Long Summer Day

It’s the late nineteenth century and Paul Craddock is invalided out of the Boer War. At the same time he inherits some money from his father’s scrap-metal business. Tired of the ugly fighting he’s witnessed and the anonymous bustle of city life, he’s drawn to the sale of a large country estate in Devon. He has much to learn, but Paul promises to be a fair squire and he’s soon respected by the tenant farmers. Although Craddock has purchased something of a rural idyll there is plenty of conflict not only from the daily minutiae of running the estate but also from wider political unrest, the class divides, the rise of the suffragettes showcased by his difficult first marriage, and those in authority striving to become more liberal-minded.
The Devonshire brogue adds immediate authenticity and local characters leap from the page. By way of contrast members of the gentry, the medical profession, opposing politicians, and the church, are equally well-formed and characterised. The push and pull of such diverse relationships form the basis of a family-saga with a big scope. It’s a novel which covers a detailed period of social history rather than follows any one character – but this is what Delderfield does best. Edwardian country life; farming the land, destiny shaped by the rise and fall of ones own hand, the beauty and hardships presented by living in the countryside, the horses, the gentle pace of life. Change was – and is – inevitable, and while much of it was for the better then, I finished this book feeling we’ve lost something along the way…

The Dreaming Suburb

Jim Carver returns home from the front to find his wife passed away and seven children on his hands. His socialist leanings clash with the ambition of his eldest boy who is determined to better his lot since the artful, ruthless Archie has an eye on owning a chain of grocery shops. His eldest daughter mothers his two sets of twins, and daughter Judith, until they also flee the nest.
Mrs Firth’s religious and controlling rod of iron over her husband and children eventually breaks down when her husband discovers the kindness of another woman, and begins an affair. Handsome, gentle creative Esme Fraser is bewitched by the spirited and sensual Elaine Firth, but she rebels against her repressed upbringing and after a boring job in a Welsh seaside town, runs away to join a circus. Esme’s childhood sweetheart, the girl next door, Judith Carver, is heartbroken by his betrayal. And spinster Edith Clegg who looks after her mentally ill sister, finds life much improved when musician Ted Hartnell arrives to lodge with them.

This was right up my street (or avenue). A richly detailed, nostalgic slice of suburban life. The lives of ordinary people, their relationships, their hopes and dreams. Set between the two world wars, this novel covers a period of significant change and makes for an interesting social commentary. It’s a linear story in so much that the structure, like life, is ongoing rather than forming a neat circle with all ends tied in a ribbon. But there is a natural ebb and flow, the acknowledgement of good and bad times, the roots of which evoke a strong sense of realism.
My overriding criticism is the use of similar character names – around 7 or 8 – whose names begin with the letter E. However, I thought the diverse, colourful cast hugely entertaining and well-characterised and I’m pleased to see there is a sequel.