REVIEW: Summer Pudding by Susan Scarlett
“There was silence. In it Janet heard the twittering of innumerable birds chatting as they settled down for the night. Some rooks cawed overhead. The baa of a sheep came from a distant field. London had been so noisy, with its crashes at night, and blastings and hammerings at smashed buildings by day, that the quiet and peace fell on her spirit like a cold hand on a sprained ankle.”
Janet Brain has been bombed out of her job in a London office and comes to the village of Worsingford (surely a case of going from bad to Worsingford), where her self-absorbed sister Sheila and their mother Maggie are weathering the war.
Maggie has a bad heart and should be resting, but Sheila’s too busy fancying herself a film star to help out. Close at hand are Donald, a handsome young widower, and his adorable daughter, as well as Barbara, a charming girl whose love is away on active service, and Barbara’s curmudgeonly but likeable old father, a retired colonel (not to mention the ghosts in his house).
There should be happy endings for all, but Donald’s possessive young housekeeper and a series of misunderstandings precipitated by Sheila’s selfishness will have to be dealt with first.
After enjoying “Clothes-Pegs,” I knew I wanted to read more of her books. This one involves three different families all tied together by one beautiful villain. It takes until the end of the book to untangle all the knots and straighten everything out but the end result is worth it.
It’s 1943 and Londoner Janet Brain is traveling to the countryside where her sick mother and selfish, work averse younger sister have been staying since their small London house got bombed. Now that Janet’s workplace has also been hit, she’s down to stay a few weeks and rest a bit before doing her part and joining up. She’s been thinking about the WRNS but sister Sheila hasn’t been doing her share of the work in the cottage. In addition, it now seems that Sheila promised to be a governess for the (delightful) nine year old daughter of their landlord, a local farmer. He’s keen on one of the sisters holding up their end of the bargain and Janet just knows that in the end, Sheila will wriggle out of her promise, as she always does, leaving Janet holding the bag.
The job isn’t hard, as Iris is a darling, but Janet and the housekeeper strike sparks. Gladys obviously feels that Donald ought to be hers despite the fact that Donald shies away from her. Old Ben, a farmhand, sees things clearly though. Janet has made friends with a local woman, Barbara – who is waiting for her sweetheart who is now in the Army, and Barbara’s father “the Colonel” now sidelined with an ulcer for which he has to drink pints of milk (dreadful stuff) a day.
Maggie, Janet and Sheila’s mother, has done her best to raise her daughters on her own but knows she tends to cater to beautiful Sheila who sees a future for herself as a film star and wife of a rich man. Things for all of them are soon in a muddle. Will the truth come out before two relationships are wrecked?
So here’s a WWII novel not set in London and without any bombs or spitfires on the cover. Seriously, is there a WWII book published today without flying spitfires on the cover?? Since this really was published during the war, perhaps that explains it. At first Janet is the “fish out of water” in the country but she discovers, despite not knowing a field of wheat from a field of oats, that she likes it there. The cottage is wonderful and so amazingly cheap. After London prices, Maggie and Janet marvel at how low country rents are.
Gladys can’t contain the bitterness and jealousy in her voice when Janet begins to be accepted by all and sundry at the farm but Janet dismisses any worry as she’s only there to work. That is until one marvelous afternoon when she and Donald go into town for supplies and are stranded by themselves on the way back. Janet’s never been in love but she finds herself thinking about Donald. But Donald has one thing holding him back which puzzles Barbara when he vaguely mentions it. The local doctor – the kind of caring man who will (remember this was in the 40s) fudge about a diagnosis because he knows how to deal with people – pops in and out and the Colonel shudders when the housemaid (who along with him “sees” the previous ghostly inhabitants of the old Georgian house) brings out another glass of milk.
No matter how they act, I can believe that these people exist. As their lives get more tangled up, I still believe what’s happening on page because it all seems normal and natural based on human nature. Mothers do coddle one child over another, one sibling is the responsible one, people are told something that seems reasonable and they believe it, beauty doesn’t always mean goodness. And no I really haven’t given anything away there as readers soon see exactly what one character is – or isn’t.
So check this out for a little angst, some heartache, some scheming, some talk about rations and unavailable school supplies, some humor, lovely secondary characters, and not one but three charming relationships. And some dues being paid that are long overdue. B