Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

227 pages
Published 1934 by Hamish Hamilton
Reprinted 2008 by Hoyer Bell

I first learned of English/Australian author Angela Thirkell thanks to fellow blogger and reader, Marie. Since I was already a fan of D. E. Stevenson, Marie suggested I check out Thirkell's novels. I am so glad she did!

Since I knew nothing of Angela Thirkell, I began by searching the Internet to find out who she was and what she wrote. I quickly discovered two things about Thirkell. First, she was a very prolific writer (penning over thirty novels in nearly as many years; beginning in 1931 and publishing on average one novel a year until her death in the early 1960s). And second, that unlike D. E. Stevenson nearly all of Angela Thirkell's novels are either still in print or readily available through my library's catalog without tapping into ILL. Further research disclosed that most of Thirkell's novels are based in the fictional county of Barsetshire (created by English author Anthony Trollope in his six novel series The Chronicles of Barsetshire). I should note at this point that while Thirkell was wildly popular in her day she preferred to read the works of Trollope, Austen, Dickens and Thackeray and quotes from novels by these authors crop up without reference in several of her novels.

Initially I thought it wouldn't matter the order in which I read Thirkell's novels. I thought they were similar in format to D. E. Stevenson's novels -- somewhat connected, but easily read as stand-alone novels. And while that could be said of Wild Strawberries it isn't necessarily true of Thirkell's other books as I learned when reading The Headmistress a few weeks later, but more about that novel later, for now I will focus on my first read by Thirkell. Those unfamiliar with the story contained in Wild Strawberries it could probably be summed up like this:

The Plot:
"A witty romp through English Country-house life at its most delightfully absurd. At Rushwater House in West Barsetshire, Lady Emily Leslie and her family are entertaining an assortment of house guests, hangers-on, and French monarchists. Amid a perfect welter of rapturous embraces and moonlight madness, a marriage is finally arranged. A glittering summer party provides a hilarious climax to the various intrigues." (Summary courtesy of the publisher)

My Thoughts:
I really enjoyed Wild Strawberries. It began as a simple story about a wealthy family living on a English country estate in the years between World War I and World War II, but before the second chapter was at a close it became clear that the story was so much more.

It is satire, it is drama, it is hilariously entertaining (the "change-over" scene in the car on the way home from the train station had me laughing out loud), and it is terribly romantic. And while the plot is certainly fresh there was something almost reminiscent of the romance in the play/film(s) Sabrina. I read on with amusement as the drama surrounding the two Leslie brothers and a particular lady played out to the very last page. Yes, I can honestly agree with the publisher's summary -- Wild Strawberries is a witty romp of a read. I loved it.

If there is a downside to this novel it might be in the following: Due to it's setting (1930s pre-WWII England) there are some prejudices and slurs. And while I don't agree with the opinions expressed by some characters it was not unusual for the era and not something I think a reader should take offense to.

If you haven't yet read Angela Thirkell, you might start with her first work, High Rising, which is on my immediate TBR list so I can't attest to the quality of that work, but I imagine it'll be a worthwhile read. Or you might just jump into the series and read Wild Strawberries. For myself, this novel was enough to convince me I needed to read more Thirkell.

P. S. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell should not be confused with the 1957 film Wild Strawberries directed by Ingmar Bergman. They are two completely different stories.


Marie Cloutier said...

Oh, I am so glad you enjoyed this, and thanks for the shout-out! I can't wait to read more Thirkell and I think I'll take your advice and hit HIGH RISING next. I agree about the slurs in WS but it's the time and the place, so what can you do. SO glad you liked this as much as I did! :-)

Kristen said...

I love Thirkell and discovered her years ago on the advice of another bookish friend. I have been slowly savouring a romp through her books in order ever since. I do think she's hilarious in a wonderfully educated way.

Audrey said...

I love Angela Thirkell! If you look around further on the Web you'll even find dictionaries and encyclopedias of her characters and fictional's a wonderful world to spend time in.