DE Stevenson, 1964.
I ordered this after reading a review of it as a ‘comfort book’, and I’d agree with that description. Very simple, predictable, generally kind about people and reasonably calm though with some darker hints (the characters of Zilla and Sir Mortimer and the effect of the latter on his grandchildren). As in Charlotte Fairlie, religion is important and there’s a friendly vicar.
I’ve read a few DES now and a couple have been awful, which this wasn’t. I agree with another review that there’s a strange detachment about the way the eponymous narrator / protagonist is presented. It’s not at all like the surreal and funny Miss Buncle’s Book. There is a sequel, which I have ordered and shall stockpile for a trip away I have coming up.
I was interested to see that Mrs MacRam, who cleans and cooks for the family at their Highland holiday cottage, “‘is baking cakes sometimes for the W.R.I. and getting prizes for them'”. I hadn’t heard of the WRI – it’s the Scottish Rural Women’s Institutes, which in fact recently dropped “Rural”. There’s a history of the WRI here, and the notes from the East Lothian branches from 1945 to 2000 here.
The book starts with a few paragraphs of lyrical description of Edinburgh, and there are mentions of going to different places in or near the city (Queensferry and the Pentland Hills). The book falls into three sections based on place (Edinburgh, Sir Mortimer’s estate, called Limbourne, which is somewhere called Wandlebury – not sure if this is supposed to be near Wandlebury Hill near Cambridge, or if it’s a made up place – and Craig-an-Ron in the Highlands). I’m not entirely sure that I’d say that the book has a strong sense of place, though; different things happen in different places but this is more about the plot than the places.
I was also interested in Simon’s statement that “‘I take The Times at school'” – he’s 16 and away at public school. I guess I would have thought that the school takes the newspapers and the boys read them in the library, rather than getting their own copies as this seems to imply.
Edited to add that the blurb on the back has been changed from first person to second and gives pretty much the only piece of text in the whole book that approaches violence or suspense (account of vandalism).