Monday, September 14, 2020

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

The raspberries, Mrs. Marshall said, would he net the raspberries? That, too, was pushed through the keyhole, and back came the little shrill whistle. Oh yes, he would net them. If he netted himself, the birds would see no difference. He would bud, he would blossom, his toes would take root in England, his fingers would splay down comfortably into the soil. 

~p. 46

But first, thought Laura, she would start some of the evening's cooking before eating. She began to move pans back and forth off the stove. She used the colander, the grater, wooden spoons of various sizes, and a small army of basins. Her cheeks became flushed. Would the sauce bind? And lo, it bound, while her heart did likewise. But with a hiss, something else boiled over disastrously, so that the cat, who knew Laura, got up and withdrew in prudent haste. A sad brown smell invaded the cluttered kitchen. Mopping up the ruins, Laura thought of Mrs. Abbey, their former and best cook, Mrs. Abbey, who had been killed by a flying bomb while taking a cup of tea with her niece Flo in Putney. 

~p. 66

Now that her father was home, her mother always seemed to be standing by the stove, stirring things, and frowning at the book in her hand. Victoria's bedtime, which had been an elastic affair, returned to a legal appointed hour. 

~p. 156

I must be in a Mollie Panter-Downes mood, lately, because I went looking for One Fine Day after reading her Postwar stories, Millie's Room, and now I'd really, really like to start on her WWII dispatches (but I think I'll wait so I don't totally run out of Panter-Downes books).

One Fine Day is about a small family, the Marshalls, and it's set a year after the end of WWII on a single day. You're mostly in Laura's head, but occasionally you'll also spend a little time in the minds of her husband Stephen and daughter Victoria.

Before the war, the Marshalls had a bustling household with servants, a nanny, and at least one gardener. Their house is large for a family of three and they're clearly very well off but now that the war is over, the young gardener has been killed, and many of the servants have found alternative employment, the majority of the cleaning, cooking, and some of the gardening is left to Laura to handle.

The reader follows Laura as she does a little gardening and cooking, goes to pick up her food rations, visits the home of a young man to see if he'd be willing to help out her elderly gardener, bikes to a young Roma man's home to which she knows her dog will have run after escaping the house, stops on the way to visit with the family who own the largest home in the village, and visits a scenic point.

Both Laura and Stephen consider the fact that their house is too large and their chores overwhelming. Should they sell and move to a smaller place? They think about the fact that upkeep of their home dominates their time and energy. Maybe they should take more time to enjoy life and occasionally take a holiday or go for a nice visit to the point to picnic and enjoy the view. They think about their lives and how they've changed: what life was like before and during the war, and how different everything has become in a few long years.

Recommended - A very understated, very English story of a day in the life of a family that survived the war. I had a little trouble getting through the book because I was having a tired week and kept falling asleep, but at the same time I kept marking passages and I was very aware of Panter-Downes' unique turn of phrase. She was really quite a brilliant wordsmith. If you want to know what life was like in England during or after WWII, Mollie Panter-Downes places you within everyday life like nobody else I've encountered.

©2020 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

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