A blast from the past…do you remember this?

Another book that I finished while lurking in London was The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley.

Younger readers may never have heard of this, but Wesley was an author first published when past the first flush of youth, but who carried on producing very readable novels for years. Some of them were rather racy, and this one is no exception. They have been showing the excellent adaptation on Yesterday, but I think that the Channel 4 iplayer thingie  will still have it.

The tv series was the first role for Toby Stephens, and other well known British actors.Worth watching for that alone, but it is also an excellent series.

The novel is set in the summer of 1939. Oliver has been injured in the Spanish Civil War, but returns to his Uncle Richard’s Cornish house with his cousins. There they join forces with the younger Sophy and the Rector’s twin sons to complete the “Terror Run” along the cliffs. But a greater terror approaches as the War is declared. Aunt Helena becomes involved with a refugee violinist, Richard with his wife, and at least two generations are swept along in a wartime of air raids, rationing, and convoluted relationships. Much of the novel is commentary from decades later as a funeral draws many together.

This is such a readable novel that it makes a good change from some of the more literary and heavy books that I have recently struggled with. The characters are well drawn and the connections are interesting. The period details are accurate, as is the sense of loss and danger as well as the petty jealousies and attractions. The plot is complex, and some angles do not hold together, but this is not a deeply researched and academic book. Some elements feel a little rushed, and it could have been a longer book, but it is enjoyable and sufficiently human to draw most readers in. It probably fits into the “guilty pleasure” category, but it is none the worse for that. Anyone with a passing interest in wartime Britain and the emotions that erupted within it would find this a worthwhile read. It is a good book, written by someone for whom it wasn’t history but knew what it was to live in exciting, dangerous times.


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