Thursday, August 20, 2015

August Folly, by Angela Thirkell

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Angela Thirkell describes the messy and chaotic aspects of family life with perfect aplomb.

If you like English social comedies written between the wars, where the only real dramas are that the teapot has gone cold or there are no sugar buns left for the local vicar’s visit, then this 1936 romp by Angela Thirkell is just the ticket.

Set in the sleepy village of Worsted, the Tebben family are having a few upsets. The local busybody Mrs Palmer is staging the Greek tragedy, Hippolytus. All the locals have been dragooned into the production, which is to take place in a barn. Entering this maelstrom of activity are the Dean family. They are a well off and rambunctious brood. Along with their money, good cheer and all round energy, they bring romantic complications. The Tebben’s son, Richard, has fallen madly in love with Mrs Rachel Dean, a romance that is certainly doomed to remain an unrequited infatuation. While Margaret, Richard’s only sister, is having a rocky relationship with the Dean’s son, Laurence. She resents his clumsiness when it comes to taking into account her family’s poor financial situation. Laurence means well, but Margaret’s pride and anger blinds her to this. As one can imagine, this is a feel good story. Most of the emotional problems that plight the younger generation of the two families are finally ironed out and the main characters leave the novel improved, both materially and spiritually.

While August Folly doesn’t plumb the great depths of character or produce ideas of startling originality, the novel excels at what it sets out to do, which is produce a slice of upper middle class English life. Angela Thirkell is one of those gifted novelists who can describe the messy and chaotic aspects of family life with perfect aplomb. Her story has a large cast, with many dynamics in play between the characters, but everything is handled with great assurance. Thirkell is also a natural wit and can make sharp, killer observations in a simple line, giving her writing a neat economy. A fun, light read, by a shrewd observer of human nature.

August Folly, by Angela Thirkell. Published by Virago Classics. ISBN: 9781844089680  RRP: $19.99

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