E F BENSON

Since being given, by my children, a Kindle, I’ve acquired a bad habit (to add to my many other ones) of purchasing books in the middle of the night during periods of sleepless boredom.  At such times you are probably more inclined to re-read some known and liked author rather than venture into the unknown territory of an untried author.  My latest purchase was a collection of the Mapp and Lucia novels by E F Benson, to the delights of which I was first introduced, years ago, by my erudite friend Elizabeth, now of Oxford.

They tell of English small town (really village) life – a subject of which I know practically nothing.   The period covered is one in which well ordered households still rejoiced in servants – parlour maids, cooks, gardeners.   Although you might think this would be a  cosy subject, in fact internecine wars are waged, campaigns fought, battles lost and won – all over significant issues such as who will play Queen Elizabeth 1 in a summer tableau.

One of the pleasures of reading this novel is that the house occupied at various times by both Mapp and Lucia is that of the novelist himself, Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex.      (This house was also occupied at an earlier period by the more famous author, Henry James.)    This  house is open under the National Trust scheme, although on a very restricted basis, so although it would not be entirely accurate to say it was only open when the moon was full, the wind was in the east, and it was a Wednesday with a P in the month, it certainly feels like this whenever you try to storm its barriers.   However, the actual house and the wider town of Rye are described with great accuracy in the novels and the recognition of these features is one of the pleasures of the books.    They are nicely observed, and very funny.

I recommend E F Benson.

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