13 January 2013

Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd

No visit to London is complete without a visit to Persephone Books.  Last October I was once again standing in the shop with a piece of notepaper in my hand, a couple of titles scribbled on it.  One was Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins and another was Miss Ranskill Comes Home.  The first title was a definite but I wasn't so sure about the second.  It was shortly before closing on a Friday so time was of the essence 'which title is your favourite?' I asked the lovely employee assisting me (I do the same sort of thing to servers in restaurants).  Without hesitation she replied it was Miss Ranskill Comes Home and I showed her my slip of paper.  That clinched things.

Miss Nona Ranskill becomes a woman overboard while reaching for her windswept hat during a cruise.  Pulled ashore a desert island by another castaway from England, the pair become great companions.  The Carpenter spends several years constructing a boat with nothing but a small knife and wood salvaged from the island.  When he dies suddenly Miss Ranskill embarks on another adventure at sea in the new craft hoping for rescue.
 
Eventually spotted and picked up by the British Navy, England has become something of a foreign land with talk of ration books, coupons and black-out curtains.  World War II has broken out while Nona has been marooned and everyone takes for granted that the poor woman knows what is going on.

'And now Miss Ranskill stood outside a prim house.  Facing her was a most respectable-looking door and to her right was a trim patch of garden, so precise and squared, edged and tidied that she was astonished to see a row of lettuces in the narrow border beneath the window, where she was quite certain there should be lobelias.'

Due to the sorry state of her shrunken woollens, borrowed Navy shoes and apparent lack of new terminology, Miss Ranskill is thought to quite possibly be a spy.  The scenario is completely unlikely but that is not the point, what is the point is that Todd has woven a tale for grown-ups so delightful you won't want to put it down.  The whimsy is counterbalanced by a healthy dose of poignancy with the unknown nature of war.

'Mummy would be horrified.  She'd always planned a white wedding and never in May either.  But you can't wait for June in war-time when - when we may only have one week of May ever - for all our lives.'

And who could argue Miss Ranskill's logic for enjoying her butter ration all at once.  The idea being that you can live with the restrictions of war for most days but then on one special day you live life as normal.  While the population is complaining about shortages the goods available are enormous in comparison to those at hand on a desert island.  Another observation is that the confines of society and etiquette can leave one feeling as lonely and restricted as any amount of time stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Miss Ranskill Comes Home is a delightful read and being placed on my list of favourite cosy books, which is a happy coincidence as it's the first book being reviewed here!  Just the thing to brighten up your week or for between more serious books to switch gears a bit.

52 comments:

  1. I've just been pointed here by the ever helpful Simon from Stuck in a Book. I used to read your previous blog so I am very happy to have my way to your new spot, especially since I like Miss Ranskill a good deal and it seems a great title to start your new space off with. :)

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    1. Welcome and thanks for being first through the door, so to speak! Since we both really liked Miss Ranskill I will have to pay attention to some of your other favourites...bursting shelves aside.

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  2. I'm so pleased you've re-appeared over here, Darlene! Love the beautiful Janet Hills, and the layout feels cosy already, and what a lovely book to choose for your first post. Welcome to your new home! :)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Donna! Isn't Janet's work absolutely gorgeous? I was thrilled to discover she lives not all that far from my house and hope to do my little bit in promoting her work.

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    2. It is gorgeous! I've bought a few of her lovely prints of interiors in the past and some cards once. She's so talented!

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  3. Lovely review, Darlene, and lovely new home!

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    1. Thanks, Claire! Wish I could offer you a cup of tea and something from the biscuit tin. Who knows? Perhaps one day...

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  4. I feel like I should be bringing a house-warming present.

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    1. PS I love the cover of that Henry Green you're reading.

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    2. Your company is good enough for me, Mary! Isn't it a fun cover? The ladies may have been sipping from the drinks cart though, they look awfully happy about a day of service ahead of them!

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  5. Glad you are now 'at home' again, Darlene, and Miss Ranskill is great!

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    1. Thank you, Karen, and thanks for stopping by! Oh I wish someone had told me earlier just how fantastic a book it was. Better late than never though! We're quite cold here in Ontario today so a desert island sounds just about like heaven at the moment.

