11/10/2007

In the Way (by Grace Livingston Hill)

This is the third book I read by the American writer Grace Livingston Hill in a fairly short space of time, having found them in a Christian library. I quite liked one, I was less impressed by the second, but her story-lines are interesting and her characters likeable, so I thought I'd try one more.

'In the Way' is set in America in the late nineteenth century, when the author was fairly young. It features David and Joseph Benedict, two brothers who are farmers. Since the death of their aunt they have cared for themselves - just about - in a rough and ready way.

Then their sister comes to stay: the lovely Ruth, who was brought up by another aunt, and is unknown to them until now. They expect her to be snooty and arrogant, with no wish to stay long-term with her new-found brothers. However Ruth turns out to be an excellent cook and home-maker, and she begins to bring some order and beauty into their lives.

It takes a while to win her brothers' hearts, with some misunderstandings along the way. Their neighbours have mixed reactions too, particularly when Ruth is seen out on that shocking new invention, the bicycle!

It's a pleasant story, and well-written, but suffers enormously from introspection of all the characters with far too many different viewpoints and author asides. Admittedly these were fairly common at the time of writing (1897) - stating the obvious, explaining what should have been left as hints, and so on - but they are distinctly annoying.

Worse, this novel shows rather horrendous culture and class biases. Again, it was probably common over 100 years ago; indeed, the characters were probably forward-thinking and open in those days, but in the 21st century much of the book comes across as snobbish and condescending.

Besides that, the Christian message is pushed and pushed, along with some legalistic biases of the time (eg that dancing at a ball was 'wrong') and over-puritanical ethics.

All in all, a readable light book if you don't mind skimming, but distinctly irritating in places.

Can be found second-hand in various places, but considerably less expensive in the USA than in the UK.

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