Book Review: August Folly

I enjoy a quiet book set in an English village, and August Folly by Angela Thirkell is one of those. Three families, the Tebbens, the Deans, and the Palmers, live in the village of Worsted. They are brought together by Mrs. Palmer’s production of Hippolytus, in which she requires most of the young people to participate.

Nothing much happens–a few young romances, a scare with a bull–but the characters, not the plot, are the point of the book. Richard Tebben, son of Mr. and Mrs. Tebben, is one of the main characters. He’s just finished up (poorly) at Oxford and is home for the summer, trying to figure out what’s next. Thirkell captures the awkward relationship between parents and children of that age and the struggle of the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Authors like Thirkell must be careful observers of both other people and their own lives; the book is full of little moments that are so true to life. For example, while on a train from London back to Worsted, Mrs. Tebben sees her former tutor, Mr. Fanshawe, on whom she clearly had a crush as a student. During the ride, Mrs. Tebben daydreams an elaborate fantasy about Mr. Fanshawe declaring his love to her. Mrs. Tebben loves her husband and has no intention of leaving him, but this daydream is exactly the sort of thing that you do when you’re bored.

Thirkell is gently funny. She includes a few short conversations between the Tebbens’ donkey, Modestine, and their cat, Gunnar, which could be cheesy but somehow hit just the right note. The whole plot line with the bull is intentionally absurd: “Mr Palmer’s attempts to explain the cause of their delay, namely that he and his cowman had been waiting vainly since six o’clock for a bull which was visiting them professionally, were strangled at birth by his wife.”

I put this in my August stack because of the name, obviously, but the book delivered with a slow, languid summer feel. One of my favorite bits: “It was going to be a real sweltering day, a day for laziness and books, and noble, melancholy thoughts. He took his books into the garden, and read there steadily till lunch-time, when he walked over to the Woolpack and ate bread and cheese and drank beer.” Sign me up.

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