I’m afraid this is one for the Stella Gibbons completists only. This was the last to be published in her lifetime and the quality of every aspect of the story is not to her usual standard.
Set in the 1930s, the narrative mainly follows Ivy, an uneducated and unconventional widow of around 50, and her former employer, Helen, a younger and rather directionless middle-class woman. Ivy inherits a rundown cottage in the countryside and proceeds to shock her neighbours by living harmoniously with various critters, sheltering a runaway schoolboy and not acquiring material possessions.
The perspective of this book is from 1970, looking back at what is obviously an idyllic time for the author, before the Second World War, the spoiling of the countryside and the decline in old-fashioned gentility. It seems unavoidably strange to readers today, as we’re further away from 1970 now than that year was from 1930! Gibbons’ books are usually set in contemporary times, so this one is different, but not different enough to be an historical novel. Two aspects of this book in particular annoyed me – the word choices (‘statelily’? oh dear) and sentence constructions which seemed rather clumsy and in need of more editing, and the repeated assumption by all of the characters that Ivy must have ‘gipsy’ heritage because she is black-haired, dark-eyed and is not house-proud. A derogatory term is also used in this respect and of course ‘gipsy’ is now considered offensive by some.
This is the only Gibbons book I’ve decidedly disliked, which is a pity. However, the more you read of an author, the more likely it is that not everything they wrote will be to your taste.
First published in 1970. This edition published in 2021 by Dean Street Press.