Saturday 10 December 2016

Fiction: Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell

Virago , €10.99

Anne Cunningham

Published 03/10/2016 | 02:30

Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell
Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell

Virago Modern Classics are currently reprinting selected novels by women writers who are in danger of being unjustly forgotten, and one of those is Angela Thirkell who produced over 30 novels in her lifetime.  She wrote about the Home Counties in the 1930s and 40s. Many of them,  including this one, are set in the fictional county of Barsetshire, borrowed unashamedly from the novels of Anthony Trollope.

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First published in 1941, this is an odd book, although it’s very funny. Firstly, there’s a seeming cast of thousands, making it hard work following the thread, despite the laughs.

And her characters are so similar, especially within the “lower classes”, this reader found herself losing the plot — literally — several times. But eventually we realise that the village of Northbridge is suffering the effects of  WWII.  Evacuees from London keep coming, forcing everyone to open their homes.

The vicar’s wife, Mrs Villars (the only heroine here) is keeping eight officers of the Barsetshire Regiment, one of whom is busy falling in love with her.

Meanwhile the other villagers, a rare colony of lunatics and stumblebums, are attempting to adapt the church tower into a parachute-spotting station, and there’s a lot more than bats in their particular belfry. 

If you like PG Wodehouse you will love Thirkell. There’s hardly a sentence without a  well-worded gag.

And there’s something irresistible about a book which begins…“As everyone knows Northbridge High Street there is no need to describe it, so we will proceed to do so....”

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