Paul Craddock, wounded in the Boer War, returns to England finding he has inherited several thousand pounds sterling from his father. “…they broke the news that his father had died the day he had landed in England. He was shocked by the news but not overwhelmed. He had not seen his father in almost three years…”
Rejecting the city life Paul purchases a large estate consisting of several farms and in this long, epic-ey novel of pre-war life in England, his story continues as he marries (twice), experiences all the upheavals of a changing class system and society that the war ushers in. Paul, although at first hesitant and naive, quickly adjusts to his role as “Squire Craddock” and forges lasting relationships both within his family and among the farming community.
Perhaps overly sentimental at times, the reader is nonetheless caught up in the realistic portraits of the characters and the descriptive passages of England’s countryside. Difficulty and hardships are not glossed over, nor the seamier side of life or problems that present themselves within the lives of the characters (suicide, alcoholism, divorce, adultery, murder and more are all part and parcel of the village life but these difficulties are neither too explicit nor overly-emphasized). Warfare during the World War One is described (and who knew? I learned several new things, among them the booby-traps left in trenches).
“He thought about the span of years before the world ran off its rails in 1914 – “The Edwardian Afternoon” people were already calling it, as though it had been a marathon garden-party but had it? There had been the pleasure of working and planning within settled terms of reference but even then one needed the resilience of youth to absorb the shocks and disappointments of life…the war had rushed down on them, and after that the stresses of the ‘twenties culminating in the slump. One accepted personal tragedies… and with them the ransoms of time, like the elimination of old friends and partners, but lately – just when they seemed to be adjusting themselves to the post-war pattern – fresh shock waves came out of nowhere and a man was flat on his back again if he didn’t keep looking over his shoulder!”
There is such a variety of characters here, all with their own personality traits and flaws, that it took me a while to place them all! Delderfield has a habit of punctuating dialog with exclamation marks, which, although not annoying, does seem to add more emphasis to the characters themselves.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and gave myself a pat on the back once it was finished! However I do have to admit that the first two-thirds were the best. After that, the story-line and themes seemed repetitive and it was more slogging through the same types of challenges. Navigating the English political system and differing parties became a little tedious for me. However, if you are in the mood for something long and saga-ish, something nostalgic and evocative of a vanishing way of life, Delderfield fits the bill.