I thought that it was about time I wrote about a book that I really love, that you can buy easily, and is an enormous contrast to A Chelsea Concerto, reviewed here https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/a-chelsea-concerto-francis-favell-a-furrowed-middlebrow-book/ .
Northbridge Rectory is one of the Thirkell books that I managed to read when I first discovered this writer a few years ago. The fact that it is one of her earlier novels,written and set in wartime when the outcome was still very far from clear (1941), makes it interesting. More than that, she takes the setting of a fairly rural rectory not directly affected by air raids and peoples it with such characters that even if you have never read Thirkell you can read it with enjoyment. It has got some of the reoccurring characters for fans, but they work well here and do not need their backstory to be detailed to enjoy the narrative.
Back in the days of large Rectories and Vicarages ( they tend to be big now, but not that large, thank goodness!), eight officers of the local regiment have been billeted there with the Reverend and Mrs Villars for the duration. Most are no trouble and unremarkable, but Lieutenant Holden greatly admires Mrs Villars, and becomes a bit of a nuisance with his never ending insistence that she must be tired and needs to rest. Miss Pemberton is a frequent vistor, sad in her devotion to her ‘lodger’, Mr Downing. Romance happens, there are women who emerge in order to ‘run things’, and a rota is constructed of watchers from the church tower, nervous of parachutists but actually bird watching through a much envied telescope.
The best character for sheer description, if not exhaustion, is Mrs Spender, one of the officer’s wives. She has witnessed some of the bombing in London, but so many stock phrases issue forth from her that no one is terribly alarmed. She apparently tells herself much when any audience is lacking, and her constant “believe it or not” and ” if you know what I mean” leads those around her when there is a raid to become more than a little murderous themselves. She is a great creation, and the other characters’ reactions to her are farcical. She certainly sticks in the memory!
This is one of the excellent reprints that Virago have produced in the last few years, and make Angela Thirkell’s novels (or some of them) much more available to the general reader as well as the fans who spend time and money tracking down copies. There are another three available later this month, including at least two that I have had problems finding. This is a great installment in the ongoing Barsetshire series, in which Thirkell is really enjoying creating and working with her characters. Well worth a read.