16/03/2008

Consider the Lily (by Elizabeth Buchan)

I had read three books by Elizabeth Buchan. I enjoyed 'The Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman', more than I expected to. I was less sure about 'Against her nature', which I found a bit dull in places. And I had mixed feelings about That Certain Age', but still thought it was a good light read on the whole, if a little confusing in places. Still, I liked them sufficiently to put her others on my wishlist, and received another one for Christmas last year.

'Consider the Lily' is a sort of village saga, set between the world wars. It features a marriage of convenience, and the many problems within it, exacerbated by the husband's love of his wife's cousin. Taking this thread alone, it's quite a moving story, as mistakes are made, misunderstandings arise, and - almost imperceptibly - affection grows. The conclusion was powerful and satisfying.

The reason for the marriage is that Matty - the wife - is very wealthy, and can put to rights the delapidated ancestral home belonging to her husband. She loves him, and also wants to get away from her suffocating aunt, who has been her guardian since she lost her parents at a young age.

So there are also threads of the story involved in the gradual and tasteful renovation of the house, and Matty's growing love of the garden. There are secrets within the garden - her new husband and his family refuse to go in part of it, or even talk about it - and some mystery surrounding the family.

There's also the bad-tempered Sir Rupert, Matty's father-in-law, whose health becomes increasingly frail, necessitating the help of Robin Lofts, the newly arrived doctor in the village. Robin and Matty's sister-in-law are very attracted to each other, despite a significant difference of class, which was still important in those days.

But there are wider threads still, which didn't seem to intertwine much with the main plot at all, and simply made it confusing at first. The story opens, for instance, with Matty and her cousin getting ready for the wedding of Polly Dysart. Polly is in fact a future member of Matty's in-laws, but she really doesn't come into the story again.

There also seem to be several village people mentioned - all together, in the early chapters, with stories that don't really go anywhere, and simply left me confused. It wasn't until Matty's wedding - after over 100 pages - that the book settled down and became interesting. I nearly gave up before then, although I'm glad I didn't.

In addition to all this, there are interspersed short chapters simply labelled 'Harry' which mostly described, in detail, various flowers or anecdotes about gardening. I never did work out who Harry was - perhaps he was supposed to be a ghost (since Matty does feel haunted by several family ghosts). I soon realised that I lost nothing if I simply ignored these parts, which didn't appear to fit in with the rest of the book at all.

That all sounds rather negative, so I should balance it by saying that the writing is very good - crips and clear, and in places moving. There is little rambling, and no dull description that I can recall (other than the 'Harry' chapters). Matty's character is very believable; I could sympathise with her strongly, and found myself hoping things would work out. Some of the other characters were more two-dimensional, some of them eminently forgettable, but I don't mind that too much, so long as there's a main character to relate to.

It took me over two weeks to read this, which is most unusual for me, despite 'Consider the Lily' being a fairly long book - 570 pages in all. However I read the last half in the past three days, finding it more enjoyable and interesting the further it went on.

Overall, a good light read, if you can get past the early chapters.

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