I picked this up when I was just getting over a bout with the flu, and enjoyed this gentle read!
Not your typical Mary-Stewart-suspense novel, this book takes the reader through a time shortly after World War 2 has ended. Set in England, Kathy (or Kate), has been called upon by her aging grandmother who is recovering from a stay in the hospital. Kathy’s grandmother is moving to Scotland and she needs her to sort through her belongings in the small cottage where Kathy has grown up. Kathy is a wartime widow (her husband had flown bombers for the RAF), who has been living in London for the past several years. She has come to terms with her grief over the loss of her husband, but still has childhood memories that tug at her, and questions that need to be answered.
The descriptions of the small village she grew up in, the neighbors (who are vastly interested in anything and everything that happens in their small community!), the gardens, and the furnishings of Rose Cottage itself, makes the reader long to just go and purchase a small cottage in the country and enjoy a quiet life!
When she arrives at her childhood home Kathy is surprised to find that the keepsakes her grandmother specifically asked her to set aside for her, have been stolen. Who could have taken them? who knew where the key was hidden that would unlock the secret safe they were hidden in behind the wallpaper? It seems that there are several villagers who are willing to help Kathy speculate on the possibilities…
A gentle mystery, I found myself enjoying this book and it was perfect for reading during recuperation from an illness. Kathy’s story and that of her mother (and interfering aunt), is a sad one, but one that seemingly does not leave lasting scars. The character of the vicar who is kind to Kathy with his sincerity and genuine helpfulness and who seeks to help Kathy find her true heritage, is contrasted with the self-righteous behavior of her Aunt Betsy. Aunt Betsy takes a drastic and deceptive action that has the opposite effect of what she apparently is trying to do, and her self-serving secrecy will result in sad consequences for the entire family.
“Rose Cottage” is set during a time when England is not only recovering from war, but examining (and replacing) their societal structures. Social mores are becoming blurred in the aftermath of the war, and, in the light of so much loss and heartache after the war, the class-conscious values of society no longer seem very important. With so many lives tragically affected, it is almost inevitable that the pretensions of class will crumble, and especially so for Kathy in this story.
However it is still not too late for Kathy, and I wonder if that is the true message of this quiet novel, that life goes on, and we must make the best of our circumstances and choices.
“But that was a long time ago, and I had, perforce, worked out my own philosophy of living. It had to be what you were, not who you were, that mattered. I had taken life as it was dealt me, loved my home, and been happy. Would be happy again. So the person to be sorry for here was Mrs. Winton Smith, a snob who had dropped a social brick, and who, being what she was, would obviously care very much about that…”
When I first discovered the story of Kathy’s true parentage, I was (I have to admit), a little dismayed. I was hoping for something with more of a ‘story’ behind it, but perhaps the author shows her wisdom here as she so matter-of-factly shows what real life can sometimes be. Kathy’s young, immature mother simply did not foresee the consequences of her summer romance. But as I thought more on this book, I also began to consider, and wonder, what the true message was. Certainly it was no mistake that the author portrayed Aunt Betsy’s character as harsh and unforgiving.
Maybe then, the true message of this book is that there are real things that matter in life, and that the mistakes we often make in our human-ness and that cloud our lives, don’t really have to change the way we act or the way we treat others. Simple acts of kindness will always be welcome, like the quiet words of sympathy that Kathy’s neighbors and fellow villagers offer her on her return for the loss of her RAF husband. The friendly milkman, Mr. Blaney, who makes sure that Kathy has what she needs for her stay. Mrs. Pascoe unexpectedly ‘dropping in’ to help Kathy clean up after the moving van comes. And the steady reassurances of her old school mate, Davey, that quiet her apprehensions… all actions that are a sharp contrast to those of her self-serving Aunt Betsy.
And so, for Kathy, she comes to realize in all her searching for the truth, looking through old photo albums, and seeking for answers, that, in spite of the difficulties and heartaches of her past, she still has – and will continue to have – much to be thankful for.
“I was remembering that slide he had, the kaleidoscope, where you turned a handle and all the bits of coloured glass got shaken up, and then fell into another pattern, a different one each time. Like the war. Shaking all our lives up into a different pattern, so different that we don’t quite know what the pattern means.”
He gave me a quick look I couldn’t interpret, then he smiled. “We got shook up, no mistake about that, but I wouldn’t worry too much about what the pattern is. Maybe it has changed a bit, but if you think about it, it’s the same bits of glass every time.”
“And that’s a comfort?”
“It’s meant to be, but take it or leave it.”