Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, D.E. Stevenson
I first heard about D.E. Stevenson through the Georgette Heyer listserv I belong to, but I never came across any of her books until I noticed a shelf of them at a friend's house. Lisa generously offered to loan me one (proving she is a better person than I am, because I will buy someone a book rather than loan mine out). I have no idea which one I chose, but I remember I didn't get too far before returning it, and after that I mentally classed Stevenson as "not my type."
Since I started blogging, though, I've seen her books reviewed again and again, by some of my favorite bloggers. I figured it was fate that I came across Miss Buncle's Book so soon after reading Teresa's review of it, and when I learned that Mrs. Tim is Claire's favorite among her books, I added a copy to my TBR stacks. Fortunately, at least some of her books are available again, through Bloomsbury and now Sourcebooks (who, just to bring this full circle, have been reprinting Heyer's novels).
When packing became too stressful, I remembered comments about Stevenson's books being good comfort reads. I started with Mrs. Tim because it's in the form of a diary, and as I think I've mentioned before, I love reading diaries whether historical or fictional. From the introduction I learned that this novel is a bit of both, drawing on Stevenson's own diaries from her years as an army wife. Her heroine, Hester Christie, is married to a captain, and the mother of two young children. The story opens in January and covers six months of her life, as she copes with the usual upheavals of married life and parenthood, as well as social life in the regiment. Then comes the news that her husband has been appointed "adjutant of a territorial battalion" in Scotland, which means house-hunting among strangers and then the upheaval of moving - with which I sympathized deeply, even though the Christies only had two packing-cases' worth of books. The last third of the book takes place in the Highlands, where Hester spends a holiday with a friend she met in her new home (this section was originally published as a separate book).
This book felt rather familiar to me, and I decided that's because it reminded me of Diary of a Provincial Lady (which when I first read it brought to mind the Dowager Duchess's diary in Busman's Honeymoon). Both share a telegraphic style, and a humorous, sometimes rather acidic narrative voice. Both diarists have two children, a boy at school and a girl at home with a governess, in addition to a rather preoccupied husband and a sometimes chaotic domestic staff. The two books aren't carbon copies, of course, and I enjoyed Mrs. Tim very much. I was particularly interested in its army setting, since to this American reader the British Army organization and ranks are a little confusing. I found Hester good company. She has a quiet charisma that draws almost everyone she meets to her. Women want to befriend her, men fall in love with her. Among the latter is her husband's brother officer Major Tony Morley, whose attentions are clear to everyone else (he even turns up in the Highlands during her holiday). Sometimes his conversation takes on overtones that make Hester uneasy, leading to a quick change of subject, but she seems completely oblivious to any wider implications. I found her naivete rather unconvincing and even a bit irritating at times. But that is only a minor quibble in a very entertaining book. I'm looking forward to Hester's further adventures in the three books that follow (and thanks to Stevenson's own introduction to this one, I have a good idea of where the story takes Hester, Tim and even Tony).