Will Hastie is home from the war. But everything has changed. Will’s childhood best friend, Rae Murray, will never come home, and his family will never be the same.
One of the tragedies of war is the lasting effect on families and their heritage. Will knows that his friend Rae’s estate is entailed and therefore will go to a cousin, a change that Will himself cannot seem to come to terms with.
Change is difficult for us all, and Stevenson does a good job of portraying how the small things in life bring comfort:
“So far he had avoided the old play-room – there were too many memories – but he wanted to see Patty and she might be there. He mounted the steep wooden stairs – which still creaked noisily in the same places – and pushed open the door.
The room was empty and tidy but obviously it was used, not abandoned as Will had feared. Patty was the only person likely to use it so probably she came up here when she felt in need of peace – when she wanted to be alone.
Will looked around and saw that nothing had been changed. Except for the tidiness it was just as he remembered. The shelves were crowded with books of all kinds and in various stages of dilapidation….In this room Will and Rae had swapped stamps and practised conjuring tricks; they had played card-games on wet afternoons; they had made toffee and tied flies….and how they had talked! They had talked about school, they had discussed religion; sometimes they had talked sense, but more often absolute nonsense. They had quarrelled and made it up and become closer friends than before.”
When Patty, Rae’s sister, shows Will a last letter that Rae had written to her, Will decides to take action and the story unfolds from there. The language of the letter is mysterious enough that Will decides to travel to France and discover for himself the circumstances of Rae’s death.
This has been called a ‘gentle’ novel by others, and so it is. It is a pleasant read, although with a few surprises. I enjoyed it more than some of Stevenson’s other novels, but that could partly be because I have missed reading her novels so much lately!
I read this delightful novel of post-war England in less than a day. It is fairly simple and yet it does make one question the reasons why people act the way they do. Hugo, Patty’s fiance, is well-liked by everyone and stands to inherit the family estate….and yet he makes a decision that has lasting consequences and his treatment of Patty bears its fruit. Julie, a French woman, makes a decision of a different kind, one that is self-sacrificing and very very practical….and Patty has a hard time understanding. But Julie’s decision also has a great effect on Patty’s own life.
“Does the weather matter so much?”
“Perhaps it is a small thing,” admitted Julie. “But life is made up of a lot of small things. I miss the hot golden sunshine and the bright colours of the flowers and I miss the people in the market – talking very fast and waving their hands and laughing – or perhaps getting a little cross when I drive a hard bargain. It is all so different here. It is not amusing to go marketing in Torfoot. The people here are nice and kind, but they are so quiet. All your friends are nice and kind. Your friends ask me to go to tea and they talk to me with pleasant voices but all the same I do not belong. I am outside the fence. I am a stranger.”
Marriage and the decisions we make and how we make them are always fun conflicts to read about in literature. “Still Glides the Stream” is also a novel about change; the changes that come from war, from loss, from life itself, and our attempts to understand and adjust.
“I’m crazy, said Patty to herself. Will has always been my friend; he has always been my brother – or almost – so what more do I want? But Will was not really her brother and the fact remained that when she had seen Will and Julie look at each other “like that” it had given her a strange pain in her heart. He’s the same but I’ve changed, thought Patty. Well, I’ll just have to bear it.”