I have been enjoying Miss Read’s Thrush Green series. Her writing is quiet, with subdued plots; not multi-layered or complicated in scope. However they are restful reads, and cleverly put together. The characters are ‘real’ and down-to-earth. Who can not admire Charles Henstock, the vicar, so humble and satisfied with his lot?
“She led the way, still chattering, down the long dark corridor which acted as a wind tunnel, and kept the rectory in a state of refrigeration during the winter months. Harold’s feet echoed on the shabby linoleum, and he thought guiltily of his own carpeted home across the green. It was shameful to think how appallingly some of the clergy were housed. Charles’s stipend was barely enough to keep body and soul together, as Harold well knew. Not that he or Dimity ever complained. Their hearts were thankful, their concern for others governed all their thoughts. They were two of the happiest people Harold had ever met.”
And who cannot but laugh at Albert Piggott’s gloomy outlook and dealings with his village neighbors?
‘Of course,’ went on the rector, following his friend down the passage, ‘Piggott never makes the best of anything. No one could accuse him of looking on the bright side of life.’
However, the peaceful quiet village life in Thrush Green is threatened when a dispute arises concerning the churchyard. Albert Piggott, never the most energetic caretaker at the best of times, is no longer able to keep the churchyard nicely mowed and neat. A plea for volunteer helpers to assist him is unsatisfactory, and the church council commences with meetings to discuss what could be done (is there ever anything more detrimental to calm stability than a Board meeting to resolve an issue?)
The indomitable Dotty acquires a car from a legacy and is a road menace, and ultimately her exploits land her in the courtroom. (The reader will find that even the irrepressible Dotty has her frailties). Even the recently and happily married Frank and his wife Phil are entangling over whether Phil’s son Jeremy should attend boarding school.
The village school itself does not escape a period of conflict as a new teacher adds her perspective and less-than-flattering views on the upcoming Christmas pageant.
Meanwhile, Winnie Bailey’s husband Donald finally succumbs to his lingering illness and somehow she must find a way to adjust to her life without Donald.
In between all of these major upsets, there are other various small problems to be resolved (like the remains of the Christmas turkey):
“I think curried turkey is the best way of finishing it up,’ said Dimity one morning, when she was taking coffee at her former abode with Ella and Winnie.
‘Not bad,’ agreed Ella, ‘but I prefer it with mushrooms and white sauce. Easy to do too. Or shepherd’s pie, of course.’
‘The fact is,’ said Dimity, ‘that any turkey dish, after five days of it, tends to pall. I’m longing for a steak and kidney pie!’
“I didn’t buy a turkey this year,” said Winnie.
‘Then you’re extremely lucky,’ her friends told her.”
‘And now we’ve January to look forward to,’ sighed Ella. ‘Talk about the January blues! What with the bills, and the general damp and gloom, and so long to wait for spring – it does get one down!’
‘I cheer myself up,’ said Dimity, ‘by tidying a cupboard. It makes me feel so virtuous and efficient.’
I don’t read Miss Read’s novels to look for hidden clues or discover a mystery, nor do I expect complicated plot twists or literary, scholarly paragraphs. What I do find when I read her series is a progression of stories in a small country village, a pleasurable, smooth story that exposes human character foibles within the happenings of daily life, and the enjoyment of identification with authentic, genuine individuals.
“…now I’ve burdened you with it,’ cried Dotty distractedly. ‘You won’t ever tell anyone, will you, Winnie dear? I couldn’t bear Thrush Green to get wind of my shameful fears.’
‘No one will learn anything from me,’ Winnie promised. ‘And you know, Dotty, we all have fears, and I’m beginning to realise that we must accept them and not feel ashamed of them.’