The Green Gauntlet by R.F. Delderfield

The Green Gauntlet cover

The Green Gauntlet by R.F. Delderfield is the last book in The Horseman Riding By trilogy and was published in 1968.

When this book begins World War 2 is still ongoing and although there have been sorrows it hasn’t been nearly as bad for the inhabitants of the Shallowfield valley as World War 1. Many are making a mint from the black market in food and the few valley inhabitants who went off to the war aren’t doing nearly as badly as the previous generation did in the trenches. However stray bombs have ended up landing in some of Paul Craddock’s fields, the civilians are having a worse time than the combatants are.

Paul is now in his 60s but he has always looked after himself and he and his wife Claire are young at heart, in fact Claire at the age of 50 had unexpectedly presented him with her sixth and last child, a son. I found that a bit unlikely as I’ve read that 48 is about the oldest that you can give birth to a healthy child. Another character manages to give birth at the age of 52. If any of you know of any natural births in such old mothers I’d be interested to hear about them.

Anyway back to the book. It’s a great read but with the end of the war comes change and not for the better as Paul discovers too late that many of his children can’t be trusted with the land that he has poured his life into, and post-war development is spreading ever nearer his property. Shady land deals and dodgy local councillors as well as a need for new housing are changing the whole area.

There’s a bit of a disaster but it’s not all doom and gloom and in the end there’s a lot to be optimistic about. I really loved this trilogy.

Kinvara by Christine Marion Fraser

Kinvara cover

Kinvara by Christine Marion Fraser was first published in 1998 and it’s the first by the author that I’ve read. I don’t know if it’s just the setting of a coastal community or what, but this really felt like Fraser was heavily influenced by Neil M Gunn’s books although her writing isn’t as sparkling as his. I have a feeling that Fraser could be described as being a sort of Scottish Catherine Cookson as her books seem to have been wildly popular family sagas. I admit that I’m a bit snooty about some writers and Cookson is one of them, but I did end up getting dragged into this tale and enjoyed it although I now realise there are three more books in this series, I’m not sure if I’ll continue with it though – so many books to read!

The setting is the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and Kinvara is a small village, some of the men are lighthouse keepers, it begins at Christmas 1922 and Robbie Sutherland is leaving the lighthouse to travel home to Kinvara after completing his stint.

He’s married to Hannah a difficult woman of the ‘own worst enemy’ variety who has been withdrawn and sullen since the birth of their son who has cerebral palsy. Robbie married her on the rebound after he had broken up with Morna who had gone back to her native Shetland. Hannah sees no point in caring for her son and makes no attempts to form a relationship with him. Robbie is at his wits’ end and as Morna has returned – with what turns out to be Robbie’s daughter, his life is a mess.

The book ends in the summer of 1926 and obviously there’s a lot more to it than I’ve written, if you fancy being in the company of some funny and interesting characters and you like a Scottish setting then you might like this one.

I’m a bit puzzled as to why the author called the book Kinvara as it is apparently a real place in Ireland, and she gave some of the characters Irish names too which is fairly unlikely in the far north of Scotland.

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard

All Change cover

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard was published in 2013, it’s the fifth and final book in the Cazalet Chronicles. I didn’t even realise there was a fifth book as there’s a big gap in between the fourth and fifth, I’m so glad that Howard got around to writing this one though as I absolutely loved it and I felt that the fourth book left a lot of strands of the story up in the air.

It’s a chunky book at 576 pages, but I just didn’t want to reach the end of it as I was enjoying being in that Cazalet world so much. Mind you that didn’t stop me from reading almost the whole of Monday, immersed in the family saga. I know that at some point I’ll read these books again and that isn’t something I often do.

All Change begins in June 1956, so that’s nine years after the events of book four. The Duchy’s life is coming to an end, it’s the end of an era as she is the last of the senior Cazalets and her daughter Rachel is of course looking after her, as she has done all of her life.

The wood importing business that has been able to sustain the Cazalets in some luxury over the years, is on a downward slope, mainly because the brothers don’t have the same business savvy that their father had. They’ve led a life of servants and comfort and Edward in particular has always lived beyond his means, with a huge sense of entitlement and a wife who is under the impression that he is a lot richer than he really is.

