Cynthia Harrod-Eagles knows well how to tell a longstanding, epic family saga! While I am still stuck in Restoration England with the Morlands, maybe I will do better at keeping up with the Hunter family since I am nearly still getting in on the ground floor, so to speak, of her new War at Home series. Goodye Piccadilly: War at Home, 1914 is the first of a series of books (not sure how many there are projected to be) set during WWI. While there are thirty-five Morland books, there are so far only three featuring the Hunter family. It was the last book I read in 2016, but I hope it will only be the first of a number of CHE books I read this year.
Since Goodbye Piccadilly is the first, where you will meet the Hunters and the other families of the village of Northcote, let me introduce them to you, too. Hopefully there will be more to come about the family and the War in the coming months. Northcote is a sleepy village outside London not much known until the railway came through. The Metropolitan Railway (I wrote about the Metropolitan Line just last year as a matter of fact) made it possible for people to work in London but live in the country. The Hunters left their Kensington home and made for Northcote taking up residence in The Elms. Not at all a shabby little place, though nothing to compare really with the other really Great House where the aristocratic Dene family has lived for generations. It's the Hunters we'll be concerned with, but already a marriage between the two families is on the horizon.
Edward and Beatrice have six children, the four eldest being the main focus of the story this first book out, along with Edward's sister Laura and Beatrice's sister and brother-in-law Adelaide and John. It all starts with Diana and Sadie. Diana is the great beauty of the family, the one who is expected to marry well and is pretty enough to pull it off. Sadie, by turn, a bit horse mad (more than a bit really), not especially (at sixteen-ish) all the interested so far in boys, can marry who she likes, as she reflects in those opening pages. Although Diana has a coterie of suitors, it's all just fun and flirtation more or less. She knows what is expected and what she can might 'accomplish' so when Charles Wroughton, Lord Dene, takes an interest in her, she's more than happy to nurture the relationship.
Charles is shy and awkward. He loves Dene Park and is loyal to family and tradition, but really he is something of a misfit. He is stodgy and appears very much a bore. He would rather talk of horses and hunting and country life. It's his younger brother who is the savvy, attractive son who finds social situations easy, but he isn't the one who will inherit. The Denes are terrible snobs and Rupert is entirely of that mold. He's actually pretty nasty and thinks he knows what Diana is up to, she being nouveau riche and in his thinking, most likely just a gold digger. And he's happy to let her know what he suspects. Diana is actually an entirely likable young woman, and while her intentions are for the good, I think she's about to make a big mistake (likely to play itself out in later books). The Denes and Hunters are further associated as Edward, a London banker, happens to be the the Dene family banker. But you know how it goes--trade and all. Blue bloods don't make it a habit to marry into banking families. So very below them.
I can already tell Sadie is going to be my favorite character. Did I already say she loves horses. Yes, I suspect I did. She spends as much time as she can with Mrs. Cuthbert who houses horses and is as crushed as her neighbor when the Army calls in all the horses for the war effort. Eventually a surplus of horses will trail through the village of Northcote to be trained and prepared for the battlefield, and just barely her father allows Sadie to stay at home and help with the management of them rather than being shipped off to finishing school somewhere abroad, the idea of which Sadie loathes.
If Sadie happens by, she is likely be be in the company of (well who is in whose company is questionable really) of the family dog, Nailer. He is surely the naughtiest, and hungriest dog in all of the village. He has a knack for showing up in the story where he shouldn't. A chance run in with a motor car almost ends his days. The car is driven by a young veterinarian--not so very much older than Sadie and with whom I foresee (or hope anyway) the frequent crossing of paths. John Courcy has not yet been called up to fight, but helps with the care of the animals while he waits. Of course Sadie is still young, so even as he says she is easy to talk to, she thinks of him as an adult rather than an equal.
David, the elder Hunter son decides to join up as soon as war is declared dropping out of university with his best friend much to the chagrin of his mother who can barely contain her anger and the feeling of helplessness at the thought of possibly losing her favorite. Bobby, not quite of proper age is ready to go as well but is talked out of joining, for his mother's sake. For now. But it is early days in the war when most people still believe it will all be over with by year's end, which is where the story ends.
The war is always present in the story, yet it is not always at the fore of the storytelling. It affects everyone's lives from the elder son to Diana's relationship with Charles down to the parlour-maid, Ethel's, many flirtations with the village lads. Edwards sister, Laura, is another favorite of mine. She is an unmarried working woman (as much as a middle class woman can be an independent working woman in 1914 England) who decides to learn to drive in order to do her part (to say nothing of asserting her independence). So much drama between the Denes and Hunters, and then there is the village vicar's moralizing wife who has a finger in every pot.
As you can see there is a lot going on and a full cast of characters with a wide variety of plotlines to keep it all interesting. It reminds me of Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet Chronicles, but a WWI version of the same sort of family drama where the lives of the characters change, in come cases irrevocably, by war. A perfect companion read, or reads, since there are five Cazalet books. It was a thoroughly engrossing and enjoyable story and I can't wait to pick up the next book, Keep the Home Fires Burning, which takes place in 1915. I don't plan to leave it too long as the story and characters are still all fresh in my mind. And maybe, too, this will give me a little nudge nudge to return to those Morlands and Restoration England.