So, yesterday I decided that I needed to get my mind off the pandemic, which seems to have crept into every mental nook and crevice. When I was little, there was a lovely world I escaped to when things pressed down too hard upon my small shoulders, a world of tall grass and sunlight and the reassuring colloquies among mourning doves in the mulberry tree.
These days, I find solace in novels about life in rural England, quiet little villages where everyone knows everyone. There are cottages, of course, their front gardens friendly with hollyhocks and roses, and just enough quirky eccentricity to keep the gossip juices flowing.
There is nothing better for this proclivity than Angela Thirkell’s Barshetshire novels, which natter on about nothing at all and are indistinguishable from each other. I have shared this taste and our extensive Thirkell ttrove with a good friend, ever since we pounced upon a deceased Englishman’s collection at a local rummage sale.
So, in the present exigency, we swapped the novels we haven’t read (or have forgotten we’ve read) and I’ve been off and away at the end of each and every day of isolation, content in some English village of the mind.
But last night, with months of quarantine yet to come, I realized there was only one Thirkell left on my bedside table. And then, oh frabjous joy, I found J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country on my Kindle – an old church, a vicar, a shell-shocked World War I veteran – it would do for now. After that, it would be back to my collection of P.G. Wodehouse and E.F. Benson, who also write the same English village novel over and over about nothing much at all.
Of course, it’s all unrealistic escapism – that’s what makes these novels so comforting in our present perils, which are much more like what went on in the Lincolnshire village my own ancestors escaped from by the skin of their teeth.