The younger members of the family are getting on with their own lives and for me everything was tied up very satisfactorily. There were so many things in this book that struck chords with me, such as nursing elderly parents and the death of the last of the older generation, and the breaking up of the family home.

Howard was very good at passing character traits down the generations, so there’s that recognition of someone ‘taking after’ their father or uncle, as there usually is in large families. Often when you’re watching an actor on TV you come to really despise them, if that is what their character calls for and of course we all realise that that is a testament to the actor’s skill and talent. In a similar way I really admire Howard’s ability to write a truly ghastly character – such as Diana who is gobsmackingly self-centred, manipulative and nasty – how I hated her!

Sex rears its ugly head quite a lot of course with several marriages and some affairs on the go, but I noticed that none of the women involved are really interested in it, and one by one the author lets us know that, it’s just something they put up with to get or keep their men. Some of them hide their lack of interest better than others.

I did notice that Howard had made a mistake because she mentions that one of the female characters has her widow’s pension (her first husband – a soldier- had died in the war). But of course when a woman re-married she lost the right to a widow’s pension, that is still the situation today although some people are trying to change it.

In the spirit of taking risks, instead of the usual taking care – I’ve just bought the DVDs of the TV series which I’ve never seen, it might be a mistake to watch it, I could be severely disappointed, but then again, I might love it. I’ll keep you posted!

Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Casting Off cover

Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard was first published in 1995 and until a few minutes ago I had thought that it was the last in the Cazalet series, but apparently the last one All Change was published in 2013, the year before Howard died.

I know that a few blogpals are intending to read this one soonish so I don’t want to say too much about the storyline that runs from July 1945 to 1947.

You would think that people would be relieved beyond belief that the war in Europe was over, but of course for lots of people it meant the end of a time when they had plenty to do, they had had a sense of achievement or importance as they had been needed in the various voluntary organisations helping the war effort. Everyone is trying to get used to the changes although of course some things aren’t changing quickly enough, such as the rationing which is getting worse.

Members of the Cazalet family are beginning to move back to London instead of all being at the family country home – Home Place. Relationships are changing, some might not survive.

Three quarters of the way through this book I was feeling quite depressed by it as I really didn’t like the turn things were taking, and I couldn’t see how the author would get the many loose ends tied up by the end, and I had been under the impression that this was the last book.

I ended up being fairly well satisfied with it, especially as the characters that I particularly disliked seemed to be getting their richly deserved come-uppance. I’ll now have to get the last in the series All Change.

I’m thinking about buying the DVDs of the BBC series because I didn’t see it when it was on TV. Did any of you watch the series and if so did you enjoy it?

Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard

 Marking Time cover

Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard was first published in 1991 and is the second book in the Cazalet Chronicles.

I found this one to be just as enjoyable as The Light Years, the first book in the series, always a bit of a scene setter. The characters are all maturing nicely, inevitable given the things they’re experiencing.

The older members of the family take a bit of a back seat for a lot of this book as the focus is on the younger generation and how they are coping as the war just begins to bite deeper into every aspect of life.

Rupert’s young second wife Zoe is never going to be the same again after her horrific experience in book one, something so shaming she’s never going to tell anyone about it, but the birth of Rupert’s son has given her something to live for while Rupert is thought by everyone to almost certainly be dead.

Villy has been seriously ill but she and her husband Edward are in denial of the whole illness and heartbreakingly as Villy goes into remission and feels so much better she jumps to the conclusion that her health has turned a corner and she is getting back to normal with nothing to worry about. Edward, her otherwise despicable husband can’t bear to tell her the truth. Their whole marriage has been based on secrets with Villy sticking her head in the sand when she doesn’t want to admit things, either that or she’s just too dim for words.

The families’ London houses have all been more or less shut up for the duration of the war as bombs have been raining down on the capital, damaging the woodyards belonging to the Cazalets, so important to the war effort and their income.

There are secrets aplenty, unrequited love, affairs and annoying unfair prejudices against daughters by mothers. It’s just after that time known as ‘the Phoney War’ when life in Britain went on much as before for the first months of it and rationing for clothes and food hadn’t quite taken hold.

