1 February 2019

Crewe Train by Rose Macaulay

I was shamed into reading this book, admonished from across the pond, by way of a podcast.  Simon and Rachel of Tea or Books? were discussing the giving and receiving of books.  With his usual humour, Simon mentioned something along the lines of...if I give someone a book it would be nice if they read it and sharpish!  It`s completely understandable but it is also part of my nature to stash away books to wait for `the perfect moment`.  Book lovers and tea drinkers...we can be a persnickety lot.

While in London in 2017, Simon, Rachel, Mary and I dotted ourselves around a second-hand bookshop to see what we could glean.  Someone had cleared out a much-loved collection of clothbound editions by Rose Macaulay.  I chose to buy Keeping up Appearances while Simon chose Crewe Train, which he then kindly gave to me as a gift.  Yes, he is impossibly lovely.  Listening to his thoughts on the gifting of books made me pull Crewe Train from the bookcase as soon as I walked in the door from a walk with Kip (and shed three layers of winter gear....I digress).

Denham, named after her dearly departed mother`s favourite village in Buckinghamshire, seems to have always stood apart.  Living in Mallorca with her father, a clergyman, Denham prefers scrambling around the hillside to playing with her step-brothers and -sisters, sees no purpose in being tidy, and could happily live on bread and cheese.  Due to circumstance, Denham`s aunt Evelyn Gresham arrives in Andorra with her four young adult children.....

`Besides looking well, they were artistic, literary, political, musical and cultured.  So, as families go, they were all right, in Chelsea, though, except Humphrey, they were not quite fit for Bloomsbury.`

Evelyn persuades Denham to return to London, a twenty-one year old without a care for social graces or class structure.....what could go wrong?  The Greshams have a lovely town home in Chelsea with a summer home in Surrey, the week-end resort of many.  Mr Gresham is a publisher, known for a keen eye for a good story and his hospitality.  His wife, Evelyn exudes chic and her intuition is razor sharp which can be quite trying for everyone.  The Greshams four offspring are clever, quick to question, friendly and sociable.  And then there`s Arnold Chapel....

`...a tall, dark, young man, with eyeglasses and a nice smile.  He was a junior partner in the Gresham publishing house, and, though not in the Foreign Office, a Roman Catholic.`

Arnold is a catch, as they say, but it`s not the Bluestockings or young women working at the office he`s attracted to.  Denham`s confidence and casual nature draws him like a moth to the flame.  At a dinner party, he finds her in the potting shed where she`s earnestly wittling a stick into a whistle.  They go for a walk in the rain; Denham can`t be bothered with a coat.  They share a kiss.

It`s so difficult to stifle what happens in the days and months that follow.  What I can say is that I was thrilled by Macaulay`s creation of a young woman doing as she pleases in a novel from 1926.  Denham is committed to herself in a way that is fantastically honest, which is not to say that a bit of compromising wouldn`t have hurt now and again.  I loved this character`s sense of adventure and willingness to just go for it.  Of course, my practical nature couldn`t help but wonder where the money comes from when you pack your dog up in the sidecar and set out from one seaside village to the next....but who cares when you`re having this much fun while reading?!

From the sunny Mallorcan landscape to London`s leafy squares, from the Cornish coast to the commuter county of Missenden (1920s style) Denham learns many of life`s lessons.  I`ll leave it at that.

Thank you so much, Simon, for your thoughtful gift.  I especially like that a previous owner has used an embossing tool to stamp the name of their cottage in Odiham, Hampshire on one of the pages.  My edition was reissued in 1934 and, no doubt, has entertained several readers since then.

A Dark Pool by Dame Laura Knight 


  1. Impossibly lovely is going on my CV! As they say, it takes a beetle to know a beetle :)

    And so glad you enjoyed this wonderful book, hurrah! You are doing much better than me at following up on a gift - as I admitted on the podcast, I'm terrible at reading gifts.

  2. I remember you once said you`ll save books that you really, really want to read, as silly as that sounds. It`s something I do too so I understand the preciousness of it all.
    It also doesn`t surprise me that this is a book you really enjoyed...a character preferring the countryside to London. More than a bit like you, Simon! Thanks again for the fabulous read!

  3. 1926 doing what you like seems improbable but if someone does it, must be very very readable!