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Fairacre's local schoolteacher, Miss Read, watches with interest as the four cottages known as Tyler's Row are put on the market. Her interest is nowhere near as piqued as some of the other villagers though, particularly the curmudgeonly Mrs Pringle, who are all desperate to know who is going to take on the cottages. Rumours abound, until it is finally revealed that Peter and Diana Hale from nearby Caxley are the new owners. The two end cottages are still inhabited by tenants, however, and before long, the Hales realise that the peaceful existence that they envisaged is unlikely to be realised when their tenants throw insults at each other. Can they get rid of their elderly tenants without offending either of them? Or are they doomed to being in the middle of a war for the remainder of their days?
Miss Read writes two main series of books - one set in Fairacre; the other in Thrush Green. Both fictional villages are set in the Cotswolds, and have much in common - most particularly a selection of very vivid characters, all with their own little foibles and mannerisms. The Fairacre series features Miss Read, the author herself (the works are fictional, although parts may be lifted from her own life as a schoolteacher) and is presented in the first person. However, this book is slightly different in that Miss Read only occasionally comes into the story - much of it revolves around the Hales and their introduction into village life.
Miss Read's strength is in her character development. The Hales really come to life in this book. Peter Hale is a schoolteacher, very strict with his 'boys', but kind at heart beneath it all. Diana is much softer, a little vague, but charming with it and has a great social life in Caxley. As new characters to the Fairacre books, they are particularly well drawn and I enjoyed reading about them. There is a little class snobbery going on though - Peter is a schoolteacher and therefore obviously middle class, whereas many of the villagers are very much working class. However, it is important to remember that the book was published nearly 30 years ago when class distinctions were more prominent - I don't think that Miss Read was deliberately trying to make a point here.
Other characters are brought back in to the story, although to a much lesser extent than usual. Miss Read herself, although telling the story, barely brings her own life into the book at all - there are snippets of information about her opinion of the Parent/Teacher Association that has been newly set up, but very little else. The same goes for my favourite character of the series - Mrs Pringle - who is cantakerous and proud of it. I love the descriptions of her behaviour - the tendency to make out that her leg is painful when she is in a bad mood, for instance. Mr Willet, the local odd-job man is also a great pleasure to read about - again, he says what he thinks, although is much softer and kinder than Mrs Pringle.
It always amazes me when reading these books that actually, very little happens (as you can tell from the synopsis). Arguments are usually the most serious thing that goes on - it really is a portrayal of a village where people on the whole live peacefully. Somehow though, that is the charm of it all. Perhaps because I grew up in a village myself, I can recognise some of the behaviour and certainly, when I lived abroad, I often read Miss Read's work for a reminder of home. This does mean that some people are going to find it incredibly dull. If you don't like books about collections of people who live fairly ordinary lives, then this is not going to be for you. If you enjoy something like Cranford, on the other hand, you almost certainly will like this.
Miss Read's writing style is completely charming. It is slightly old-fashioned, really quite proper in that old-school English way, and yet it is crisp and descriptive without going overboard. There are no long paragraphs on the beauty of the daffodil, for example, but they are pointed out and made to sound divine. I am a great fan of this type of writing - Miss Read says exactly what is necessary in very good English and that is all. If you're hoping for something more literary, then this probably isn't the book for you.
This is a very worthy addition to the Fairacre series and one that I have read many times in the past. Crime fiction is my usual genre of choice, but occasionally I like to dip into my Miss Read collection, particularly when feeling low. The simplicity of the stories helps me to realise that sometimes we make life too complicated for ourselves. I think the book very much gives a woman's view of village life and its intricacies and therefore is less likely to appeal to male readers; otherwise, I highly recommend the book to anyone who wants to find out more about a very English (and slightly dated) way of life.
The book is available from Amazon from 1p. Published by Orion, it has 208 pages. ISBN-10: 0752882325