Persephone Books have now re-issued three of D.E. Stevenson's Miss Buncle 'confections' (I wrote about the first of them, Miss Buncle's Book, here), and the latest, The Two Mrs. Abbotts, is as full of charm as you'd expect.
First published in 1943, this is a comedy of manners with moments of melodrama and farce, and much genial observation; it's a warm-hearted story in which nothing of particular moment happens, but what does transpire is enough to keep the reader happily turning the pages.
The two Mrs. Abbotts of the title are Barbara, née Buncle, living contentedly with her publisher husband Arthur and their two children, and Jerry, who is married to Arthur's nephew Sam. Sam is away at the war, and Jerry runs their large house, Ganthorne, with the help of her former governess, the upright, wise, no-nonsense Fifer, Markie. With troops billeted on her, and unwilling evacuees, Jerry has her hands full, but her situation is eased somewhat with the arrival of a mysterious paying guest ...
Barbara, meanwhile, is put-upon, her good nature being taken advantage of by all and sundry, including a young neighbour, the love-lorn Lancreste, who has fallen for an unsuitable girl and seeks Barbara's help with his wooing. And then there's Miss Janetta Walters, one of Arthur Abbott's authors, who as a writer of popular romantic fiction (or "high-powered tushery", as Arthur describes "the latest effusion from [his client's] pen") commands a certain celebrity in the area, but who wishes to change her style and write an altogether different sort of book, an intention which is far from well-received by her domineering sister Helen.
There is a token scene of Sam's exploits with the army in the western desert, one which neatly outlines questions of conscience regarding exemption from service, and there is much talk of shortages at home, but in this time of rationing and of scarcity of everyday household objects, there is scope for resourcefulness and a morale-boosting pulling together which would have made heartening - and diverting - reading at the time the book first appeared.
You know where you are with a novel in which a character is happily "drinking tea out of a nice deep, well-shaped cup", where a vase of sweet peas in a room signifies "a delicate attention", and where a note explaining that the writer has run away is left on a pincushion. By the end, and despite events elsewhere, all is calm, all is bright, all is well with the Mrs. Abbotts' world - and thanks to the book's gentle soothing - with the reader's, too.