I’m an eclectic reader. I read most sorts and deliberately choose different levels of intensity. I used to tell my students that this is what they should aim for too. No one can or should read, say, Walter Scott or James Joyce to the exclusion of everything else. How are you ever going to learn to read critically if you don’t read widely so that you can make comparisons? In this I differed completely from one colleague who told our students so often that they should be reading the essays of George Orwell instead of what she called “trash” that I secretly wondered if she’d ever read anything else … until she “confessed” that during school holidays she read nothing but John Grisham. Fine, but I wish she’d discussed that with the students too.
Anyway the romantic novels of Katie Fforde are what I turn to when I want a change from, say, Charlotte Bronte, Rudyard Kipling and Leo Tolstoy all of whose books I have featured here in the last month. Moreover, of course, I read plenty of books – a lot of detective fiction, biographies, young adult titles and more which don’t necessarily get into these blogs.
Fforde has been publishing her feel-good stories since 1995 and she’s admirably prolific. They’ve been coming at the average rate of one every nine or ten months for 28 years. They are undemanding but witty with lots of likeable characters: the literary equivalent of a really well made cup of tea. She’s particularly good at warm, supportive, female friendship. And Fforde’s books are full of food, gardens, pretty décor, lovely scenery, flowers and beautiful houses. Another characteristic is talented, competent women succeeding – as chefs, gardeners, wedding arrangers and so forth – and I like that especially as they are often initially diffident people discovering their own potential.
She likes a traditional plot – and we all know there are only seven stories in the world. Fforde’s favourite is a version of rags-to-riches in which a woman is just establishing herself at something or somewhere when a rude/difficult/patronising/wealthy Mr Darcy type turns up and annoys her. Eventually he usually does something kind and unsolicited behind her back and she realises that she’s in love with him. This is so typical of Fforde that I now wait for him and smile. In her latest, One Enchanted Evening, his name is Justin – all motor cycle, leathers and aggression – and he doesn’t believe women should work in professional kitchens but eventually …
One Enchanted Evening is not set in the present although Fforde never dates it precisely. Meg, the protagonist is helping to run a hotel in rural Dorset where black forest gateau and coronation chicken are the thing, the dessert trolley (remember those?) is an innovation, en suite bathrooms are unusual and the war seems to be only one generation back so we are, presumably in the 1960s. Although even then I can’t believe that the stage crew would have installed an actual curtain for an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Meg has a group of friends (already familiar from other books because there is sometimes a tangential overlap) all of whom turn up to help in their different ways bringing their own joys and problems. In the hotel Meg meets Ambrosine an elderly lady who turns out to have quite a back story and they become close friends. She is beautifully done, as is Meg’s pretty, young (ish) mother, Louise and Susan, the ultra competent village woman who knows everyone and can get any sort of job done without fuss.
In short I loved it. I make absolutely no apology for enjoying light fiction along with everything else in my busy mix and I hope some of my former students are reading this, nodding and enjoying their own wide range reading.
Next week on Susan’s Bookshelves: Rice Without Rain by Minfong Ho