Tuesday 26 January 2010

Hurrah for Mrs. Tim!

You know how it is - you start a book in October, and... you finish it in January. I don't quite know how that happened, but there it is, Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by DE Stevenson has been on my bedside table for at least three months, dipped in and out of, and yesterday evening I read the last page. It certainly wasn't because I didn't enjoy it, but perhaps because I wanted something light, enjoyable, and reliable on the bedside table. All the books I've read in the Bloomsbury Group series have been gems, and this was no different.

The first thing to say, which Elaine and others have noted in their reviews, is that Mrs. Tim of the Regiment is very much a book of two halves. Though not signposted, this novel is actually Mrs. Tim of the Regiment and Golden Days put together, but they have been that way since 1940 odd - it wasn't Bloomsbury's decision. The two books are very different in style - both are about Hester Christie (aka Mrs. Tim) an army wife, looking after her husband and two children, and being witty and self-effacing and coping with everything that's thrown her way. But, though it all takes diary format, only the first half really feels like a diary - the second half is far more narrative driven.

And the second thing to say is - how very like the Provincial Lady this is! Well, the first half especially. Sometimes I had to remind myself that I wasn't reading an unknown fifth PL book. Take, for instance, this sizeable quotation:

Suddenly the spell is broken, the door of our compartment is pushed ajar, and through the aperture appears the fat white face of Mrs. McTurk. Of all the people in the world Mrs. McTurk is, perhaps, the one I least want to see. I can't help wondering what she is doing in the train, and how she found me. She must be - I suppose - one of those peculiar people who walk about in trains. Why couldn't she have remained peacefully where she was put by the porter amidst her own belongings in (I have no doubt) a comfortable first-class compartment?

"Is this really you?" she says

I reply that it is. The woman has the knack of saying things which invite a fatuous answer.

"Well I never!" she says.

I fix a false smile upon my countenance, whereupon she insinuates her cumbrous body through the door, and sits down beside Betty.

"So you are going north for a holiday," she says.

Betty bounces up and down on the seat. "Do you know Mummie?" she cries excitedly. "Fancy you knowing Mummie! I thought Mummie didn't know anybody in Kiltwinkle. Of course I knew lots of children at school, but it was awfully dull for Mummy. Mrs. Watt said there would be lots of parties, and Mummie bought a new dress, and then nobody asked her."

I plunge wildly into the conversation, wishing, not for the first time, that Betty were shy with strangers.

I suspect the Provincial Lady's Vicky and Mrs. Tim's Betty never met - but what good friends they would have been, had they done so. I also suspect that DE Stevenson had read the Provincial Lady books (the first of which was published just a couple of years before she started her Mrs. Tim books) and I don't blame her at all for wanting to emulate them.

Mrs. Tim, especially these early sections, is deliciously moreish. Not a great deal happens, not in the way of linear plot - the attempts to find a house were hilarious, looking round increasingly unsuitable properties - this is mostly the quotidian, finding humour and pathos in the everyday. As the second half of the book arrives, Mrs. Tim heads up to Scotland sans husband, and becomes embroiled in the confusing love lives of various young folk. She even becomes an unwitting object of attraction herself (Stevenson rather cleverly using the diary format to show Hester's oblivious innocence even while letting the reader know what is going on.) But, of course, Hester has eyes only for her husband.

Mr. Tim himself is rather more likable than his Provincial Lady counterpart - you feel that the Christie marriage has more laughs in it than the PL's. At the same time, he is as bad as Robert when it comes to recognising quotations from Jane Austen...

Like all the rest of the Bloomsbury Group series, Mrs. Tim of the Regiment is a delight to read, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Being honest, it
doesn't maintain the high level throughout - I much preferred the first half to the second, as has probably become clear - but it's just the sort of book you'll want to read once you've exhausted EM Delafield's superlative Provincial Lady series. And if, somehow, you've not read the PL books yet - hie thee to a library!

