The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

The Willow Cabin cover

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau was published in 1949, my copy is a 1951 reprint. This is the first book that I’ve read by the author and I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her books.

The Willow Cabin covers the years from 1936 to 1948 and the settings are various but mainly London and America.

Caroline is a 22 year old aspiring actress, in fact she’s really talented at it, but she’s also rather immature. Her relationship with her mother and step-father is fraught and when she falls for Michael a well-known surgeon who is much older than her she moves out of the family home into an hotel.

Michael is unable to get a divorce from his wife (hmmm) but that doesn’t put Caroline off and when war breaks out she throws up her acting career to follow Michael around, they’ve both joined the army.

For most of the book Mercedes, Michael’s Anglo-American wife is absent, apparently in France, possibly helping the resistance or even dead. But in the last third of the book the war is over and Caroline goes to America where Mercedes has pitched up. Mercedes had been very well off before the war but she has used the last of her money to buy a farm in America and to build a small house for a family of German refugees who are supposedly her employees along with a French family of refugees.

The two families can’t get along and have absolutely no sense of gratitude for everything that has been done for them. I’m sure that that was Frankau’s way of pointing out how the UK had been bankrupted by a war not of its making and had got nothing out of it but a debt that took generations to pay off and absolutely no thanks from the rest of Europe for all that had been done for them and the sacrifices made.

The atmosphere of wartime London in particular is very well portrayed I think, of course the book was written not long after the end of the war.

The title of the book was taken from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and there seems to be some confusion on the internet as to what it means. However I have always understood that willow was worn by women whose loved ones were away from home – at war or at sea or whatever. It was a way of telling people (men) that they weren’t really on their own, they were waiting for the return of their lover.

All through reading this book I had the 1970s song All Around My Hat by Steeleye Span going around in my head, if you don’t know the song you might be interested in listening to it now.

I believe that Virago have reprinted this book as a modern classic so I’m counting this one towards my Classic Club Challenge, I’m not far off reaching 50 now.

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