When life gets trying, or when the weather is simply awful, it’s always good to have a comfortable book to fall back on. If it introduces characters that later reappear in favourite books and is set in a long hot summer, even better. As you may have realised by now, I collect and love Angela Thirkell novels, and August Folly is one I have recently reread.
This is a pre war novel from Thirkell that was happily reprinted by Virago in 2014, making it easily available for a twenty first century reader. It forms an early instalment of the Barsetshire Chronicles, Thirkell’s sort of series of books describing the lives and loves of several families and institutions in the fictional county which takes in a large chunk of the mid twentieth century. In this volume attention is given to the Tebben family, with a rare insight (for Thirkell) into the married life of a successful female academic. Sadly, she is portrayed as over managing and fussy, but this book also includes a portrait of Betty, about to go to Oxford and keen to discover all she can about her chosen subject, saving the day at a later point. Richard is a recent graduate, lacking in self-confidence, who discovers the divine Mrs Rachel Dean, mother to many children. He falls hopelessly in love, writing poems and hoping for the merest glimpse of his heroine. There is youth, romance and adventures of a donkey, a cat and a bull, all against the background of a play being put on in a barn.
This is not the strongest in the series of novels, but an enjoyable self-contained tale of country life which progresses predictably to its peaceful ending. There are no great character studies, no great crisis, and yet it rolls along so well, so amusingly that it is a pleasure to read. The characters are funny and well developed, each capable of being frustrating and interesting, more than one dimensional with even the most apparently confident having moments of self-doubt. Even the great drama of the life saving is really far more instinctive and funny than it is later reported.
This is not the sharpest, strongest novel in the series, but it equally does not include the snobbery and other negative elements of some of the later books. I enjoyed this gentle, unchallenging tale and found it a great comfort read of insight and fun set in a peaceful summer. It is not a substantial read, but a reassuringly paced novel of characters enjoying romance, food and amateur dramatics.