The Serendipity Shop (book #62)

Dorita Fairlie Bruce, 1947. Illus by Margaret Horder.

Girls Gone By Publishers has just reprinted this, but I found an original copy.

As usual (I think Rosemary Auchmuchty mentions this), Bruce gives her heroines unusual occupations. Merran is a jewellery designer and maker, polishing and setting semi-precious stones. There is a working-class man who seems to do some of the rougher work, but Bruce is clear that Merran could do it all herself.

The plot meanders a bit. Some things that one thinks are going to be significant, such as the toys Merran’s sister and her friend sell in the shop (proceeds to “the Cripples’ Home [which] will put it all on a proper footing”) don’t go anywhere, and the dénouement is oddly rushed and muffled, happening by letter with no commentary afterwards. The gallows-mound is underplayed.

They have eggs for breakfast “as a treat … From now on it must be porridge or puffed wheat”.

Bruce has a middle-class girl use the Scottishism “kenspeckle” (conspicuous) without glossing it.

Like Elsie J Oxenham (in Margery Meets the Roses, for instance) Bruce makes much of a cat:

William of Orange; never a man’s cat at any time, he had lately developed an active dislike to his own sex … “He can’t help it, poor darling! It’s nerves … He has never been the same cat since his long journey up from London; but we hope, with sea-air and good strengthening food, to overcome it in time. Meanwhile, he prefers to sit in my bedroom if there’s a man about downstairs … “

There is a mention of “accredited cows” which supply the schools. I’m not sure if this would have been TB-free cows as suggested in this American local paper of 1934 (PDF). They reminded me of Michael Innes’s “special cows for invalids” in Hare Sitting Up (PDF extract).

Merran states Bruce’s philosophy: “I happen to believe in something higher than luck – something far better, that doesn’t get lost or broken”. This made me think, never a wise move. I don’t believe in luck either but I suppose I believe each of us holds the roots of her own destruction, the laziness or selfishness or muddled thinking that will be with us on our deathbeds. Or the good qualities of course, but they are rare. That’s why I find seeing the M or the H depressing – their characters already show what their lives will be like and what their failures and disappointments will be.

The illustrator is Margaret Horder. I can’t scan the images tonight but will do so tomorrow. I don’t care for them myself, but am prepared to be put right. Horder was evidently well-known and respected. In the same year that this book was published two Abbey books were also published with her illustrations, and she illustrated ten books by Oxenham altogether (see this page). Looks like Horder stopped illustrating Oxenham, and presumably other British writers, when she returned to Australia in 1950. I think she’s probably the Margaret Horder mentioned on the New South Wales women’s honour roll, 2006, for establishing a children’s centre. She also seems to have written to Lydia Lopokova in 1933. And this link suggests she may have been a printmaker. A comment on this blog entry attributes the bookplate in the blogger’s copy of a Warwick Deeping novel to Horder – that seems a stretch to me, but I haven’t seen that much of Horder’s work, and the date’s right.

The pictures:

frontispiece

Merran

cat - William of Orange

Perry

<interior of shop

Julia

Solicitor Sandy as an angel:

Sandy as an angel

Bartle looking out of the window at the gallows-mound:

Bartle at window

Julia at Bartle’s meeting:

last scene

There are several more at chapter ends. There are things I do like about them – the detail, mostly. The shadows of the ‘planes (remembering that this is set in the war) in the picture of the interior of the shop are a clever detail, and not something in the text as far as I remember. Just the people are so soft focus.

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