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  6. Oh, has my comment disappeared, or did I never manage to get it here in the first place? I forget exactly what I said about Miss R, except that it was a fantastic choice to start your blog - and welcome to this lovely new home! x

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    1. Poor Fleur seems to be the only one having trouble with her comments disappearing, Simon. I've been trying to figure out why blogger doesn't like her system but no luck so far.

      Miss Ranskill gets five stars from me, an absolutely delightful book. Glad you liked it as well, I thought you might.

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  7. YES you're back! LOVE the new blog, love the look, love everything! I missed you! :)

    Do you know what? This is one Persephone that really hadn't ever appealed to me. However now you've written this, my interest has been peaked. Is it like Miss Buncle? Or more literary, would you say? I liked Miss Buncle but it was a bit...you know...twee.

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    1. I had the very same thoughts about Miss Ranskill (haven't read Miss Buncle yet though) but too many trusted bloggers loved it so I went ahead. Don't read it if you're in the mood for Bowen but oh, what a delightful read if you feel like something fun! It is pure escapism and well worth the price of the book, although no doubt you can find it in a second-hand shop...if someone was willing to part with it!

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  8. Also super excited that you're reading Henry Green. When you have a minute, email me and let me know how you're finding it please! x

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  9. Lovely new blog and post. I love the word "cozy" and it fits here. cheers Pam

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    1. Lovely to see you, Pam! Thanks for stopping by and sharing in the debut.

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  10. Cozy books ... amd Janet Hill!!! (I love them. I even have some of her canvases, from the time when she was posting a painting a day.) Happy new home!

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    1. So glad you love her too! I have to say that I am smitten and thrilled that she lives not an hour away from us. Our next drive out to Stratford just might have to include a mission to scout out some of her paintings. Lovely to hear from you!

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  11. Simon sent me over to the new blog and am I delighted to see a review of one of my favorite Persephones! Yes, it's a cozy read and funny as well, but I was moved by the serious undertones.

    Congrats on the new venture and I will be stopping by often.

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    1. That Simon! Isn't he wonderful at bringing people together? Well it's lovely to see you here, wish I could offer up some tea and biscuits. If you loved Miss Ranskill then we will most definitely get on!

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  12. Love the new blog and delighted to see you are reading Henry Green -- I long to hear your comments. I've never been tempted by Miss Ranskill... till now! Many thanks.

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    1. Oh Harriet, Miss Ranskill is delightful! Like you I thought it might be a bit...oh I don't know - silly, but it's not. As I wrote to Rachel, don't read it if you're in the mood for Bowen but it is just the thing to lift your spirits or make you forget a cloudy day.

      Loving is fabulous so far! Your review, and then Rachel's, intrigued me so thanks very much.

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  13. Oh I'm so glad Simon linked to your new blog! It's lovely and I've missed your bookish thoughts. Welcome back!

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    1. I have been so overwhelmed by the warm wishes, Laura! Glad you approve of the change. Many years ago my posts were simply regular rambles but since they have become more about books lately it was time to re-brand, so to speak. Lovely to hear from you!

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  14. Okay, I have to admit, I didn't read down to the very end of the last Roses blog. And each day, when I open my morning blogs, yours still has the charming pic of Charlotte Brontë. A little hiatus, I figured.

    So it wasn't until Simon (thank you Simon) said this morning that you'd moved to new premises that I realised you were gone. Without leaving a forwarding address...

    So, happily, I've tracked you down.

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  15. Psst... Darlene, the link to Janet Hill Studio at the top doesn't work. I think there's a : missing.

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    1. All sorted, Susan, thanks for letting me know! Guess I slipped away a bit too quietly but it was time for a change. Glad you found me!

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  16. What a beautiful site. I had not heard of Miss Ranskill but based on your review I will have to make her acquaintance. I look forward to hearing more from you.

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    1. So nice to meet you, Belle! If you haven't heard of Miss Ranskill then perhaps the wonderful world of Persephone Books is unknown to you as well. If that's the case then do yourself a favour and have a look at their website. Next step is then to clear some space on your shelves for some of their books but I warn you, they're addictive.

