November 28, 2016

Miss Ranskill Comes Home {Persephone no. 46}

      Thing I like best about you, Miss Ranskill, you never make a fuss.
      Memory of the Carpenter's approval lifted her heart a little. Suddenly it became important to him as well as to her that she should not make a fuss. It would be disloyal to their friendship, a denial of the quality in her -- the quality he had admired -- to make a fuss now. She must continue to be the same person. ...
      Mind once more took possession of Miss Ranskill's body, easing its strain by virtue of its sudden command. She had the boat, which was all ready except for stowage -- storage, what was the word? They had meant to go, anyway, and now she would continue the plan. There was work to do in England. She must use the boat the Carpenter had made. The years of his labor must not be wasted. She must find his wide and tell her the manner of his death because she had no right to keep the last years to herself. It was a pity she was so tired, but it didn't really matter. She would sleep all the better when she got home.
      Beds cried out to her to come and sleep in them, cool beds in summer and warm ones in winter. China tea would be waiting at her bedside in the early morning and she would put her lips to thin-fluted china. There would be thin bread crumbling under its load of butter. There would be flowers to 'do' -- pink-stemmed primroses to be gathered in woods.
      Now she must hurry. She must be quick, very quick over everything before her mind sagged again. She must begin work now if she were to leave the island tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that.

Have you ever seen the old black-and-white movie, My Favorite Wife?  (I'd watch anything with Cary Grant, but this is one of my favorites.) Anyway, in it, a woman who has been shipwrecked on a desert island comes home to her family, just as her husband is about to remarry.  It's cute and funny, and it might be why I was drawn to this book when I was picking out a Persephone to read next. They have the barest bones of the same plot, but this novel is both funny and heartbreaking;  Miss Ranskill is a wonderful, feisty, beautifully-drawn character, and I loved spending time with her.

I thought the writing was so good -- lyrical and descriptive in places, as I said funny in others.As the book opens, our heroine is doing some painful and very difficult physical work, and we soon learn that she is burying and mourning for The Carpenter, a beautiful soul -- someone we meet only in things she remembers him saying -- with whom she has been (literally) marooned on a desert island for four years, after falling overboard when she tried to rescue her hat.  Together, they've been building a boat, keeping their signal fire lit, and planning for the day when they can leave the island in search of rescue.

When she manages (on her own) to return to England, it's close to the end of the Second World War, and she is re-immersed into a world -- with bombs, and ration books, and clothing coupons, and hearty village women -- that she knows nothing about.  There's a lot of humor, in her encounters with an oblivious old school friend and her own disapproving sister, but it's also a little heartbreaking to see her making her way home in a country that has changed and doesn't immediately welcome her.  I found myself rooting for her and so happy for her at the end. :)

Miss Ranskill Comes Home, by Barbara Euphan Todd
Persephone Books, 2003 {originally published in 1946}
Borrowed from the Boston Athenaeum

1 comment:

JoAnn said...

This sounds wonderful, Audrey! I am overdue for a Persephone fix.