I don't remember where I first read about this book, but I do remember thinking that I'd never find a copy in Houston. So when I saw it on the shelves at Half Price Books - just one copy - I lunged, quite prepared to elbow out anyone else reaching for it. I have had good luck lately finding Persephones and Bloomsbury editions, or maybe it's just that I'm looking for them now.
This book was such a joy. I'm not even sure how to talk about it, because it is a very unusual story, full of unexpected turns. If there is anyone else who hasn't yet discovered it, I don't want to ruin any of the fun with spoilers. The bare bones of the story revolve around the Carne family, three sisters who live with their widowed mother in London between the wars (the book was published in 1931). Deirdre, the middle sister, who narrates most of the story, works as a journalist, writing "women's features." The eldest, Katrine, is studying drama when the story opens; and the youngest, Sheil, is still in the schoolroom. I don't think the two older sisters are working because they need the money, since they live comfortably with servants and a series of unsympathetic governesses. With their mother, they create detailed, intricate stories that weave in people they know or read about. Sheil believes in them whole-heartedly, which concerns the governesses quite a bit. Her mother and sisters have to work harder sometimes to keep their belief going. And then one day Deirdre gets to meet one of the real people whom they have turned into a character. What happens when the rich world of their imaginations meets its real-life counterparts?
I confess, I didn't take to this book the first time I tried it. Like poor Miss Martin the governess, I was confused, and rather irritated. I couldn't sort out the real people in the book from the characters in the Carnes' sagas. This time it all made sense, and I found myself wanting to join in the fun. I can see why Charlotte and Emily do! I think this book will be one of those I turn to on grey days. I was making a list of them last night, after I finished this. They're not just comfort reads, they're also guaranteed to make the day seem a bit brighter - like the song says, "sunshine on a cloudy day." Here are a few of mine:
- Life Among the Savages, by Shirley Jackson
- Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, by Cornelia Otis Skinner & Emily Kimbrough
- The Egg and I, by Betty MacDonald
- Never No More and No More Than Human, by Maura Laverty
- Eat Cake, by Jeanne Ray
- Cotillion, The Unknown Ajax, The Quiet Gentleman and The Talisman Ring, by Georgette Heyer
- Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters
- Circle of Friends, by Maeve Binchy
- Live Alone and Like It, by Marjorie Hillis - another recent addition to the list
What books would be on your list? I'm always looking for more for mine!