The cover mentions Barbara Pym, a comparison which surprised me as High Rising was published in 1933 and I associate Pym with a post-war England of bombed-out churches, rationing and eating half a tin of baked beans for tea. There aren't any vicars in High Rising and not many children or servants in Barbara Pym. They do, I suppose, both portray excellent women. Laura Morland is a joy. She struggles to keep her family afloat; just her and her youngest son now that her elder boys have left home and her good-looking but useless husband has died. I knew from the first sentence, 'The headmaster's wife twisted herself round in her chair to talk to Mrs Morland, who was sitting in the row just behind her' that this was going to be good. She reminds me of Stella Gibbons or Elizabeth von Arnim and, with her many novels, she has certainly earned her place in the canon of English comedy. In High Rising, the heroine struggles to free her neighbour George Knox from the clutches of his demented secretary. Her village friends, train-obsessed son and char woman (Stoker, surely a relation of Mrs Pringle in Miss Read's Fairacre chronicles) all make welcome appearances. As another review says, Thirkell's way with words is magnificent. I particularly enjoyed the young couple Sibyl and Adrian 'oozing' out of the French windows into the garden. High Rising isn't perfect. At times, it seems too much like a comic version of Thirkell's own life. We are told virtually nothing about Mr Morland - why everyone has such a low opinion of him or why Laura married him in the first place. However, the prose is light and as clear as crystal and I look forward to reading more (or all!) of these Barsetshire masterpieces in their new, handsome Virago editions.
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