26 August 2020

A House in the Country by Ruth Adam

In brief, I loved this book.  And why?  Down to its blend of the 1940s, a country house, commune-style living arrangements and post-war resourcefulness.  I was expecting a novel, but by the end of the second page it became apparent that A House in the Country leans more toward the genre of memoir.  Writing in this style doesn't require exact dates or too much bother about being linear in the description of certain events.  Whatever the reason, Adam's storytelling grabbed me from the start.  

   We had our dream of escape.  It was the standard, classic dream of every English town-dweller.  It was the dream of country life, in which everything is transformed.  In the country, the sun would shine all the time and we would be wakened by birds instead of sirens.

Sitting night after night in an air raid shelter during the WWII, Ruth and her friends talked about life in the countryside to pass the time.  When the war finally came to an end she scanned ads in The Times for the house of their dreams.  A home with lots of space for roaming, nooks and crannies to explore and land as far as they could see.  Separately the friends couldn't afford such a home but by pooling resources they would turn their dreams into reality.  Ruth and her family along with Lefty, Bob, Timmy and Diana left the city behind for thirty-three rooms in Kent.

   "After dinner, in the evenings," said Diana.  "We shall all sit round in the old drawing-room, with the French windows open and night-scented stock in the flower-bed outside, and sip our coffee."  Diana thought most about this, because she hated queueing for spam in a smoky restaurant after her play, and then going out through the black-out to catch a dawdling train home, worse than the flying bombs which invariably (she said) spoiled her best lines.

Howard, a dedicated man-of-all-trades, had looked after the garden and maintenance issues for decades and was a valuable asset.  Regular issues with the electricity and dry wells (at one point a leaky roof provided water for the household) kept Howard in work.  Housekeepers were hired but, as will happen, they eventually fell in love.  Rather than see an attachment as upheaval, Ruth and the others were supportive beyond measure, although the odd incident of 'borrowing' clothes did stretch their good nature a bit far a couple of times.      

After several years of mostly bucolic bliss, members of their happy group began to splinter off for one reason or another.  An increased rent payment and larger portion of the bills meant the house was costing more to run than they could comfortably afford.  One plan was to ask commuters travelling to London if they would mind transporting vegetables from the garden to sell.  A more lucrative venture for income came when Ruth took in tourists.  My favourite was the French girl, afraid of bees, mice, ants and wasps.....

 But she had been in the Maquis during the war, and had twice jumped by parachute to give instructions to isolated units, broken her leg in one jump and twice been arrested by the Gestapo.

Despite the trying times of shortages, rot and ruin, Ruth was committed to seeing this way of living through for the sake of her children.  Playing in open spaces, wading in the stream, running free with the dogs was her idea of an idyllic childhood and far better than the bombed ruins of London.  What she eventually realized was that rather than have a house that would serve them, it was the other way round.

   ...she was an aristocratic lady on our hands.  All ideas for making her work for a living were wrecked on the fact that she was born to be served and not to serve.

 At the beginning of the book, Adam cautions against falling in love with a house.  Despite the hard work and long days I hope she looked back and found it all worth it in the end.  I admired everyone at the house for dreaming about something and actually seeing it through.  A House in the Country is being added to my list of favourite reads. 

Thank you to Rupert from Dean Street Press and Scott at Furrowed Middlebrow! 

Two Women in a Garden by Eric Ravilious 
1933

14 comments:

  1. How i often dream of this myself. It’s always money that’s the problem isn’t it

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    1. Yes, me too, Yami....it's probably best to wish just as hard for a friend to buy one. Then we could help out and visit without the work and worry.

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  2. Isn't it wonderful? Shatters all my fanciful illusions about what it would be like, but somehow still a delight.

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    1. They were very brave! We've watched Escape to the Chateau and one episode that featured more flies than I've ever seen in my life littering the floor in a room upstairs just about did me in.
      Reading about some of the hardships Ruth had made me think I'd rather be a friend who stops over for the weekend and helps out. But oh the view of that magnolia!

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  3. The idea of communal living like this makes me break out in a cold sweat but to encounter it safely in the pages of a book is far more tempting. Between you and Simon, I'm convinced I must try this one.

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    1. That's so funny, Claire! It seems as though things (mostly) went quite well, but I know just what you mean.
      As I was reading, I kept thinking how perfect a book this would be for that period between Christmas and New Year. It's 'sink into the sofa' fabulous. I hope you get your hands on a copy, one way or another.

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  4. I loved this one when I read it recently, and that Ravilious picture is perfect for it. I was glad she foreshadowed that it wasn't all happily ever after right from the start, so I was prepared and not too invested.

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    1. It's lovely, isn't it, Liz. I felt a bit sad when the decision was made to move on but oh the way they packed up made me laugh. Quite the cast of characters!

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  5. I've heard nothing but great things about this book so I'm off to order it. Thanks, in the meantime, for a peek at my favorite Ravilious!

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    1. The painting is a favourite with me as well, Audrey. As for the book, it will be a nice distraction from Covid and the lead up to the election. I'll be watching for your thoughts!

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  6. This sounds really funny and just what many of us need right now!

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    1. You have to look long and hard to find a happy news story these days but this book was such a nice distraction. It certainly illustrates why so many people living in ancestral homes need to start a venue for hire business. They absolutely gobble money!

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  7. This is #1 on my to-buy list or my holiday wish list -- Furrowed Middlebrow are just SO TEMPTING. And I love the Ravilious!

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    1. This particular Ravilious makes me want to grab a chair and my book and head for the nearest shade patch!
      You will absolutely love this book, Karen. If you come across Adam's book I'm Not Complaining, buy that one too. She's a wonderful writer.

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