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"All the troubles of the world come from everyone knowing how to read."--Mrs. Prouty,
This review is from: One Fine Day (Paperback)
In much the same way that Virginia Woolf shows the changes to everyday British life in the aftermath of World War I, author Mollie Panter-Downes shows the equally dramatic changes which have occurred in Wealding, near Portsmouth in the south of England, in the aftermath of World War II. Panter-Downes uses her own experience in a similar small village to create sensitive, often unique, images about everyday life during this period, creating a vibrant portrait of ordinary people coping, or not coping, with a whole new reality. In lush, often musical prose, she appeals to the reader's senses, as well as the heart, as the Marshall family-wife Laura, husband Stephen, and daughter Victoria-go about their business in a world which is utterly changed.
Laura Marshall, a relaxed woman who lives every moment, has been left during the war with a large house and virtually no one to help her run it. The young women from the village, who went to the cities to work in factories during the war, prefer their lives there. Mrs. Abbey, the former cook, was killed in the Blitz, and the current housekeeper, the inimitable Mrs. Prouty, "circulates the dust around," but is "scornful of the floundering efforts of the gentry to remain gentry still when there wasn't nobody even to answer the doorbells." Stephen Marshall, a neat, conscientious (and uptight) man, who had prized his roses and the carefully manicured grounds, has been away at war for seven years and has just returned to a place he hardly recognizes, a house which is "slowly giving up" and a garden so overgrown "it seems almost to bear a grudge."
After Stephen leaves for work in London and daughter Victoria goes to school, Laura begins her day, visiting people she knows, including the Cranmers, the family which owns the biggest manse and largest estate in the village. They have decided to abandon their house, moving into a new apartment in the stable of their former house while the house is used for a holiday hotel and an agricultural training school for boys. She remembers the sewing circles at the Cranmers' house; visits people who have lost sons, wives, and husbands during the war; and contemplates a visit from her own impossibly demanding and aristocratic mother. Eventually she climbs Barrow Downs on this beautiful day so she can survey the village from a height, coming to new conclusions about her own life, her family, and the new direction she will take when she returns. Ironically, Stephen, on his way home, is also contemplating changes in his own life.
If the novel sounds as if nothing happens, that is correct as far as a "plot" is concerned, but Panter-Downes renders the little, "unimportant" events in the lives of Laura and her family so sensitively and reveals the feelings of real people dealing with real changes so vibrantly, that the images and characters leap off the page and stick permanently in the reader's memory. Capturing the small details through which all people remember the past and, one hopes, prepare for a future, the author involves the reader completely in one ordinary day in 1946, the success of her novel a testament to the universality of her themes and the ability of human beings to adapt to changes over which they have little control. The profound honesty and psychological realism of her characters make them "modern," even though they "lived" over sixty years ago, and the author's own awareness of the "world writ small" makes this novel with its unique images and descriptions one to savor. Mary Whipple