‘Wild Strawberries’ and holiday reads.
We’re two weeks into the #20 Books of Summer reading challenge, and so far I’ve only finished two books. I’m aware that I’ve already fallen behind but I’m not worried as tomorrow I’m heading off to Italy for a week filled with family wedding shenanigans followed by relaxation and reading – sheer bliss! Here’s the stack I’m taking.
In the final few days of May I managed to finish Angela Thirkell’s Wild Strawberries, (1934) which for some inexplicable reason had fallen by the wayside after I’d started it a few weeks previously. I don’t know what made me pause, as once committed, I thoroughly enjoyed Thirkell’s dry wit and buffoonery. When the young and pretty Mary Preston goes to stay with her Aunt Agnes’ family at Rushwater House, she falls for the charms of ne’er-do-well, David. Meanwhile, she is blind to the interest shown to her by his brother, John, who is both reliable and thoughtful and a far more suitable match. Throughout a whole procession of social engagements, trips to London, family meals, tennis matches with the neighbours and a dance, the plot weaves its way to its satisfying finale.
One of the things I love about Thirkell is her ability to shock. One expects a certain element of the preposterous in such a comedy of manners, but she really pushes the comedy to an extreme, making even the most hackneyed plot-lines and stock caricatures fizz by twisting them for greater comic effect. It is because we think we know these characters and the tangled situations they find themselves in, that these twists have such a refreshing impact.
For example, everything that plausible rogue David plans sounds spectacular, but is bound to end in failure. He is a fountain of ideas, none of which ever come to fruition. Charisma abounds but there is little depth or determination to him. However, Thirkell takes what is a familiar character type and pushes it to the point of absurdity, and the result is hilarious. Here, David speaks about his plans to write a novel.
‘I’ve had a marvellous time over my novel. A man I know is really keen to film it, and I have a chance of getting a dramatic version broadcast. That’s why I’ve been away all the time. I was so busy.’
‘Is your novel really written, then?’ asked Mary.
‘Oh, no, that’s the whole point. I shall do the film version and the dramatic version, and then with that success behind me it will be as easy as anything to write the novel.’
Also, when David flatters Mary, rather than falling into well-trodden sentimental territory, her choice of compliments are so off-beat they made me roar with laughter.
I’ll give you a part if you like. You can be the wife. She hasn’t much to do but look lovely and deeply wronged. You have just the hands for a wronged wife,’ he said, taking one of her hands in his, ‘absolutely perfect.’
All works out in the end, of course, but in Angela Thirkell’s capable hands, the journey there is anything but pedestrian.
*I will be away in Italy from tomorrow until the 24th June, and hope to read my way through a sizeable chunk of my #20 Books of Summer. I’ve scheduled a post for while I’m away, but will be screen-free during my trip, so I’ll be catching up on replying to comments and reading all the blog-posts I’ve missed on my return.