Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire Chronicles is made up of something like 29 books. I have my work cut out for me, as I want to read them all. The Demon in the House is the second book, and it continues with the same characters found in High Rising. High Rising is a small village found in Barsetshire, and the novels in the series chronicle the lives of the Barsetshire inhabitants beginning in the 1930s and continuing though the 1950s. I've read that Thirkell had a "keen social sense and a lively eye for the telling detail of daily life". Two books in and I think I have to agree.
I read High Rising last year, but I'm not sure I ever wrote about it properly. The main character is Laura Morland who's an author of popular novels--not really highbrow, but they pay the bills. Widowed and with her older sons out of the nest, she is still raising her youngest boy, Tony, who's quite a handful. I think most novels follow the same pattern--daily life in a country village, love matches made, some problem worked out. What I like is the interaction of the characters--adults, children and servants. I get the feeling that most people are more or less upper crust or upper middle class. Yet again, here is another wonderful evocation of British life between the wars.
Demon in the House is primarily about the irrepressible Tony Morland who's thirteen. Rather than concentrating on school life (though there is one funny school scene involving a broken window, a hairbrush and a slipper), this slim novel follows the (mis)adventures of Tony and his contemporaries through the year's holidays and vacations beginning with Easter and ending when Tony is off to begin life in the upper school. In between we're regaled with tales of Tony's exploits. And many they are, told in vivid and intricate detail by Tony himself. Shall I say Tony is a shameless self-promoter? Okay, he boasts a lot. As a matter of fact it's hard for anyone else to get in a word edgewise. Somehow it seems to work that Tony's best friend and companion during many a holiday is Master Wesendonck, aka Donk. Donk doesn't talk much. As a matter of fact I think he utters only one sentence during the entire novel. But he plays the mouth organ beautifully and laughs in all the right places.
Just to give you a sense of Tony and Donk in action (yes, I think I picked one of the most gruesome scenes):
"'He's an awfully lucky chap like that, mother. Once at school we were having sardines for breakfast and Donk betted one of the chaps he'd put six in his mouth at once, so he got some extra sardines from some other chaps and he mashed them all up into a kind of paste, mother, and then Mr. Prothero said what was he doing, so Donk said, 'nothing sir,' so Mr. Prothero said, 'Get on with your breakfast.' So Donk put all the paste into his mouth at once, and when he tried to chew it it all came squeezing out of his mouth and he had to drink a lot of tea to help him swallow it'."
"'When this pointless and unpleasant anecdote had come to an end Laura said coldly: 'Why was it lucky, Tony?'"
"'Oh mother! He got a lot of extra sardines. Mother, can we go exploring at Rising Castle?'"
Sorry, I couldn't resist. The novel is actually quite funny and I got a kick out of it. At first I thought it a bit harsh that Dr. Ford, the village physician, seemed only to say to Tony, "Shut up", but in retrospect he would likely drive me mad in real life, too. The vicar's two daughters spend a lot of time with Tony as well. Rose is a year older and Dora a year younger. They're generally in awe of Tony, though Dora and Tony have a rather antagonistic relationship. I think Tony exhausts most of the adults in the story, not the least his poor mother. She's usually in fear he'll manage to kill himself somehow, but she remains optimistic. He's certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Now that I've decided I like the books enough to continue reading, I want to start buying them rather than borrowing. I've discovered that they are not as easily obtainable as I thought, however. Moyer Bell is the US publisher (they also publish the Mapp and Lucia novels and some of Barbara Pym's work), but their website isn't very user friendly. They list about 18 of the books, but some of these are out of print according to Amazon (and used copies can be expensive). Strangely, the books don't seem to be in print in the UK (unless I'm looking in the wrong place). I do have Wild Strawberries lined up to read next, but it may be hit or miss in terms of the rest of the books. It will be back to borrowing I see. In any case, Thirkell is another author I recommend!