Ms. Thirkell does not disappoint. It is summer and the people in the small village of Worsted in Barsetshire are all focused on the upcoming amateur performance of the Greek tragedy Hippolytus...that is when they are not focused on love, heartbreak, tea, cooking, tennis, roadsters, reading, tending to twisted ankles, sewing costumes, stubborn donkeys, writing letters of news or apology, dinner parties, crossword puzzles, the fate of old school chums, preparing lectures, rehearsals, beauty creams, mending cart axles, cricket, swimming, encounters with bulls, rum omelettes, sherry-drinking cats, and more love and heartbreak.
It is incredible the number of comic situations, conversations, misunderstandings, asides, meanderings, social comments, psychological insights, and cups of tea that Ms. Thirkell manages to cram into 170 pages. At once I was swept away to a place entirely of her making but so real that I could taste the mulberries that were ripening in the trees or hear the thwock of the tennis ball as it hit a racquet. Such fun.
Among the characters are Richard Tebben who has just gotten his 'third in Greats' at Oxford (which apparently is not that good of a showing) and is now home and at loose ends. He develops a crush on the older (almost 50) Mrs. Dean and spends late nights writing poetry about his love.
Mrs. Dean is the sister-in-law of Mrs. Palmer who is producing the play. Mrs. Dean and her husband have nine children: Laurence, Helen, and Betty (mentioned yesterday). Susan, Jessica, and Robin are along as well, while three of her sons are away serving in the military. The family, which normally lives in London, is spending the summer in Worsted.
More: Richard's sister Margaret and their parents Winifred, who writes books on economic sociology, and her Norse-scholar husband Gilbert; the hard of hearing Rector, his two daughters, and the annoying curate Mr. Moxon (a deliberate typo for Moron?); Mr. Fanshawe who was Mrs. Tebben's tutor at Oxford and is a friend and distant family member of the Dean clan and is staying with them at Dower Manor.
And let us not forget Modestine, the lazy donkey, and Gunnar the cat (who disconcertingly have two or three conversations with each other that add nothing to the novel).
Here are some of Ms. Thirkell's observations:
"Helen had the anxious expressive face of an animal that does not feel secure among humans."
"Susan and Robin had not yet passed the very trying age that thinks its valueless thoughts aloud."
"Mrs. Tebben could not bear to be outdone in arranging people's lives."
"Mr. Fanshawe, who like most of his sex would enthusiastically neglect any woman, however charming, to talk to any man, however dull, at once engaged Mr. Tebben in conversation."
Really, one could open to any page and find a sharply drawn character detail or witty bon mot.
And now I am on to the second book in the Thirkell omnibus, Summer Half.