Fresh from the Country by Miss Read

Fresh from the countryI loved Miss Read’s Fairacre and Thrush Green novels when I read them years ago.  ‘˜Miss Read’ is a pseudonym for Dora Jessie Saint (1913 ‘“ 2012) who wrote over 30 gentle books of English country and village life  for adults and children.

Set in the 1950s, Fresh from the Country is a stand-alone novel telling the story of Anna Lacey, a newly qualified teacher, as she spends her first year teaching in Elm Hill, a new suburb in London. It is a little disappointing, because although Miss Read successfully conveys Anna’s  dislike of the new suburb in comparison to her love of life in the countryside where she grew up, I found it a bit over done and dispiriting and the comparison is repeated several times in different ways throughout the book.

But there are some lovely descriptions of the everyday lives of the teachers and children at Elm Hill school in this book alongside some interesting comparisons between town and country. One example is the ‘flabby wrapped slices of bread‘ her landlady provides compared to the ‘fat cottage loaves with a generous dimple in their crusty tops‘. Another example, a ‘wild lovely bouquet’ of ‘sprays of bright yellow hornbeam and rose hips‘ compared to ‘faded artificial daffodils‘. Anna decides that the difference between her home and her lodgings in town is that ‘one was genuine, wholesome and homely – the real thing‘. The other was ‘false and artificial.

Despite my slight disappointment I did like this book, which transported me back to the 1950s, when children were taught in large classes and the pace of life was slower than today. It was a bit disconcerting to read that Anna enjoyed smoking, but then the dangers of cigarettes were not emphasised in those days and many people did smoke.

There are interesting comments on enjoying the simple pleasures of life, on the nature of happiness, the virtues of truthfulness and neighbourliness, being useful in the community and how ambition is a

… two-edged weapon which ‘could provide a motive, an interest, a spur. It could be the means of living in a perpetual state of hope. … But, on the other hand it could lead to self-aggrandisement and self-deception.’ (page 107)

By the end of the year Anna feels more settled at the school. She is looking forward to moving out of Mrs Flynn’s house to more comfortable lodgings with the hospitable and friendly Mrs Armstrong. But she thought that  in the ‘misty future there might be a country school‘ and a ‘little house of her own set in quiet fields’. I don’t think that Miss Read wrote any more books about Anna, but I like to think that a little village school did materialise for her.

Reading Challenges:  this is the 25th book I read towards the Mount TBR Reading Challenge and the 4th book for the TBR Pile Reading Challenge.

Sunday Selection, or what to read next?

This morning I finally finished reading A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. I enjoyed it, but it was with a sense of release that I read the final pages, because at 872 pages it’s taken me over a month to read it and I’m looking forward to reading something shorter, snappier and more succinct. I’ll write my thoughts about this mammoth book on the French Revolution later on.

So, I picked up Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death by W J Burley, which is much shorter at 192 pages and easier to read – and to handle. It’s a murder mystery about the death of Matthew Glynn a respectable bookseller.

But I’m also thinking ahead about what to read next. I have started The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox, but I’m thinking of leaving it for now as it too is another long book. So, the possibilities are:

Fresh from the Country by Miss Read, (219 pages) about Anna Lacey plunged into her first teaching job in London. I’ve read most of Miss Read’s Thrush Green and Fairacre novels, but this one is new to me. Dora Jessie Saint, who wrote under the pen-name Miss Read, died earlier this month at the age of 98. She wrote over 30 books, gentle and unsentimental observations of English country and village life and I’ve loved each one I’ve read.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. This was my face-to-face book group choice this month, but I missed the meeting because it was the same day as our grandson’s birthday, and I hadn’t read the book anyway. I’d like to read it, though, because the group disagreed about the book – with some people disliking it and others who thought it was good. Maurice and Sarah had begun a love affair during the London Blitz and then Sarah had broken off the relationship. Maurice, driven by obsessive jealousy and grief sends a private detective to find out the truth. It would also be good to read it as it fits into the Classics Challenge.

And looking further ahead, I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to get any of the ‘free’ books offered in newbooks magazine, which arrived recently. I’ve narrowed my choice down to two books:

The Somnambulist by Essie Fox. This is set in Victorian England. Seventeen year old Phoebe takes a job as companion to Mr Samuel’s wife and encounters betrayal, loss and regret as she tries to adjust to life away from home.

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, a debut novel by Wendy Jones. In 1924 Wilfred lives in rural Pembrokeshire where he runs the local funeral parlour. He fantasises about Grace, the daughter of the local doctor and on the spur of the moment he proposes to her. But then he realises that this is a mistake and tries to undo it.

Another book that has caught my eye recently is:

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a debut novel by Rachel Joyce. I saw this in a local bookshop and nearly bought it then. It’s about Harold who walks from his home in Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland to see a dying friend. It’s the idea of a journey along the length of England that I find appealing, but the thought of the friend dying from cancer may be too close to home.

One thing is certain, I’ll never run out of books I’d like to read.