Friday, 8 May 2015

I'm a big RC Sherriff fan. His sci-fi novel The Hopkins Manuscript was the first Persephone title I ever read; except I read such a glowing review that I couldn't hold out for the forthcoming Persephone edition - and then it still took weeks for a musty-smelling original to arrive from America. I'm not sure I made the connection at the time but, shortly before, I'd wept over a harrowing West End production of Journey's End, with David Haig. And several years later - when I'd properly discovered Persephones - I was completely charmed by The Fortnight in September, possibly my favourite of the gentler, feel-good titles on their list.

Greengates, originally published in 1936, is being republished later this year; but I discovered a battered old copy in library reserve stock - that hadn't been taken out since 1981. And I knew I was going to love it.

Mr Baldwin is a 58-y-o Chief Cashier in a City insurance company, a gentle, self-effacing man, perhaps a couple of rungs up the ladder, but essentially not unlike the father who takes his family to Bognor for The Fortnight in September. (It's unnerving as a middle-aged reader to realise that there was a time when 50 wasn't the new 30, it was lumbago and marking time until The End.)

Several months into retirement, Mr Baldwin finds time hanging on his hands; he's thoroughly bored and aimless and cracks are appearing in his previously contented marriage which wasn't designed to survive this 24/7 togetherness. Then, completely out of character, the Baldwins decide to turn their lives around by selling their home and all their possessions and buying a new-build (Tudor or Georgian, £1,050 to £1,950) on a housing estate in what was becoming Betjeman's Metroland ...

Mr Baldwin becomes a pillar of his new community, although it isn't long before Woolworth's, Sainsbury's, Boots' and Lyons' have pursued him down the newly-concreted road to this rustic goodlife.

It sounds delightful? Noooo. Unfortunately, we accompany Mr Baldwin every step of the way - every meeting - every anxiety and setback - every letter he writes through the whole utterly tedious process of   buying and selling and arranging the finance. If Mr Baldwin were your next-door-neighbour in Metroland you'd borrow his well-oiled shears and think what a harmless old bore he was. Maybe in 1936 this was a novel about buying The Middle-Class Dream. But today it feels like traipsing round in the wake of an overly-persistent estate agent. Here's a contemporary review. I'm happy to return this to the library; it's not a keeper.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Mary, I know that I shall not be buying that book now. I do appreciate your help in these matters.

mary said...

Sometimes you can see why they went out of print, Toffeeapple! Definitely not his best.But have you read The Fortnight in September? That was lovely.

Miranda | Miranda's Notebook said...

That's disappointing Mary, but good to know! I love A Fortnight in September especially. Did he have some Surrey connections too? Trying to remember!