When you want to escape into a book that is warm and engaging, as I did a little while ago, you could do well to turn to the work of D E Stevenson.
You need to choose carefully, because her books are rather variable, and think that I chose well when I chose this one. I warmed to the heroine from the first, and I appreciated that the book held many of the ingredients that D E Stevenson used regularly – and very well – mixed with more that enough other ingredients to make it distinctive.
This isn’t her best book; it isn’t a book that would stand up to very much scrutiny; but it is mid 20th century romantic fiction done rather well.
Bel was orphaned when she was just three years-old; when her mother and father died in car accident; but she had a happy childhood with an aunt who loved and cared for her. Sadly, her aunt died when Bel had only just finished growing up, and the small income that they lived on died with her. That meant that Bel had to start earning her own living, and so she trained as a secretary.
She was promoted because she worked diligently, she watched everything that was going on and thought about it, and she took a genuine interest in what she was doing and the work of the company. Sadly – but maybe inevitably – that made her unpopular with other female staff members, who all seemed to be marking time until they didn’t have to earn their own living, or bitterly accepting that they had to work and doing as little as possible. Miss Goudge, who oversaw them all, would be a terrible thorn in Bel’s side, and she really had no idea how to deal with that.
The author had a good grasp of the dynamics of an office, there are characters and incidents that I know will ring a bell for anyone who has worked in an office, and I felt for Bel as she succeeded and as she struggled.
Away from work, Bel was lonely. She had come to London knowing no one at all, and she hadn’t found a way of making friends. She spent all her evenings and weekend in her small flat, and the tiny rooftop garden she has created outside her top floor window became her greatest passion.
A handsome young artist named Mark discovered Bel’s garden when he when he wad out on the roofs outside his own top floor studio-flat. Bel took the arrival of a strange man in her home rather more calmly than I would have, but I put that down to her background and her upbringing. He was charmed, they became friends, and that led to his painting of Bel’s portrait.
Mark invites her to parties, takes her on outings, and for a while it seems that Bel’s lonely life is over. But Mark’s interest waned as quickly as it had grown up, and he moved on without a backward glance. Bel wasn’t quite heartbroken, but she was disappointed and unhappy at the prospect of returning to her solitary, lonely life.
Luckily she was persuaded to attend the unveiling of her portrait, and it was there that she bumped into an old school friend, and they quickly discovered that they were kindred spirits.
Louise was only child of a widowed doctor, she had no need to earn her own living, and she was every bit as happy to have Bel come and stay with her as Bel was to escape London and stay with her in the country. Her father was delighted with the friendship; not just because he thought that Bel would be a good influence on his warm-hearted but rather flightly child, but because he was a kind and thoughtful man who was pleased that he and his daughter would be able to help and a young woman who wasn’t having the easiest time of it.
The drawing of this friendship was lovely.
Louise was disappointed that Bel couldn’t join her and her father on their annual holiday in Scotland, but she understood that her friend couldn’t take time off while Mr Brownlee has left on an extended overseas business trip; and so she was greatly surprised when her friend did come to join her.
Something had gone terribly wrong, and Bel had fled.
Scotland was a wonderful refuge, but would it offer Bel a new start or would travel south with Louise?
The Scottish scenes and characters were well done, but I found nothing that I hadn’t found in more than one of the author’s books before.
This book had a well drawn cast of characters, well evoked characters and situations, and a lovely heroine.
I enjoyed that set-up more than the rather predictable playing-out; but the ending was exactly right and I will probably pick up the sequel when I want to to escape into a book of the kind that D E Stevenson did particularly well.