Mind you the Cazalets were rich and the rich were/are always cushioned from the daily deprivations that others have to get used to. Such is life and it’s that sort of reality that makes me feel that Howard has captured the atmosphere of wartime south of England. I’m looking forward to the next in the series which I think is called Confusion.

Joan @ Planet Joan read Marking time recently too and you can read her thoughts on it here.

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

The Light Years cover

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard was first published in 1990 which is a shocking 26 years ago now – how did that happen? I didn’t read it back then, in fact I think I may be the last woman in the western world to read the book, I’m just thrawn that way, often avoid doing things just because everyone else is doing it. It was Joan of Planet Joan who made me think that it was time I got around to The Light Years, the first book in the Cazalet series, you can read what she thought of it here.

The book is in two parts with the first part starting in 1937 and the second part begins in late summer 1938 but it ends with the run up to World War 2 and Chamberlain’s attempts to avoid war. We meet three generations of Cazalets the Brig and Duchy are the parents, getting on now but the Brig is very much in charge of the family wood/lumber business. Their two elder sons work in the business and as the business is obviously thriving they’re quite well off, but the youngest son has hopes of being an artist and is working as a teacher until he finds success in that field.

The characters are all very different with their different personalities well defined but it was the characters of the children that I was really impressed with. Howard must have been one of those people who perhaps has never really completely grown up herself and has remained close to how it feels to be a child in various circumstances. She wrote about all their fears, problems and worries with great insight. I really didn’t want to leave this family saga and would have gone straight on to the next one Marking Time, if only I had had a copy of it. I’ll need to get my hands on one soon!

I didn’t watch the TV series when it was on either and I’m wondering if it is worth watching or is it one of the many dramatisations that end up being disappointing. If you watched it please tell me what you thought of the series.

Amberwell by D.E. Stevenson

Amberwell book cover

If you have only read D.E. Stevenson’s Mrs Tim books you might be a wee bit disappointed that this one is not more of the same, it doesn’t feature humour at all, but I still found it to be an enjoyable read.

The Ayrtons are what many families are nowadays, a bit of a dolly mixture family. The two boys’ mother died after having her second son and Mr Ayrton remarried, his new wife had three daughters. Desperately disappointed at only having girls, the second Mrs Ayrton showed no interest in them and left it to her staff to bring them up. School for the girls was not allowed and they were never taken out for treats, no pantomimes for them, they hardly ever left the grounds of Amberwell, which is the name of the house and estate which their father owns.

The parents were completely self-centred and autocratic and the children grew up with a strong love for the house and their surroundings and little contact with the outside world.

Eventually world affairs break into Amberwell, with the start of World War 2 and the boys, Roger and Thomas go off and ‘do their bit’. Mr and Mrs Ayrton are really only concerned about the loss of their workforce as able bodied men join up.

Set on the west coast of Scotland, which is where I grew up, this book has exactly the right feel of how it was to grow up in such a society, where girls were only seen as being useful for doing the housework. Obviously D.E. Stevenson had this same experience herself as she was not allowed to go to university, her father did not want an educated daughter.

Things moved slowly in that society and it was only fairly recently that I realised that amongst all of my schoolfriends, the only girls who got to university were the girls who had no brothers, and that was in the 1970s. I remember reading in one of Mary Stewart’s Merlin books the phrase – girls don’t count in Scotland – so I suspect that she had noticed that too.

Anyway, it’s a bit of a comfort read, despite having a serious storyline about the damages inflicted on young lives when they don’t feel cherished.

One other thing which I have noticed about D.E.’s books is that she always seems to make a point of mentioning her famous forebears. Often it’s Robert Louis S, her second cousin but she was obviously equally proud of her lighthouse engineer Stevensons too, I find it very human and somehow charming that she gives them a name check in passing.

Jalna by Mazo de la Roche

Jalna cover

I don’t know what it was that got me thinking about this author and her Jalna series recently, as I mentioned before they were in the public library which I used to work in but even then (1970s) they were regarded as ‘old hat’. I have to admit that I’m a bit snooty when it comes to some books, well quite a lot of books actually, and I think I looked down my nose at poor old Mazo de la Roche because there were so many of the books, it looked like they’d just been churned out.

