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The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley

First published by Macmillan, 1984; this edition Vintage paperback


I was pretty sure I'd never read it, and as a sucker for last-summer-before-the-war novels, this was an obvious omission.

Enjoyment factor

This is an interesting one, as it was written (as with all Wesley's novels) when she was in her seventies, in 1984.

Chiefly set immediately before and during World War II, it also incorporates a time-slip narrative with the 1980s, depicting the main character in old age and implying a degree of autobiography - although according to Wiki, Wesley largely denied this.

The characters are pleasingly unconventional, but never quite settle, and there's not one whom I honestly found likeable. So although this was an engaging read, I was left slightly cold.

It left me thinking ...

Trying to put my finger on what didn't satisfy, I think it's that all of the characters are riddled with unresolved issues. That of course is the case with all of us, but perhaps we read fiction in search of some kind of redemption, for the characters at least.

Having read a bit about Mary Wesley's life, it's clear that she came from a dysfunctional family: but however much she may have denied that her fiction was autobiographical, it's impossible to separate.

It also left me thinking about the dangers of nostalgia. So much was pinned on that idyllic last summer before the war - a classic literary device, but at the same time, the characters didn't seem to have moved on much in old age. A trap for all of us to beware.

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