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|Print List Price:||£9.99|
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Nightingale Wood (Virago Modern Classics Book 154) Kindle Edition
|Length: 399 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
|Page Flip: Enabled|
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I am learning humility late in life as I discover and love authors I turned my nose up at years ago. Stella Gibbons joins these distinguished ranks and I am going to own up and say I have never read Cold Comfort Farm (I now have a copy waiting to go), despite the fact that the author used to be a regular reader at HIghgate Library where I worked in the 1960s. She was a very quiet, elegant, charming lady and though I knew who she was, I was not overwhelmed with excitement as I was then a stripling of 18 and not impressed by what I saw as authors of 'nice' books. I do remember her coming in one morning looking rather cross and her telling me that she had had a wonderful idea for a book which came to her in the middle of the night, only she did not write it down, and now she had forgotten it. I wonder which one that was?
In Nightingale Wood we meet Viola Withers, a young penniless widow, who is forced to live with her late husband's family in a cold joyless house. Mr Wither, a miser and a misery who rules the roost and who will not let his daughter Madge have a dog, Mrs Wither who thinks Viola is just a common shop girl and Tina, who is in love with Saxon, the chauffeur.
Viola meets and falls in love with Victor Spring, the local Prince Charming, dashing, handsome, rich and clever, but who dallies with her feelings while becoming engaged to the oh so suitable, but shrewish, Phyllis. Viola finds her life repressive and boring but can see no future other than to stay where she is and moulder away. She yearns for freedom and happiness:
"She looked across the saltings to where the sea was and as she lifted her face, rosy with the steady smoothing of the cold wind, the sun darted a bright gold beam across the marshes......she heard a strangely thrilling noise....nearer and nearer it came, until suddenly there swept over her head a flock of wild swans, rushing on white gold wings into the sunset. Laughing with excitement, she ran down the track the follow their flight but the sunset, and tears, dazzled her and she could not see.
They were so beautiful....wouldn't it be wonderful if she could always feel like she had felt when they thundered over her head, not wanting anyone, happy to be quite alone and looking at something as beautiful as those swans?
But the sun had gone behind the clouds again and the wind was getting up, it was nearly half past three and the last bus left at four."
This book is sheer delight from start to finish. It is funny, witty and amusing, but also sympathetic and gentle, even to the ghastly Mr Withers, who really is a tyrant in his home:
"Mrs Withers came in but he took no notice of her because he had seen her before"
"Emmie's a good wife to me, a very good wife, suddenly thought Mr Wither. And then, like a cold wind - What shall I do when she's gone?"
The story of how the Withers family find love and/or fulfilment and whether Viola marries her Prince Charming or not against all the odds, is just lovely (sorry to overuse this word but cannot think of an alternative), and kept me up till late last night fighting to keep awake in order to finish Nightingale Wood. Cornflower Books has also reviewed this title so check out what she has to say here .
Off now to check all of Stella Gibbon's output and make a note of all their titles as I am compiling my wish list for my visit to Hay on Wye next month. I have a sneaky feeling I am going to come back with a bootful of books.
Oh I do hope so....
"never could be sure what his money was up to........ he prowled uneasily after it in the financial columns of the Press".
"Mr. Withers's heart was fairly light as he set out for a walk ....... it was a fine day, the money was better..."
"Mr Withers, because the money had again rallied, was on top of the world. He showed it by suddenly giving the four women a pound each."
"It is a beautiful sight, Victor's money. It grows: it runs healthily round the country like a sound bloodstream: it never suffers from the palpitations and nerve storms that affect Mr. Withers's money".
It could be said that worrying about his money has robbed Mr Withers of many simple pleasures, and he acts in an emotional vacuum, completely unaware of the concerns and desires of the other women under his roof, except to deny and control them. In the main, they manage to subvert his plans, and each of the three young women achieves what she wants out of life despite his intervention. Stella Gibbons writes with delicate irony and a wry comic touch; having read of Mr Withers's combover on page 1, it is quite hard to take him seriously after that. A recurring motif after the Infirmary Ball, as the ladies prepare for bed, is the decreasing cost of their face cream........ Phyllis's at 6/6 a pot, Tina's at 2/6, while Viola "was already dreaming, with her face covered with a cream at sixpence a tube and a dance programme under her pillow".
If any publishers are out there wondering which seam to mine next, consider the OOP novels of Stella Gibbons.
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