Review by Helen C:
This is a domestic tale of country gentlefolk, between the Wars, and their families, friends and acquaintances, mostly in their beloved Scottish Borders, but occasionally in London.
Jane’s Parlour is the cosy sanctum whither Katharyn, wife, mother of 5 and writer, retreats for peace and re-invigoration; though mentioned sparingly, it serves as a symbol of a settled fulfilling country life, centre of a web of connections in the family’s wider circle. Characters are sympathetically portrayed, both from their own and others’ viewpoints, from family members of all generations (and dogs) to treasured (or provoking) servants and the needy on the estate (with use of Scots dialect).
Having been slightly concerned at the outset that this book might turn out to be based on the exchange of gossipy trivialities between blameless women leading uninteresting country lives, I was pleasantly surprised to find my interest speedily aroused by these very characters and their ordinary lives – possibly because of the sympathetic, astute and often amusing way in which the author describes them and their doings. I was soon hooked into liking/disliking them and wondering what would happen to them. And the enchanting descriptions of the author’s much-loved Border country, and the Scottish East Coast, bathed the book in a Scottish heathery glow.
The strong ‘period’ feel and the accepted way in which the classes know their place in inter-dependence, the feeling that this was how life had always been and would continue to be, coupled with the uncertainties of the post-Great War years, the economic changes, the growing independence of young women – all this gives the book a dynamic feel, of possible transformations ahead. And, despite tragedies for some, the age-old thread of romance winds its way throughout, with a satisfactory “happy ever after” ending for others.
No doubt the 1930’s reader would have easily accepted and identified with the social mores, class hierarchy and aspirations of that period; but though the period may seem dated to a modern reader, this does not detract from the warmth of the book, which I feel provides a genuine glimpse of life as it was then, in a particular part of Scotland and group of people, living out lives which we can still understand and sympathise with.