by D. E. Stevenson
Tim accompanies us to the gate, giving jocular advice to Betty as to her behaviour in school towards teachers and fellow scholars. Try to point out to Betty as we walk up the hill that of course it is ‘Only Daddy’s fun’, and she must be very good and quiet and do all she is told; to which Betty replies gaily, ‘Oh yes, I never take any notice of what he says.’ Feel that this is not quite the lesson I intended to impart, but am powerless to put my meaning into words.”
Mrs. Tim of the Regiment was effectively D.E. Stevenson’s first novel. It is steeped in the atmosphere and culture of England between the two world wars. She did write one before but it was 10 years prior. And this one started off her career as a much beloved and popular novelist. The book was originally a diary she wrote as a young wife of an army officer. She lent it to the mother of a new army wife to help her understand what her daughter was getting into. Acting on a suggestion, D.E.S. fictionalized it and it was published to great success. About a year later she continued Mrs. Tim’s adventures (and I use that term generously) with Golden Days. The version I read was the two books combined into one, originally titled Mrs. Tim Christie. I wanted to read it because it is highly rated, was published to great acclaim at the time, and was the book that started her career as an author. It is probably the series she was best known for (There were three more “Mrs. Tim” books to follow: two in the 1940s, one set during the war years, and one shortly after. The last one was published in 1952). The other reason I wanted to read it, was that I remember picking it up as a young girl, always being on the lookout for new authors when I had read and re-read all my favorites. I couldn’t get into it at all. It was a bad choice to start off with and I wish I had picked another one. But I thought that now, knowing and enjoying Ms. Stevenson and “getting” her now that I am very much older (very very), I would give it another try. And of course, there was the bonus that if I really liked it, I would have 3 others in the series to look forward to.
I chose to read it on audible narrated by Christine Rendel. She was excellent and a good actress with all of the different voices, but I found her voice too mature sounding for the young vibrant Mrs. Christie. The first part of the book had a lot of characters which I knew would not be on the scene for long as I knew Mrs. Tim would be moving on sooner or later, so I was not really invested in them. But it was very pleasant and somewhat entertaining. Mrs. Tim, Hester Christie, is a thoroughly charming, sensible, and nice woman. Reading between the lines, we know she is a beauty and is admired and respected by everyone. Her husband, Tim, seems like a good guy, a little typical with his old-fashioned masculine traits both good and amusingly clueless and transparent. Hester is devoted to him and we see him through her eyes, so we are pretty sure he is worthy of her love and returns her devotion. Also, they are the loving parents of Brian, 10, and Betty, 6.
Things pick up when Tim is transferred to Scotland and Hester is invited to visit a new friend, the trenchant, frank, and dignified Mrs. Loudon, at her estate in the Highlands. There we meet Guthrie, Mrs. Loudon’s son, who is in the toils of a frivolous, beautiful, rather common, and thoroughly unsuitable young lady. We have an encounter with a ghost and suffer with Hester when Betty sneaks out to look for kelpies in the river and gets lost in the mists. We help with an elopement between the offspring of two families who have been feuding for hundreds of years and deal with the obnoxious social-climbing Mrs. McTurk. Most interestingly we have the appearance on the scene of the handsome and amusing Major Morley, a friend from Captain Tim’s previous posting, who is head over heels in love with Hester. She is blissfully unaware of his feelings, but they are obvious to everyone else. Through it all, we have the muddled reminiscences of Mrs. Loudon’s garrulous elderly cousin. It is charming and amusing, especially with the wry perspective of the lovely inside and out Mrs. Christie. Unfortunately, all of the little threads end somewhat anticlimactically, with the least drama possible. In the end, even Major Morley leaves the scene right before Tim’s anticipated arrival, eliminating any chance for any kind of interesting interaction between the trio.
All in all, I did like the book, but in the context of listening to it while doing other things. I kept saying, “maybe I’ll give it one more session before moving on” to listen to some very anticipated recently acquired audibles. I kept giving it one more day until, before I knew it, I was painlessly finished with the book. But I probably won’t read the others in the series.