Top critical review
Failed to engage my sympathies
on 12 July 2016
I found it difficult to know how this book is aimed. It is not a satire in the way of the much loved (by me) "Cold Comfort Farm" and displays little of the really original writing in that book. It seems more like a comedy of the middle classes like Nancy Mitford or Angel Thirkell would write but although it is wry and witty in places I didn't feel that it was the author's intention for it to be a comedy because it just isn't funny enough. It seems more like a novel by Evelyn Waugh but the wit is nowhere near cutting enough. Of course, the author is able to forge her own path but what she has produced seems to have some elements shown by these other writers and nothing really to separate it from them.
The story is of a middle class family, a wife, husband and two unmarried daughters in their thirties, together with their staff who live in a house near the woods of the title. In the neighbourhood are other, similar, households. The son of the family has died and his widow is left virtually penniless so she comes to live in what is an exceedingly dull house and because the son has married below him she is an ex-shop girl who doesn't really fit in. This is a gloomy and ill spirited family, Mr Withers is a domestic tyrant obsessed by money. His wife has little spirit and the two daughters are dependent, ungrateful, beaten down and unhappy. Viola is a bit dim but falls madly in love with the local rich playboy son who lives nearby.
None of the characters are really engaging and their interactions and the changes they make in their lives failed to engage me. By the end of the book life has changed for every one of them but the author does rather seem to indicate that they are not a lot happier than they were at the beginning. I was rather glad to see the back of them when I had finished for I had little sympathy for any of them.