I count One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes as one of my all-time favorite novels. Much like Rose Macaulay's World My Wilderness (see yesterday's post), it brilliantly evokes post-war England, but it is an entirely different sort of view than Macaulay's. I read it several years ago, but I've had an opportunity to read it again and find I love it as much as I did the first time around.
The story takes place during the course of one fine summer day as Britain struggles to rebuild after the war, but this is a Britain unlike that which the Marshall family knew previously. Stephen and Laura Marshall and their daughter Victoria are a well-to-do middle class family who were comfortable enough before the war to buy a country house and keep enough servants to make sure it ran well. Now they're lucky to have day help, even if Mrs. Prout ends up breaking more china than they can afford to lose. Stephen takes the train into London to work, but he also dons an apron in the evening if necessary to help out. The garden has become a jungle of weeds and the house they were once so fond of is beginning to crumble. There's not enough food in the shops and everything, Laura included, seems just a bit shabbier than before the war.
While there are melancholic moments, a way of life once so secure is changing rapidly and irrevocably, this is really much more of a hopeful book. The story is told mostly through the eyes of Laura, a keen observer of life and nature, but Stephen and Victoria also reflect on their lives. Since I wrote about it once before, I won't do so again, but I wanted to at least share a teaser. This is such a wonderful book I'm always happy to mention it and perhaps find it another new reader.
There are many wonderfully descriptive passages of both the natural world and the domestic world in this book. Here Laura is thinking about the two young women who once worked for the Marshalls before the war.
"What had happened? Where had they gone? The pretty, hospitable house seemed to have disappeared like a dream back into the genie's bottle, leaving only the cold hillside. Laura sat alone, the silence settled with the dust on the empty rooms, and the caps and aprons rustled their way--whither? Into factories, people said, where they would learn to assemble the bright and shoddy as they had learnt to pack the capsules of splintered destruction. It was funny to think that Ethel and Violet, who had spent their days setting things in a precise pattern, plumping the sofa cushion, straightening the little mat under the finger-bowl, drawing curtains against the wild stalking darkness, had learnt to pack the capsule of hideous muddled death. They would never come back into the tame house again. Everyone said so. Like young horses intoxicated with the feel of their freedom, Ethel and Violet had disappeared squealing into the big bright world where there were no bells to fun your legs off, where you knew where you were, where you could of into the flicks regular, and where you worked to the sound of dance music pouring out continuously, sweet and thick and insipid as condensed milk dripping through a hole in the tin."
I think I really am out of my reading rut--a teaser from a book I am actually going to finish. My track record this summer has been very poor. This is a quietly beautiful book and one I very much recommend.