Wild Strawberries

My Angela Thirkell follow-up delivered as was hoped for. Wild Strawberries follows a summer in the lives of the extended Leslie family, all of whom are memorable characters in their own right. The main plot hinges on the arrival of Mary Preston, niece by marriage to Agnes Leslie Graham, and her interactions with the Leslie sons John and David. In addition, the Boulle family  from France renting the vicarage for the summer convert young Martin Leslie to the royalist cause, until their attention is diverted elsewhere.

The novel is both humorous and touching. Thirkell tends to emphasize traits of comical characters almost to the point of caricature, as with Lady Emily Leslie’s missing spectacles and meddling matriarchal ways or the parisitic house guest Mr. Holt. In most cases however, she stops just short of overdoing it, so that they become endearing.

Elements  of tragedy also give the novel a more realistic feel, though not in the present; for example, Martin’s father passed away in the Great War and is still in his parents’ thoughts. John’s memories of the year with his wife Gay before she passed away were particularly poignant, along with his grief and eventual letting-go.

Mary’s feelings were also realistically portrayed, as she was both dazzled by David’s charm and touched by John’s kindness. I found the title particularly apt, as it refers to an instance when David promised to bring Mary wild strawberries, but forgot until John reminded him. The constant stormy cycle of emotions caused by attention and negligence was well-captured, as was her jealousy of the independent woman Joan Stevenson. It really shows how different the world is, however, as when David hugs Mary and rests his chin on her head outside after the dance, she fears it means they are engaged. What a contrast to the modern hook-up culture…

I think Agnes was my favorite secondary character, with her gentle, unflappable demeanor and tendency to scold her children with a smile and “oh, wicked one.” It still shocks me, however, how hand-off well-to-do mothers were with their children; Nanny and Ivy see to most of the daily needs for James, Emmy, and Clarissa. It makes them seem more like playthings, though at the time it was of course normal.

I did notice again however that the beginning seemed a little slow; she paints such a convincing picture of country life that it’s hard to tell at first who or what to focus on. Apparently most of them appear in later books as well, and I look forward to revisiting them.

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Published in: on January 19, 2009 at 4:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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