certainly seem to have a star crossed fate.

Towards the end of the novel, Anne, no longer armed with the excuse of youth and naïveté has an important decision to make: to follow her heart or to listen to the voice of reason and convention for the first time in her life.

The scope of ‘Young Anne’ unlike many of Whipple’s other novels is smaller. It lacks the sexual tension of ‘Someone at a Distance’ or the violence of ‘They Were Sisters’ or even the large country house setting of ‘The Priory’. What it does manage to convey is the immaturity of youth, especially of those growing up in a constrained, repressed society. It also manages to convey the beauty and purity of first love.

Anne and George’s early romance is sweet, heady and intoxicating. The writing is beautiful. Whipple creates dreamy, rural scenes and these chapters are some of my most favourite in the book.

Whipple is brilliant at dispelling the magic of life, especially the feeling of security and complacency that comes with a protected childhood, with a single unnerving incident. In ways she reminds one of Katherine Mansfield.

 

Life, like a cross nurse, had slapped her hands away from every thing she had held, and she was like a child sitting on the floor, blank, bewildered, uncomprehending.

 

Such events, frequently occur in Anne’s life and she is ill-equipped to tackle them. ‘Young Anne’ is a memorable coming of age novel. The characters are flawed, the situations created in the novel are perverse, and like all of Whipple’s most excellent creations, we are on the edge of our seats to find out what happens next.

 

I received a review copy of Dorothy Whipple’s ‘Young Anne’ from Persephone Books but as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Photogenic Persephone Books

How could I resist participating in the Persephone Books related fun that is going on over at Jesse’s blog – Dwell in Possibility Blog, where she is hosting an 11 day long Persephone readathon.

7D8E609D-5DE3-4A8D-836F-AFD77E2E2A5C.png

Persephone Books are beautiful, both inside and out. They are perhaps my favourite books to collect and I never tire of photographing them for my Instagram account.

Here are some photos dedicated to the prompt – ‘photogenic Persephones’.

43F7DDB3-3724-4607-B3A9-F93241026986.jpeg

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

F8C3519C-1F50-4A07-877A-53B9850E2B44.jpeg

0B366249-5197-4455-AF0B-33FC30229617.jpeg

3C5A0B9B-211C-4D56-98AA-7E17DE698F2B.jpeg

D096978A-4DFF-4D21-AF23-5E37185410B6.jpeg

51ABB650-B6AC-4E20-A8B7-607B3E2DF979

95F69EF3-A4D4-4CA8-8776-6D2DE8880A58.jpeg