REVIEW: Babbacombe’s by Susan Scarlett
“I thought we were allowed to sit. I mean I thought it was the Shop Act or something that we had to have something to sit on.”
“So they say, but it doesn’t work out that way. You won’t get sacked for sitting, but if you sit you’ll get the sack.”
Lovely Beth Carson is just out of school and beginning her first job at Babbacombe’s department store. She is pure as the driven snow, and knows her “place”, but she can hardly be blamed for tripping over a charming young man’s dog, can she? And how could she help being trapped in an elevator with the same man a few days later, and giving him a piece of her mind before learning that he just happens to be David Babbacombe, the ne’er-do-well son of the store’s wealthy owner? How could she possibly have known that her careless words would inspire him to take a new lease on life? Along with vivid supporting characters, wholly believable family dynamics, and fascinating details about the inner workings of a department store, we get here a delightful frolic packed with humour, unlikely romance, and even a store detective.
This is another book by this author with a heroine from a working class family that is similar to the one from “Clothes-Pegs.” No, actually they’re almost (but not quite) identical. Salt of the earth parents with five children living in a working class neighborhood, dad works, mum keeps the home spotless, dad started a moneybox but this time instead of saving money for mum to have new curtains the aim is a fur coat – and plenty of times that saved money has come in handy for the inevitable unforeseen expenses in an age before the NHS, and our heroine is the eldest child and pride of the family. But they’re all so darn nice, and hardworking, that I don’t mind the first chapter being so much of a repeat.
Beth Carson, former head girl at her school, has now graduated and her father has gotten her a job where he works at Babbacombe’s Department store. Beth is a little leary but then so are most people as they face their first adult job. Unexpectedly a niece gets landed on them whom they’ve never met but father George tells his wife Janet that if the girl is anything like his half-brother, they’re about to get trouble landed on them.
Susan Scarlett did seem to like having at least one nasty female character in her books and Dulcie fits the bill. She’s been to a boarding school, has a little money of her own (she’ll be paying the family a pound a month), but shows up with her face made up, her hair curled, painted nails, and an attitude. While meeting Dulcie at the train station, Beth accidentally trips over a dachshund and meets her Prince Charming.
“Clever dog, Scissors. We’ll buy you a bone on the way home. Your taste is impeccable; you knocked down the nicest person we’ve ever seen.”
And David Babbacombe really is charming. Not that this stops him from having issues with the Old Man as Mr. Babbacombe wants his son to work in the business while David dreams of designing airplanes.
Beth and David run into each other again and the thing that Beth gives David a piece of her mind about is how he’s frittering away his life instead of earning an honest £. David was dazzled by Beth (and his dog Scissors agrees. Scissors is given a few thoughts in the book, too, as he listens to David rhapsodize about Beth.) the first time and is determined to shape up and be a better man for her to the extent of marching up to his father’s office and demanding a job, wherever in the store that may be. Cooked Meats it is, complete with an apron and white hat. But with Beth afraid that any relationship with David would get him in trouble with his father (she is, after all, the daughter of a man who works in Hardware), it’s hard going for the romance despite David’s best and determined efforts. Nasty Niece Dulcie, has her own eyes on nabbing David as it’s been her plan to marry a rich man.
Can David finally woo and win the woman of his heart? Will Beth finally agree that the two of them are a match made in Heaven? And how long will mum Janet put up with Dulcie?
There’s no mention in the book of when it’s set but it was written in 1941. Since nothing about the war is mentioned, I’m assuming that this was, along with no mention of rationing or bombing, to take reader’s minds off what was really happening.
I adored the Carson family. They’re sweet, love each other, would do anything for each other, but they’ve also been given some human foibles so as to avoid appearing like plaster saints. The older members take time and care when dealing with some of the younger children’s mistakes and misunderstandings. No one is mocked, laughter is the order of the day, and the Carsons stick together. They do try and keep the peace with Dulcie despite that one’s truculence, snide attitude, nasty comments, and meddling. Another delight is that David takes her measure the first time he meets her. David also remembers the family cat when he’s passing out Christmas presents at the end of the story which – if I hadn’t already loved the book – would have made it for me. Oh, and he gets a dog for younger brother Edward and treats the fifteen year old with respect.
The details of working in a 1930s department store reminded me of “Business as Usual” with multiple sales assistants to help you and ring you up (unlike today when you practically have to serve yourself), lift operators, stern managers, and uniforms.
The conflict is, quite honestly, mainly low key. These books weren’t written with a lot of angst in mind (Don’t you know, there’s a war going on?). It’s more about relationship stumbles and Carson family matters all of which feel believable. I zipped through the whole book in a day and enjoyed myself – well except for Dulcie who is played up just a bit much. B+