Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Wild Strawberries cover

Wild Strawberries is the second of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire books, first published in 1934 but my copy is a 1983 Hamlyn paperback.

This one revolves mainly around the Leslie family. I remember someone commenting years ago that the Leslies were their least favourite characters, and I can see that some people could find them very annoying indeed, but they’ve suffered tragedies that money can’t cushion. There is a sort of sense of entitlement pervading them but for me there’s just enough charm there to be able to forgive that, although I could see David Leslie far enough – as they say.

Lady Emily Leslie is so disorganised that she can’t get anywhere on time, not even to church, and it holds everybody up. Even when she gets there she causes chaos with her stage whispers as she tells everybody where to sit. The eldest son was killed in the Great War and the youngest son David is absolutely full of himself, has umpteen lady friends and never gives a thought to any of them. John who is son number two is the sensible one. His wife Gay died after just a year of marriage.

With the arrival of a family friend to stay for the summer and some French visitors who have rented the vicarage (I doubt if that was actually possible) the story evolves with the usual bits of romance, uppity servants and mothers of young children who are incredibly relaxed about them, not batting an eye when they cause havoc and mess. After all, why worry when the nanny will sort it all out!

This one is entertaining and interesting as David Leslie is hoping to get a job at the BBC which is in its early days and it seems that any ‘toff’ with the right sort of an accent could get a job there – even women! It’s obvious that most of the young men working there were gay, but sometimes settled for a ‘companionate’ marriage – to the right sort of girl – with money of course.

At one point David Leslie is at the railway station to meet someone and the London bank-holiday train disgorges lots of hikers, a few of which give him the Fascist salute – I wonder just how common that was in 1934, just a year after Hitler took power in Germany.

This book is one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

I had been looking for this book for ages and had to end up getting it from the internet. My other Thirkell books are all original old hardbacks but this one is a modern paperback from 1983 but the book was first published in 1934.

This one is mainly about the Leslie family and I was really glad that it featured the character of Lady Emily Leslie because she’s often mentioned in the later books as quite a few females in the Rushwater area have been called after her. She’s a much loved grande dame who is exasperating to everyone, particularly the vicar, but her charm and endearing scattiness allow her to get away with her eccentric behaviour.

Her son, David Leslie, is the youngest of her children and he’s a bit of a rake really. He has his mother’s charm but is using it in an entirely masculine way and has the young women just about fighting over him. Not that David cares, he’s only interested in himself and his plans to write a novel – or make a film – or join the BBC …!

Mary Preston has fallen for David so hard that she doesn’t realise that his brother John has fallen for her. John’s wife had died after only one year of marriage and after being a widower for over seven years it comes as a surprise to him that he can think of another woman again.

This is a typical Thirkell comfort read. The back cover says it is a delightful classic of the Thirties, and I agree with that.

Sir Compton Mackenzie said: ‘It is a novel of laughter with just enough sincere emotion… I have never recommended a novel about which I felt so certain that everybody would enjoy every page of it.’