I wanted to read something by O. Douglas, or Anna Buchan as was her real name, and I came across Penny Plain recently in a second-hand book shop. It’s the easiest to find and also the cheapest by far, but I’ve just discovered that I could have downloaded it for free, such is life!
Anna Buchan was John Buchan’s sister but she didn’t write thrillers. I think she would be best described as a romance writer and Penny Plain comes under that category ‘kailyard’ which was so popular in the early years of the 20th century.
The novel was first published in 1920. My edition was published in 1922 and it is the 12th edition which gives you an idea of how popular the book was in its day.
It’s set in the Scottish border country in a small town called Priorsford and is the story of Jean Jardine whose parents have died and she has to bring up her two younger brothers and a very small boy who is no blood relation at all, but as he is an orphan she feels obliged to look after him. They all live in a small cottage by the banks of the River Tweed which they rent from a man who lives in London, and Mrs McCosh from Glasgow helps with the housework.
The next-door neighbour, Bella Bathgate, takes in lodgers and Pamela Reston who is an ‘honourable’, a lord’s daughter from London, takes up residence as her guest and becomes great friends with the Jardines, which leads to big changes for all concerned.
There are times when the book gets just a wee bit too religious and Presbyterian, but I suppose that was to be expected from the daughter of a Wee Free minister. The Free Church of Scotland is the strictest form of Presbyterianism, no singing, no music, no dancing, do nothing on a Sunday except go to church and read the bible, don’t even cook a meal!! But then again her brother John never felt the need to bring it into his books.
Having said that the book is full of great characters who all ring true to me as typical Scots, especially Mrs McCosh the Glaswegian and even the dog Peter is a ‘card’. There’s plenty of humour as well as sentimentality.
If you do take a look at this book you might like to know that the wee boy is nicknamed ‘the Mhor’ which is Gaelic for ‘the great one’ and in Gaelic ‘mh’ together is pronounced as a v.