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Although brought up in the country, I have spent most of my adult life in one city or another, often overseas. As such, a reminder of my childhood and country life are always deeply welcome. I have long been a fan of books by Miss Read about the Cotswold villages of Thrush Green and Fairacre, and when I noticed this series by Rebecca Shaw, a much more up to date description of village life, I was sure I would enjoy. The book is one of a series about the inhabitants of a village called Turnham Malpas and is particularly centred around the doings of the rector and his wife, as well as other characters.
The villagers are all invited to a reception at the home of Craddock Fitch, a local entrepreneur who is not particularly liked. Everyone is shocked to discover that the reason for the reception is to celebrate his marriage to the local headmistress, Kate Pascoe. Kate, deeply involved in village life already, becomes even more so because of the school's upcoming 150th anniversary. Unfortunately, when making arrangements for the fete to celebrate the anniversary, she inadvertently invites the mother of the children that the rector and his wife are bringing up. As the children have not yet met their real mother, this causes great consternation.
On top of this, Maggie Dobbs has begun holding a series of séances. Initially, this is just for a joke and to earn a little bit of money, but as her premonitions become true, she becomes more and more frightened by her so-called powers.
Will the fete run smoothly? What will the rector's children think of their mother? Will Craddock Fitch become more popular now that he is married to the headmistress?
I am most familiar with the rector and his wife, Caroline, who have appeared consistently in other books in the series. However, Kate Fitch is the main character in this particular book. I didn't find her a particularly rounded character. She has clearly married a man much older than her who is used to having his own way and as such, it is clear that the marriage has early problems. I found it hard to believe that a seemingly intelligent and independent woman would become involved with such a man and so didn't find her particularly believable. This is, however, a common trait in Rebecca Shaw's characters - on the whole, I find them quite one-dimensional.
The rector and his wife are equally one-dimensional, but to my mind, more interesting as characters because of their somewhat complicated past. The rector at some point during his marriage to Caroline, cheated on her with a young teacher called Susie, who eventually gave birth to twins, whom she promptly gave to the rector and his wife to bring up. This is a recurring theme throughout the series and one that I find particularly intriguing.
I enjoyed this book - it is easy and pleasant reading - but in no way does it compare with the Thrush Green and Fairacre books by Miss Read. Rebecca Shaw's characters are weak and often unrealistic and apart from the two central characters of the rector and his wife, I couldn't get myself all that worked up about the others. There is a great deal of bitchiness between some of the characters - of course this happens in real villages - I would just prefer not to read about it when I'm trying to escape.
Language-wise, the book is perfectly adequately written, although it won't win any literary prizes.
On the whole, I will read more of this series if I come across it, but I would not go out of my way to pick them up. This is pleasurable reading for holidays or escapism on a cold winter's evening, but that's about its limit. Recommended, with three stars.
The book is available from £5.49. Published by Orion Publishing, it has 304 pages. ISBN: 0752859102
'He is a changed man, Greta. A changed man. Those frosty blue eyes of his are not nearly so chilling as they were.' There is a mystery surrounding the invitation by Craddock Fitch to the Big House. It is billed as a celebration of his business, but as everyone in the village has been invited, it is obviously more exciting than that. When everyone is assembled, they find that it is a lavish wedding reception for two very surprising people. With these festivities over, the inhabitants of Turnham Malpas are thrown into preparations of a different nature. It is the 150th anniversary of the village school and Kate - the head teacher - is arranging a big event. There is the problem of accommodating everyone's enthusiasm as they plan a cricket match, buffet teas, maypole dancing, plays and singing on the green. But there is one problem of which she is unaware. In asking the previous head teachers to attend she has unwittingly placed the rector and his wife Caroline in an impossible situation.