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on 18 May 2017
If the large number of Angela Thirkell novels now in paperback (not enough, Virago!) are a bit confusing, this early book may appeal. It is not the first in the series, but stands alone well (as most of the books do, really) and while it introduces and mentions characters that have a lot of involvement in the storylines of the other novels, you do not need to know all about them to follow the plot of this book.
It is a simple plot. Alice, shy artist daughter of Mrs Barton, author, is completely terrified of going to a house party at Pomfret towers. Her father and brother Guy are pretty mystified by this, but the inclusion of two family friends, Sally and Roddy, in the invitation gives her some courage. The house seems to be full of authors, established and would be, publishers, artists as well as sundry guests who fill Alice with varying levels of trepidation, but she survives as does everyone else. Some dreams are fulfilled, some suffer agonies of disappointment, others find a new life and partner as a result of a weekend in the country.
This could easily be the setting for a country house murder, but Thirkell is more interested in pushing her characters into less obviously difficult trials of life and love, including publishing, romance and ambitions. It would be better described as a comedy of manners, as the reader waits to see if there is a satisfactory outcome to the various plot strands.
There are some great characters here, as the overbearing mother is contrasted with a no less caring but less ambitious parent, the modern artist with the sensible land agent, and minor aristocracy with those who actually do the work on the land. There is Sally, one of Thirkell’s practical young women, whose attitude to her pet dogs is memorable, as well as Phoebe, forerunner of a later Jessica, who decides that life on the stage is better than waiting for her mother’s matrimonial ambitions to work out. Guy, Roddy and Giles are young men who are not always sure what they want, but are definitely preferable to Julian, artist and difficult offspring.
This book represents Thirkell having fun, before the onset of war and shortage, race and class become so central. It is entertainment, well written and enjoyable, comfort reading for those seeking a safe read with satisfactory endings for nearly all concerned. I would recommend it for its characters and for those interested in a certain section of pre war society, a comedy without complexity.
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VINE VOICEon 10 August 2014
Pomfret Towers is an ideal place for a House Party, you can imagine that most weekends being taken up by them. Alice Barton on the other hand is not your ideal guest for a house party. She has been a sickly delicate child and a cosseted youngster and rarely sets foot outside her own front door. She seeks solace in her painting and rarely speaks even when spoken to. She is described as 'insignificant' by Mrs Rivers and at the beginning of the book she is somewhat.

However, the house party throws together some interesting people, some interesting and humorous situations which bring Alice into another world and out of her shell. Giles Foster is the nephew of the current Lord Pomfret and is also the heir of Pomfret Towers. Although his own father stands in his way to this title, Lord Pomfret thinks it is time that Giles understood exactly what he is going to inherit. As a bachelor (and heir of course) he catches the eye of a number of young women (and their mothers) also attending the house party. He has his pick. But does he pick with his heart or his head?

There is of course the pushy mother Mrs Rivers, who spends her life defending her bohemian son, who was a most trying man and trying to force her daughter, who rather devilish into a marriage with money. Her own career as an author of rather soft and romantic novels for ladies of a certain age, gives Lord Pomfret something to groan about especially when he wants to talk to her publisher alone.

The Wicklows, Sally and Roddy are Alice Barton and her brother Guy's friends. They understand Alice and look after her as much as they can but they are rather more adventurous and spend a lot of time outdoors and with opinions of their own they rather leave Alice behind sometimes. Alice needs to catch up with them all.

This book is a gem, as it glimpses into a world full of those that frequent the big estates in the pre war period. I hate to say Downton Abbey but I can see the correlation of the thought of those that are invited to a house party and those that serve at them. A real mix of people who start the weekend in one way, with thoughts and feelings for one particular guest and come out the other side completely different, matches are made which you would never have considered and those who contrive to force romance on some are left disappointed. Whilst this book can be seen as perhaps Alice's introduction to this world, it is all the wonderful characters that Thirkell has created in this book that tickled me.

