My brother John used to say that when he wrote stories, he invented,
but that I in my books, was always remembering.
– O. Douglas –
I am treating myself and re reading the novels of O. Douglas. Her name is Olivia Douglas (Anna Buchan) and she was the sister of John Buchan of The Thirty Nine Steps fame. People of my vintage knew the story and the 1959 movie starring Kenneth More. I was introduced to O. Douglas by Lyn who used to have a wonderful book blog called I Prefer Reading. The books sounded wonderful so I had to try and find some of them.
For me here at the southern tip of Africa that turned out to be very difficult back then. I searched and searched, no they weren’t in the libraries or the bookstores or the second-hand bookstores nor yet in the charity shops and no, back then there was no such thing as ebooks! But you know, it turned out to be a plus. I bought some cheap used copies from the UK and see what charming books I received! I take such pleasure in these small much read little hard cover copies that have been on my shelves now for many years already. But for others out there who might be tempted to get to know this excellent writer, do not fret! You can test drive one of the books for as little as one dollar and a few cents if you purchase it as an ebook.
There is not one of her books that I dislike but I do have favourites. Top of the list is The Proper Place and its sequel The Day of Small Things. I’ll tell you why. These stories are about people who have something painful, something hard happen to them and who react with grace, with courage and who laugh as they go along their road. Like most of Douglas’ tales these take place in Scotland, in Tweedside. For these characters, the young woman Nicole and her mother Lady Jane, this was the home of their heart, the home of their loved ones. But the war took the two brothers and now the father and husband has gone too, and they can’t afford to stay. So the family place must be sold and mother and daughter and cousin Barbara who has been brought up by the family decide to leave not only the home but the area and make a new life elsewhere. This is a thoughtful story. It is not glib; it is funny and true in that sense that good fiction is. Really this is Nicole’s story, her proper place and what comes next. You will like these people and be sorry to take your leave of them.
I’ll aye ca’ in by yon toun
And by yon garden green again
– Robert Burns –
But not to worry! Many of the characters in these two books can be found in Jane’s Parlour. The focus of this book is on other characters connected to Nicole and her family and there is the same sense of sound as a nut at the heart of this book. The author and her people have a belief in acting for the good. It is for me always a relief to spend some time in such a world, to take a holiday away from what I read in the newspapers.
Another top of the list favourite for me is Pink Sugar. Now cards on the table, this is a romance. But such a lovely trip from beginning to end! Again, there is this naughty sense of humour, the people that we enjoy spending time with, the sense of duty and what is right and the choices that have to be made. In this book as in the others O. Douglas excels at characterisation and her child characters are an absolute delight.
And so on to Penny Plain. This is a rags to riches tale, a reminder that we should be mindful to entertain strangers as we might thus entertain angels unawares. Jean lives in Priorsford in a house called The Rigs with her brothers, her ward and the dog called Peter. Jean speaks about occasionally feeling that ordinary comfortable people are “walking on a flowery meadow that is really a great quacking morass, and underneath […] unimagined horrors”. She describes wonderfully how a newspaper can create a crack and expose that morass to one’s unwilling eyes. How true that rang for me in these days we are living through. I tell you, I love the ups and downs of this story, the humour and the sadness, the fact that it isn’t at all sanctimonious.
I am so glad these books crossed my path! These are all small stories, one and all, people living undramatic lives in the best way they can. They are happy, unhappy, their world is inhabited by the deeply annoying and the lovingly supportive. I have had much joy from them over the years. My investment certainly paid off most handsomely.
The return to such books is often motivated
by a desire to dwell for a time in a self-contained
fictional universe, with its boundaries, and its own rules.
– Alan Jacobs –