Anyway, I haven’t seen anyone else mentioning this author so I thought I would give her a go as part of the C P R Book Group. It was first published in 1927 and Jalna is the first in the Whiteoak series, it was an instant best seller. The American magazine Atlantic Monthly awarded Mazo $10,000 for Jalna, a huge amount of money in 1927. The first of any sort of series must be the awkward one because it’s necessary for the writer to do a lot of scene setting and and basically info dumping so there’s always going to be a certain amount of clunkiness in that process, but I still found Jalna to be an interesting and entertaining read.

It’s set in Canada where Adeline and Captain Philip Whiteoak have moved to after their marriage in Bombay where Philip had been in the British Army. At the beginning of the book Adeline is 99, her husband is long dead as are the mothers of her grandchildren and they are all living together along with Adeline’s two surviving sons on the family estate which is called Jalna. Gran Adeline is a domineering but amusing character. Her pet parrot, which of course perches on her shoulder, also swears fluently in Hindi, which I wish I knew!

It’s a lot to keep straight to begin with, there are so many male characters but as with all good family sagas there’s a family tree at the beginning. My heart did sink a wee bit at first because chapter 1 is all about the 8 year old Wakefield Whiteoak who is supposed to be a loveable rogue I think. In reality I would never have tired of giving him a good skelp – how un-PC of me! But the story soon moves on to all the other family members and their lives.

Well I found myself caught up by all the various characters and I’m happy that I managed to buy the second book in the series the other day. I got the first one from my local library.

It isn’t what you would call high brow literature, more of a comfort read really and that’s exactly the job that this series did, especially during the time of World War II when real families were scattered all over the world by the conflict. There are 16 books in the series and I think I’ll work my way through them all eventually.

This is a book which I read as part of the C P R Book Group Ceilidh and although I enjoyed it I’m giving it a tentative HEE-YOOCH (remember this is just a bit of fun, nobody else has to hee-yooch or black spot!) which would probably translate to about 4 out of 5.

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

This book was first published in 1987 so I’m really late in getting around to reading it. I know it was amazingly popular when it first came out but I was surprised when I looked at the BBC Top 100 book list that this one is number 50 on it. It’s for that reason that I thought I would read it and the fact that Rosamunde Pilcher has lived in nearby Dundee since her marriage to a Scottish soldier in 1946 and brought up her family there. So I suppose she can be regarded as a Scottish writer.

The Shell Seekers is set all over the place though with Edinburgh just being mentioned a few times. The main action takes place in the English Cotswolds and Cornwall and the story is a family saga which encompasses three generations of the Stern/Keeling family.

Laurence Stern is an artist who marries Sophie, the daughter of a friend. The huge age gap between the couple doesn’t seem to be a problem and their only child, Penelope enjoys a Bohemian lifestyle with her parents, living in London, Cornwall and France until the outbreak of World War II. After hearing about what was going on in Germany from some refugees Penelope decides to join the WRENs the next day but it isn’t exactly the sort of war work which she had been hoping to do as she’s a glorified servant, waiting at tables and she regrets joining up. It’s just the beginning of her troubles.

In later years with three grown up children Penelope discovers that her father’s paintings have become fashionable again and are fetching eye-watering sums of money at auctions. Unfortunately two of Penelope’s children have turned out to be a lot like their snobby, avaricious father and they are determined to persuade her to sell The Shell Seekers which is a large painting which was given to Penelope by her father and she is one of the three children portrayed in it.

I enjoyed the book, it’s an old fashioned family saga I suppose and as most of us have experience of growing up within a family and the same sorts of situations come up all the time, just because of the multiple personalities involved, it all has a sort of recognisable feel about it but it has the advantage that it doesn’t put your blood pressure up, as it would in real life!

Admittedly we don’t all have expensive paintings hanging on our walls but you know what I mean, there aren’t all that many families around who don’t have someone in it who feels hard done by, and of course they are usually the very ones who are the most selfish and self-centred. It all makes for a very cosy experience, now I’m looking forward to starting Rosamunde Pilcher’s September soon. I’m not sure if it is regarded as a sequel but it certainly has one of the characters in it.

I had intended to review this book around about St Andrew’s Day (Nov 30) – but I decided to read September for that date as that book is actually set in Scotland.