Browsing in one of my favourite second-hand bookshops a few weeks ago I had a sense of 'seen it all before'. Nothing was popping out at me and as all bibliophiles know - it is a sad day indeed to go home empty-handed. Clearing any preconceived notions of what reels me in I began to look at books published later than 1960. An immaculate little hardcover with a retro-looking bit of cover art caught my eye...this could work. Did it ever.
Straight off the top, if your bookshelves feature loads of Persephone and Virago titles then you will thoroughly enjoy sinking into this story. It came as no surprise then that once I had finished reading the book and researched the author I discovered that he enjoys Elizabeth Taylor's work as well as some of her contemporaries. Set during the 1950s, the atmosphere is cosy with a dollop of mystery and every now and then I thought 'What the hell is going on in her head?!' - in that good sort of way that makes you eager to finding out what could possibly happen next.
'Coral Glynn was the third nurse to arrive in as many months; it was unclear what, exactly, had driven her predecessors away, although there was much conjecture on the subject in the town. First it was supposed that the Major was perhaps a Lothario, and had made disreputable advances, although he had never acted that way before--in fact, he had always seemed to hold himself above romance of any kind.'
So picture a large home situated near a forest in Leicestershire with an elderly woman lying in bed and on a rapid decline. As a nurse delivering palliative care, Coral will be on to next assignment once her patient dies. Major Hart, who has been disfigured during the war, finds intimacy difficult so what could be easier than to offer marriage to a woman he barely knows but is already familiar with the house and his ways? For Coral, who travels from one home to the next without the constant of her own address, this is a proposal to mull over. But there is something in Coral's past (well, perhaps two things) which could massively impact the situation. I did tell you there was some mystery here!
Major Hart has a close friendship with Robin and Dolly Lofting. The gentlemen meet every Thursday evening for a drink at The Black Swan as they live only a few streets away, the Loftings in a rented seaside cottage. The location may be a pub but the discussion between the men makes it feel more like a gentlemen's club in Mayfair. I can only imagine Mrs Lofting would be desperate to bring another female into the mix to even things up and feel a little less as though she is on the outside looking in.
'Nonsense. The two of us will go on meeting here, and I'll drag you up to London on occasion. You may become quite a gay roué, in fact. And Dolly and I will have you over, and Dolly will invite all her buck-toothed, pigeon-toed unmarried friends, and see to it that you marry one of them. She wants you to be married even more than I.'
Now sometimes I take loads of notes because a book is chock full of wonderful description and superb prose. Sometimes I barely take any notes because a book is THAT fantastic and putting it down to pick up my pen would be too irritating. Coral Glynn is the latter. The succinct manner and clean structure of the writing here is brilliant; don't let the slimline appearance of this book fool you - there are twists and turns enough to have you gasping out loud. Hence, you are not going to get another word from me on the synopsis because that would simply ruin things for you. I have already pulled a copy of this wonderful book from the shelves at my library and deposited it on the desk of a colleague. Subtle aren't I.