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Summary

It's August in the Barsetshire village of Worsted, and Richard Tebben, just down from Oxford, is contemplating the gloomy prospect of a long summer in the parental home. But the numerous and impossibly glamorous Dean family - exquisite Rachel, her capable husband and six of their nine brilliant children - have come for the holidays, and their hostess, Mrs. Palmer, plans to rope everyone into performing in her disastrous annual play.

Surrounded by the irrepressible Deans, Richard and his sister, Margaret, cannot help but have their minds broadened, spirits raised and hearts smitten.

©2016 Angela Thirkell (P)2016 Hachette Audio UK

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Delicious

This is my favourite Angela Thirkell novel and Jilly Bond provides an excellent narration (I think my only quibble would be Mr Tebben's accent, which I see no reason for). It's a complete froth of a story - with everyone home for the summer and eating all the raspberries, Mrs Palmer decides that it's the perfect moment to stage a Greek drama in the family's concerted barn, and commandeers all the young people and half the village residents. Against this background people discover real and imagined loves, and Gunnar the cat behaves badly whenever he can. Delicious.

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A complex rural romance set in the early 1950s

This, one of Angela Thirkell's earlier and sharper novels, is very funny. She manages her large cast of characters (brilliantly realised by narrator Jilly Bond) with skill. Its a book very much of its time - the sort borrowed by my mother from Boots lending library once a week - but contains some very clever portrays of women and men contrained by the conventions of the age. The Tebbens, struggling bravely on a low income, are inadvertently entertaining and a delight. Thirkell was a snob - and her books grew increasingly snobbish and tiresomely full of details about the background of her imaginary Barsetshire (based on Trollop's County of the same name) as she grew older, but her in her earlier books this problem is not in evidence. She does describe the dilemmas and constrains facing clever women so well that laughing at them becomes a guilty pleasure.

Whenever I find myself trying to do something with leftover food I think of Mrs Tebben and her "little bits of .... this or that 'that we all like SO much' " I remember very well the salads of tough, wet, gritty lettuce leaves, the uneatable rock cakes and the badly cooked haddock of my schooldays in the 50s.

My mother sat next to Thirkell's son, Colin MacInnes, at a dinner once. His first words to her were "I hope you don't plan to ask me questions about my horrible mother." which left my mother at a loss for the remainder of a very uncomfortable evening. I fear that MacInnes started life as the endearing Tony Morland of High Rising, became the older, cleverer, more amusing Morland of Summer Half but became the angry misunderstood Richard Tebben of August Folly. MacInnes's books tell the true last part of this tale.

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Subtle and fun

I love how subtle Angela Thirkell has been with her comments on gender inequality here. For example Mrs Thirrell is obviously the brains of the family with all her published textbooks, but is still expected to be a good housekeeper. Don’t be put off by this though, it isn’t at all aggressive feminist commentary. Much like Jane Austen it is first and foremost a great story with engaging characters. I‘M going to listen to more!

1 person found this helpful