If you like light fiction, something that resembles Wodehouse in parts I found, then this could be the book for you.
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on 18 August 2014
Angela Thirkell is a real find for me and goodness knows why it has taken me so long to discover her. If like me you love Nancy Mitford, Dodie Smith, Barbara Pym and Stella Gibbons then you should certainly give Angela's books a try. She also has a touch if P. G. Wodehouse's fabulous humour and great evocation of place and time. I'm certainly going to read her other novels now.
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I think this is probably the first book by Angela Thirkell I have ever read, although it won’t be my last. A number of her books take place in the fictional Barsetshire, the county invented by Anthony Trollope, and this novel is one of these, first published in 1938.

As Lady Pomfret makes one of her rare visits to her husband and Pomfret Towers, so a weekend with guests is arranged. As well as the family there have been others invited as well. With the Earl of Pomfret having lost his son, Giles Foster is the son of the next heir apparent, although as Giles’ father is quite ill it looks like this will fall to Giles after the present Earl passes away. Going to spend the weekend are the young siblings of two families, the Wicklows and the Bartons, with Alice Barton very shy and not really looking forward to it.

This book works on more than one level, there is the easy reading of this and the elements of romance, comedy and satire that make up the story, but also this shows middle class aspirations and how some people are quite obnoxious, due to money or success. For instance we have Mrs Barton who is an author and is quite pleasant, contrasted with Mrs Rivers, another author, who is quite rude and domineering, but has no idea how to bring her children up. Mrs Rivers is also a composite figure as such, as there were still quite a few authors around who were successful writing the types of books that she does here.

With Alice we see someone who is out of their depth to a degree, as she does not know what to do and how things run in a country house, making a faux pas here and there. With some very unusual characters, such as Julian Rivers, and young love and the heart getting in the way of reason this does make for an enjoyable and easy read that should still appeal to many. The story just trips along and is undemanding meaning that this makes for a quiet, comfortable and cosy read.
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on 28 November 2013
If you enjoy Angela Thirkell, you will be pleased that Virago are now printing more of her works. These are nice editions and reasonably priced and I look forward to more of the same; in May 2014 there are more to come.
This is an entertaining read, the characters are nicely drawn and the story is centred around a house party. Good mix of characters and their relationships with each other thoughtfully portrayed. It's amusing, interesting and you want to know what happens.
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on 21 September 2015
Thoroughly entertaining, not very serious but enjoyable. My one complaint is that the kindle version available to download is missing the last page. Deleting and re-downloading did not cure this, but fortunately it was possible to read the last bit in the Cloud. Amazon, please update the kindle file!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 June 2016
Intrigued by this novel, ostensibly a romance/satire based on a between the wars house party, set in Anthony Trollope's immortal Barsetshire, a promissory note for lightness of touch and a comedy of social attitudes and manners. The story follows the heroine Alice Barton, a painfully shy girl who as the novel progresses comes out of her shell and the shadow of her kind but unintentionally domineering relatives and friends, to find romance and confidence to take part in the adult world. There are few Trollopian references scattered throughout, and with the passage of time since its publication in 1938, the frankly parasitic life of the upper middle classes described does irritate from time to time. But stick with it, it's an undemanding and amusing read, and I'll search out more of Thirkell's novels.
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on 19 October 2014
One of the funniest of Angela Thirkell's novels, with great characters, enough plot to keep moving along (which her books sometimes lack) and her usual brilliant dialogue. Kudos to Virago for republishing some of Thirkell's best books.
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on 5 January 2016
I really enjoyed this 1938 romantic comedy, a kind of literary Jilly Cooper. Very funny, acutely observed, with some memorable characters, it took me some time to get comfortable with the book, but once I did, I became addicted and couldn't put it down. It is somewhat hindered by having the wettest heroine in literature, the highly neurotic young Alice Barton, a girl who is endlessly wringing her hands and about to cry for the most ludicrous reasons - i.e not being able to find her brogues - who I often felt I'd like to kick. Nonetheless even that unusual depiction of a lead character cannot impinge on the charm of the book. Recommended.
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on 7 January 2015
Wonderful! My favourite Thirkell so far! What a delight to discover books written in the 1930s by someone who appreciates the power of words and the beauty of expression.
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