10 Books Set in the English Countryside

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Give me a story set in an English village, inundated with curious characters and gentle descriptions of nature and musings about life- and you have me sold. Here in no particular order are some of my most favorite books set in rural idylls. I go to them, for comfort…

1) One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

This is the story of a day in the life of a woman, set in the small coastal English village of Wealding. In the aftermath of the Second World War the English middle class are struggling to come to terms with their new life, less dependent on domestic help and trying to let go of the grandeur of the old days. This is a quiet contemplative novel which captures the beauty of the location. Despite not having much plot the story conveys a sense of longing and melancholy hard to capture in words.

 

2) Fairacre Festival by Miss Read

Dora Jessie Saint who wrote under the pen name of Miss Read captured the bucolic beauty of Cotswold villages and penned wonderfully human, simple stories that conveyed a sense of calm and goodwill. Tinged with a wry wit and the most wonderful characters, Miss Read’s ‘Fairacre‘ and ‘Thrush Green’ series are the height of comfort reading.

 

3) Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Tolstoy freely admitted that one of the influences in his writing were the novels of Victorian author Anthony Trollope. One of Trollope’s most famous series are the Barchester Chronicles– a set of six books set in the fictional rural county of Barsetshire. Apart from writing about nature and characters set in small towns and villages, Trollope wrote remarkably about money, social prejudice, politics and women with the most humane touch.

 

4) If Only They Could Talk by James Herriot

James Alfred Wight wrote semi-autobiographical novels under the name of James Herriot. A veterinary surgeon, he wrote about his work and personal life in the rolling hills and dales of Yorkshire. Though the work was often back breaking and hard, Herriot’s love for the location and the Yorkshire people freely emanate from each page. His books are a sheer delight.

 

5) Portrait of Elmbury by John Moore

Portrait of Elmbury published by Slightly Foxed is the first book in the rural trilogy, recounting the history of a small market town in England, named Elmbury. In this first book, the author John Moore describes his childhood and youth in the market village. How the village was hit by the aftermath of war, the poverty and declining conditions of the Depression era. The rural descriptions are particularly evocative of time and place.

 

6) Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Freely borrowing from Trollope’s fictional county of Barsetshire, nearly a century later Angela Thirkell wrote a long series of loosely linked novels that mapped the social history of a generation destabilized by the Second World War. Thirkell’s books are light and frothy but they capture a slice of history that is interesting to witness as a reader.

 

7) Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Though some of Gaskell’s works are set in the city and beautifully depict the Industrial Revolution of Victorian times, Cranford is set in a rural location. The small country town of Cranford supposedly corresponds to Knutsford in Cheshire. Small country customs and the portrayal of wonderful human characters cover the scope of this novel.

 

8)Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson

Miss Buncle’s Book is delightful not only due to the unique plot but also the brilliant cast of characters set in a small country village. 30 something unmarried Barbara Buncle resorts to novel writing as a source of income. As she has no imagination whatsoever her book draws heavily upon the characters and incidents occurring in her village. And when the villagers discover the book and their own unmistakable, unflattering portrayal they are determined to hunt down the secret author.

 

9)A Month in the Country by JL Carr

In this story a young war veteran seeks occupation in the form of the restoration of a church mural in a sleepy, English village. Recovering from shell shock, the restoration of the religious mural is accompanied by the artist’s own reparation of spirit and sense of well being.

10) Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Sailing holidays in the English Lake District, hunting for stolen treasure and camping on deserted islands- Ransome’s books abound with the charm of a time that was much safer and secure. The descriptions of the lake country will simply mesmerize you.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim, Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge, Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons receive honourable mentions. Before I finish it would be remiss of me to omit the works of Thomas Hardy- the ultimate guru of pastoral literature.

Books that I intend to add to this list are George Eliot’s Middlemarch and the novels of Tolstoy. Let me know of your favourite books set in rural locations. I’d love to hear about them.

Eight Books that Remind Me of Summer

Summer is receding into Autumn here in the north east corner of North America. Soon summer will be a warm fuzzy memory that one can wistfully think about when there is five feet of snow piled high on the ground. There are certain books that remind me of summer. They are not always set in the height of that particular season but they are often easy to read stories that make me relax, feel good and smile in equal measure. For me, summer is not only a season, it’s a state of mind…

Here in no particular order are eight books that remind me of summer.

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1) My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell- This is the sun-drenched account of a young boy’s encounters with the natural life of the Greek Isle of Corfu. What makes these memoirs eminently readable are the hilarious descriptions of Durrell’s family. Be prepared to laugh aloud with every turned page.

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2) Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome- written in a time when young English children returned from boarding school to spend summer holidays sailing around the serene water bodies of the English Lake District. There is a charm and innocence and way of living captured in these children’s books which is magically locked in time.

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3) A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle- alright, technically this is not a summer specific book. However, the location plays the most important part in this ‘year in the life’ narrative and when I think of Provence I immediately think of sunshine, good wine and summer markets. The language is lovely, descriptive and yet easy to read. After you’ve read the book you feel as if you have taken a good long holiday without having moved a physical step.

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4) Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie- this is not the kind of book that will give you a warm fuzzy feeling, being interlaced with murders, but it does have all the ingredients for a tremendous beach read. Set in a English seaside resort in Southern England the plot is brilliant and you have none other than the esteemable Hercule Poirot to help you along with your sleuthing.

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5)An Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim- Four English women, due to their own individual reasons, escape their dreary life in London to spend a month in a rented Italian castle. The warmth and beauty of the location strikes a change in each of these women. They find themselves embracing circumstances and causes they had long given up on…

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6)Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons- this is a feel good Cinderella-esque love story set in 1930s rural Essex. What sets it apart from any other frothy romance is Gibbon’s exceptionally witty writing style, her simultaneous interweaving of several plots and her sometimes very profound observations about life.

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7)The Darling Buds of May by HE Bates- this book is just ‘perfick’ to read in the summer if you should choose to use Pop Larkin’s (the protagonist of the book) favorite adjective. A young tax collector comes to Pop Larkin’s Essex farm for an audit only to find himself totally carried away by the love, laughter and excesses of the Larkin family. He falls in love with Mariette, the eldest Larkin daughter, Ma Larkin’s cooking and also Pop Larkin’s philosophy of living life to the lees. The descriptions of nature, summer and especially food make this an exceptional book.

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8) Something Fresh by PG Wodehouse- to end our summer feast of stories we have some of the eccentricities of Blanding’s Castle for you. The absurdities of the English aristocracy, unlikely situations, unusual characters like Lord Emsworth and his large household and the series of misadventures that assault you will have you alternatively laughing and cringing. Wodehouse as always is at his ascerbic best.