Sorry to be boring; I know I have raved previously about Stella Gibbons (best known for writing Cold Comfort Farm on this blog. I will try not to repeat myself too much as I gush and enthuse about Here Be Dragons, the latest of her out-of-print-for-many-years-but-now-reissued that novels I have just read.
There is a slow, quiet wonder in this book. It is ostensibly a story about some pretty plain and ordinary people, yet it is dreamy and whirling and wondrously, magically descriptive. Some of Gibbon’s turns of phrase are so scrumptious I want to eat them. I have loved the experience of merrily reading the story, and then being pulled out of it to notice a delightful sentence that makes me mentally sigh and clasp the book to my chest in momentary ecstasy.
“… The hush of the dead hour before dawn, and neglect, and the past, lay over the walls gleaming softly in an embossed paper of cream and silver.”
In the more down to earth moments, the book is fully of mid-century English people having tea and cakes, and being organised industriously by competent females. Something about this feels like magic to me too, and it reminds me of so many authors and books I have loved over the years: Mary Wesley, Nancy Mitford, Noel Streatfield. Not to mention a series of books about girls in a Swiss boarding school I read quite obesessively between the ages of about ten and fourteen.
I think the weaving together of the ordinary with the fey is what makes the book such a delight to read. The whimsical passages become more approachable and believable, and one is given permission to relish them, mixed up as they are between more sensible, solid concepts and characters. Likewise, these characters seem more interesting and Romantic than they otherwise would because of the floating passages that sometimes describe their movements and machinations.
Five tea cakes out of five.