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Reading | The Rich House

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Stella-Gibbons

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Stella Gibbons is best known for her brilliant first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, which cast a long shadow over her later work. She went on to write twenty four more novels, which were out of print and largely forgotten until someone at Vintage Classics had the inspired idea to reissue fourteen of them in 2011.

The Rich House, first published in 1941, is set in a small English coastal town, on the eve of the second world war and tells the story of a group of young people and their intertwined connections. Central to the story: Parkfield, the Rich House which gives the novel its title, and its inhabitants: Archibald Early,  a former celebrated actor, his grandson Ted and their housekeeper, the mysterious Louise.

Pauline and Marjorie used to peer through the railings on their way home from school on summer afternoons, trying to catch a glimpse of the yellow brocade curtains at the long dark windows, or the cream and pink and purple flowers pressing against the glass of the conservatory. In those days, the house, which was made of that dark brick which preserves its appearance of good repair longer than any other materials, looked luxurious and the well-kept lawns and large flowering bushes were beautiful. Sometimes if Pauline and Marjorie were lucky they would see the poor-little-boy-who-screamed bouncing his ball on the lawn, while Louise sat near him in a garden chair, sewing something white and fine.

Gibbons proves a sharp and insightful observer of her vast cast of characters, all of which are equally well drawn. She is witty and clever and she does melancholy  with the best of them. But even though Gibbons’ protagonists find happiness at the end of the novel, ‘cosy’ she ain’t.  Far too incisive for that. I loved this book and intend to read more of her work. Next on my list: Westwood.

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