Written in 1992, and read by Mum in 1998, this is a short, and yet perfectly formed novel. The cast of characters is small and almost entirely female; the author captures both the breadth and detail of the apparently narrow world they each inhabit exquisitely – it really is rather beautiful, and very, very English.
It opens with a mystery – a Miss Anna Durrant, a spinster of middle years whose life has been devoted to taking care of her mother until her recent death, has been missing for some four months, although no one noticed until her doctor realises she has missed several appointments. Even her cleaner had thought little of the matter until her money, normally left on the kitchen table, had not been replenished.
But it is not a whodunnit. Instead, it is a quiet, elegant and delightful unfolding and revealing of the private people behind the public facade of all the characters, especially Anna – their hopes and dreams, sadnesses and frustrations, small triumphs and challenges.
Anna herself, circumscribed by circumstance into the background by her demanding mother, finds her self expression in her clothing, carefully sewn by herself. Halliday, the doctor, son of a Leicester newsagent, is caught in a ‘society’ marriage that is beyond him, and Vera Marsh, an elderly widow to whom Anna, irritatingly, ministers, finds fresh enthusiasm for life when her adult son becomes ill and allows her to care for him.
For me, this was a lovely read over the course of a winters afternoon – the grey drizzle outside matched perfectly with the bleakness of the season in the book. The ending, not overly dramatic – but still a surprise – was entirely suitable, and the prose is really very beautiful and a delight to read.
I definitely recommend, and am now, as always, looking to gift this copy of Mum’s forward – please get in touch if you would like it!