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  17. I've debated this book in the past, but your review has now convinced me. One more to add to my Persephone wish list.

    (Love the Janet Hill images, by the way. I've had Goldfinch propped up on my dresser, waiting to be hung over the bed, for a few months now.)

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    1. What has taken us so long?! Do not hesitate to pick up this really lovely book, I promise you are in for a good read. It's funny, touching, entertaining...and it made me well up at the end. What's not to like, I ask you?!

      You lucky thing, must buy a copy for myself. Now get out your hammer and nail!

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  18. Good to see you at your 'new home', and a lovely one at that too. I did miss that Roses Over a Cottage Door has closed, and am so glad to be given the heads up by Simon to find you here. Looking forward to all the cosy books you have in store to share with us! :)

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    1. Simon is a fine ambassador for the world of blogging and bringing people together. If you ever get a chance to meet him you most definitely should, he's every bit as lovely in person! It has been so nice to see some new faces here, thanks for stopping by to say 'hello'.

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  19. Enjoyed the review - this book has bee on my wish list for a while now - and like the new blog.

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    1. Buy it, buy it, buy it! You won't be sorry, Christine.

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  20. Welcome Back, Darlene!

    Miss Ranskill is on my list of to-buy books at Persephone. Thanks for the review; it makes me want to read it even more.

    I look forward to reading more of your reviews, etc.

    Jean

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    1. Thanks so much, Jean! Well this is one book that I can say with confidence you will adore. And if your to-buy list is anything like mine it just keeps growing!

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  21. This sounds like an excellent book: I've put it on my tbr list. :)

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  22. I have really enjoyed reading your review, although I must admit I was a little disappointed by Miss Ranskill when I first read it a few years ago. I think I was expecting to really love it, but in fact I only liked the book. Your review has inspired me to put it on my 'rereads' pile though. Love your new blog, by the way! :) Miranda

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    1. Oh well, Miranda, that's the way it goes sometimes but should you give it another try at some point down the road I hope it suits you better. This book would not have fit the bill at all if I were in the mood for Bowen so you really have to pick your moment with this one. And your new blog is delightful! I smiled at the Harris print, the girls in my high school art class and I decided he was our favourite of the group.

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  23. So glad that you are back; thanks to The Captive Reader for telling me. There are just too many fabulous Persephone's, ones that perhaps haven't stood out for you and then get amazing reviews so you have to go running!

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    1. So true! The number of times my catalogue has been gone over with a fresh pair of eyes, too many to count.

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  24. Found you via Clare at The Captive Reader ... sorry that Roses door had closed but a new blog window opens!
    Margaret P

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    1. The timing was right to streamline my humble blog from a bit of a ramble to simply jotting down my thoughts on the books I'm reading. Lovely of you to drop by, Margaret, keep warm!

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  25. Miss Ranskill: so admirable in her drive to survive, whether being marooned on a desert island or washed up into wartime Britain. But so moving too, in her reaching out to make unlikely alliances, a ship's carpenter or a small boy. Reminded me of Nella Last (http://stuck-in-a-book.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/nella-last.html) a woman with imagination stranded in a world that didn't value it.

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    1. Hi Vanessa! You have hit the nail on the head (the Carpenter would like that one) with your touching comment. I adored Miss Ranskill and wish there were more like her.
      I've seen Housewife, 49 but have yet to read her diaries which were swiftly purchased from a shop on Charing Cross Rd last October. Oh how I wanted to smack her husband in the film! Keeping an open mind about a woman's circumstance and the era tends to be a shortcoming of mine...but I'm working on it.

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  26. So very glad Darlene that a new door has opened for us. thanks to Simon T for pointing the way. I do very much enjoy your writing and felt a real sense of loss when the cottage door shut.

    Very much looking forward to your new home and as always to your reviews and delightful glimpses into your world

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    1. Thank you SO much for your kind words, Ana, I am really touched. The wonderful people who share posts and comments here are very dear to me and very much a bright spot in my day! My intention, for quite some time actually, has been to focus just on books hence the change but have no fear, I plan on being around for ages yet! It was lovely of you to stop by, please come again!

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