Miss Read

I was so sorry to read recently that Dora Saint, or Miss Read as she was known to her gizillions of fans, died recently. I have found her books to be a great source of comfort and interest over the years since I first discovered her.

All of her novels are gentle but with excellent characters and beautiful settings which she recreates, seemingly, effortlessly. I love the way in which she appreciates the seasons and I frequently re-read her novels, to enjoy through her prose, and to enjoy afresh, summer happenings, the build up to Christmas or the slow decline into autumn and winter. I can almost smell the smoke from the bonfires and feel the excitement of the summer fete. Her ability to evoke simple village happenings and through the microcosm of village life allude to the wider world is fabulous and her unassuming novels contain more about human life than novels ten times their length. I would compare her to Jane Austen, Barbara Pym and Anthony Trollope.

No-one recreates the gentle village life better than Miss Read but her novels also address some of the darker sides of village life - robberies and assault on a village head teacher, the struggles of the Coggs family in the Fairacre novels and the alcoholism of the Thrush Green head teacher's wife. Miss Read is not adverse to tackling some of these grittier issues and she does it extremely well and without sentiment.

I can never decide whether I prefer her Fairacre or her Thrush Green novels - but maybe there's no need to  choose between them, but rather just simply enjoy them both. I also love all of her non series books - Fresh From the Country and The Howards of Caxley are excellent examples.

Miss Read's favourite bedtime reading includes Parson James Woodforde's Diary and I too find great interest in his diaries. If I ever feel I have over indulged I turn to one of his diary entries and feel better.

He accords no more importance to the Fall of the Bastille than to the extra large crab he buys from a local fisherman or the cost of ribbons for his niece's hats. Particularly vivid are the descriptions of the gargantuan meals he enjoys  with friends and neighbours, his remedies for ailments, his descriptions of East Anglian winters, his modest but unfailing generosity to the poor and his enthusiasm for local gossip.

Miss Read's novels have the same fluid quality as the Diary with small tragedies jostling with gentle humour and everyday happenings continuing whilst life changing events consume the lives of the key characters. If ever life is out of perspective I turn to Miss Read to help me get my sense of persepctive back - she rarely fails!