Apparently there's a whole series of Mrs. Tim books - and I'm told they're also more narrative-driven. Though I don't think I'll be using up my Project 24 allowance on them, they're certainly going into my Amazon Marketplace Basket to be pondered over for 2011... (edit: no they won't! I've just seen the prices!)

Oh - and if you've got this far, do pop in tomorrow for a giveaway of... a mystery title! All will be revealed tomorrow....


  1. I had a friend visiting from the UK after Christmas, and this is one of the books she brought me! I'm really looking forward to reading it, although you're the second person who mentioned the weakness of the second half in a review. Still, any book that is like the PL is bound to be better than most new books out there.

  2. How irresponsible of me to have read the review of this book before realising that it was not to be released in North America until the end of March! Such a wait (for I'm far too cheap to buy it from amazon.co.uk and pay the customs). Oh well, on the Wish List it goes.

  3. My mum's got all of DE Stevenson's books - she's written dozens but they're nearly all out of print (alas!)

  4. I enjoyed reading this one, but not as much as Miss Buncle! It was very Provincial-esque.

  5. When you next come home Simon.....
    Perhaps you ought to start charging me a fee for borrowing your books - against the next expensive one!!

  6. I love PL so this will have to go on the to buy when I am allowed to buy books again list.

    I have Miss Buncle's Book on the TBR pile though so I look forward to discovering D E Stevenson soon!

  7. Rachel - I found this so different from Miss Buncle's Book that I had to keep reminding myself they were the same author! Both good, but this one felt fresher, more lively.

    Mum - you can borrow as many as you like! I'll just remind you about it next time I want something... ;-)

    makedoandread - lucky you! I'm sure you'll like it. The second half is *good*, just not as good as the first, in my opinion.

    Claire - oops! Well, I hear that delayed gratitude... no, I feel your pain.

    Jenny - she was prolific, wasn't she? Apparently they're quite patchy, but this one certainly worth getting hold of.

    Verity - I'd love to know how deliberate the PL-esqueness was...

  8. Oh as you know I have this awaiting a read, am now wondering if I should do this and then Love's Shadow or the other way around? I am saving Mrs Hargreaves for last!

  9. I must, must, must read Provincial Lady and Miss Buncle's Book and this ... perhaps I should have a Delafield weekend?

  10. Oh, I got four of these books a little while ago (1 for birthday and 3 for 2 in Blackwells!) but haven't yet had a chance to start reading them - though have been admiring them sat on my 'pretty books shelf'! Am very much looking forward to reading this one now...

  11. Simon, you may find Mrs. Tim Carries On (1941), the next in the series, more diaryesque, though not as much as the first book. She says it was taken pretty much from her own early wartime diary, based on real incidents, and of course written at a time when no one knew what next week would bring, let alone the final outcome.

    For anyone who wants to know more about DES and her books, my labour of love website is www.destevenson.org

  12. Simon, I have just read my first Stevenson, though not this one. Let me ask you a question, though. I have borrowed Mrs Tim Christie from the library - do you suppose this is the same as the dual book edition you have? It is 378 pages long and the second half all seems to take place in June.

  13. Hi Tara - I don't have the book with me, but I've just gone to look at Susan's website destevenson.org, which she mentions in the comments, and the answer is yes! Thanks Susan :-)

  14. All of these Bloomsbury books sound good to me! I've been thinking that they would probably be in my first order from the book depository - to try out that "free international shipping," but since I splurged this past weekend, I'm going to make myself wait a little longer on that.

    Thanks so much for the review. I do think I have the worst public library in the world -- I'll have to either ILL a copy of Provincial Lady, or add it to my "to be acquired" list for later.
    Susan in TX

  15. I loved this book too, though I agree the first half was much stronger than the second. I sort of reached the 'I wonder where this is going' stage for the second half. I really hope bloomsbury reprints the others in the series!

  16. I JUST bought this book this evening:) Looking forward to reading it V V V much.


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