This book is another absolute gem republished by Persephone Books. At the beginning of the book we perceive Miss Ranskill to be battered physically and mentally by the dreadful circumstances of her shipwreck (I'm not giving anything away here, we are told of the shipwreck soon after the beginning). As the story progresses we realise that here is a woman of great strength and courage, but an 'ordinary' woman nevertheless. Surprisingly, as the book goes on we also realise we are reading a story of deep love and grief. There are, however, many moments of hilarity.
Set against a background of WWII, we are also introduced to a cast of characters some of whom are funny, outrageous or sometimes heroic, but all coping with the War in their own way.
Beautifully written, moving and inspiring yet funny in parts, this is a wonderful read, which I wholeheartedly recommend.
Unexpected delight! I only bought it cos in researching my family tree, I found that the author, famous for her Worzle Gummage books, had been born in the same village as my grandfather... so it was a silly reason! But a gentle read; yes, a bit light in places but coincidences are allowed to happen in stories. Good fun, very unexpectedly!
...So this woman has been shipwrecked on a desert island, where she's been living with another castaway until he's died and she's been rescued. She's been fond of this man, and he was very self-reliant and useful on a desert island, though as he was happily married and she was socially somewhat above him and it's the 1940s, Nothing Happened. And now she's being brought back to England, into the Second World War, which so far she's pretty much missed... So far, so loopy. But if you can accept this far-fetched premise, what you get is a shrewd and funny book about how people's outlook can be completely changed by their circumstances. Nice, thoughtful Miss Ranskill has really learned a new philosophy from her desert island life, and now she's dumped into a whole new world of ration books, the blackout, and telling on your neighbours when they buy on the black market. Her old friends are living a different life, preoccupied by the war, and are not at all helpful - in fact this is often a book about how nasty women can be to each other. Miss Ranskill is splendidly dauntless, and she wins out in the end. It's fun. Read it.
Rip Van Winkle returned to his village after 20 years of sleep to find that a lot had changed in his absence. The heroine of this 1946 war-time novel, Miss Ranskill, fortunately is only absent from all she knows - a nice village house shared with her sister - for four years, when she is shipwrecked in a desert island. On the island she discovers survival skills and something of her wild side; there, too, she befriends another shipwrecked passenger, one of life's gentlemen called The Carpenter. The book opens rather macabrely with Miss Ranskill burying him on the beach.
Back home, things become comically nightmarish. She finds herself an alien in her own country: presumed dead, without an ID card or ration coupons, dressed in rags, she's looked upon with suspicion. A stranger now lives in her house; she's thrown upon the dubious mercies of an old school friend; she is suspected of being a spy, and when she does track down her sister, she's tolerated on sufferance. It doesn't help that she's not very quick on the uptake. It's a classic case of displacement.
The remainder of the book twists and turns in unpredictable ways. It includes a dramatic incident when she is trapped in a bombed out cellar where she meets two people - a young boy and a bride-to-be - who will later prove to be her salvation. She makes contact with The Carpenter's wife - who's relieved to hear of his death - and his twelve year old son, the spitting image of his dad, whom she takes a shine to.
Throughout, we hear the internalised voice of The Carpenter. At first I found this effective, but gradually it became irritating, his homespun wisdom a little tiresome. But he's a comfort to Miss Ranskill in a confusing and rather unfriendly world, a touchstone of truth for her.
It's an engaging story, simply told in plain, crisp language. Occasionally I was reminded of the author's expertise as a children's novelist (she created Worzel Gummidge) when the story became a little sentimental, especially in relation to the boy, but there were also hints of something more profound going on beneath this otherwise rather modestly told story. It grips you because of its unusual point of view and its clear eyed look at the absurdities of the home front during the war.
An impossible tale with a twist of pathos and humour. Miss Ranskill was on a cruise when she leant over the side of the ship to retrieve her hat which had blown off. She leant over too far and as a consequence fell into the ocean. She was rescued by a shipwrecked carpenter and found herself on a desert island where she remained for three years, until she was picked up by a naval vessel escorting a convoy. She had no idea there was a war on - one which had been raging for almost three years, and the main part of the story is about her struggling to come to terms with a very different world to that which she had left. Her ways are different and she sees no harm in walking to town barefoot and lightly clothed. She has great difficulty in getting used to rationing and there is one incident when she eats her whole week's butter ration in one go, much to the anger and dismay of the person with whom she is staying. She had no idea that in order to buy clothes she needed clothing coupons and in order to eat she needed a ration book. Eventually, of course, Miss Ranskill comes to terms with her present situation, but she never forgot her time on the desert island. A delightful story and one well worth reading.
Shortly before the start of World War II, Nona Ranskill was swept overboard whilst on a cruise and was washed up on a desert island. The only other inhabitant of the island is a man known as 'the Carpenter', who had also fallen overboard on an earlier occasion. At the beginning of the book, the Carpenter has died and we first meet Miss Ranskill as she's digging his grave. After burying the Carpenter, Miss Ranskill makes an attempt to escape from the island - and luckily she is rescued by the British Navy. Returning to England after almost four years, Miss Ranskill discovers that it's not the England she left behind: in her absence, World War II has begun..
This may all sound very far-fetched, but Todd actually makes it seem believable. I thought the whole idea of someone being cut off from the world and returning home only to find themselves suddenly thrown into the middle of a war was absolutely fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the first half of the book which deals with the first few days of Miss Ranskill's arrival in England, when everything feels strange and surreal. Even the English language seems different and full of unfamiliar words. When she tries to buy food she can't understand why she's asked for her 'ration book', or why she needs 'coupons' to purchase clothes. This leads to some very amusing situations but at the same time you can't help but feel sorry for poor Miss Ranskill.
Although he's dead before the story even begins, the strongest character in the book is the Carpenter. He is constantly in Miss Ranskill's thoughts and his presence is there on almost every page in the form of flashbacks and memories. His optimism and words of wisdom had helped to sustain Miss Ranskill during her time on the island and continue to give her comfort on her return to wartime Britain.
However, the years on the island and the company of the Carpenter have given her a new outlook on life and she finds it difficult to adjust. Unlike her friends and family who are all absorbed in their war work, Miss Ranskill feels detached from what's going on and spends most of the book remembering the island and even feeling nostalgic about the fact that she had to eat fish for every meal and wear the same clothes for nearly four years! England may have changed, but Miss Ranskill has changed even more.
This book has the perfect blend of humour and poignancy and gives us an opportunity to explore World War II from a unique perspective.
From the start, Miss Ranskill proves she is not your ordinary woman when she uses her bare hands to scrape out a grave in the sand for the Carpenter, her sole companion on the desert island upon which she has been stranded for four years. I was fascinated with that rather grim beginning and compelled to read on. The story that follows - of Miss R returning to her home in England and discovering there is a war on - is clear-sighted and revealing. It goes beyond the classic 'woman on the homefront' tale to describe a lady who sees through the carefully engineered persona many women put on as they threw themselves into the wartime efforts. A brilliant read; one of my favourite Persephone titles.