Monday, May 7, 2018

Classics Spin # 17: One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes


So I'm nearly a week behind with Classics Spin #17, but better late than never. My spin pick was One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, a slim novella of a mere 184 pages. One would think it would be easy enough to finish this book in time --I was so confident that I could zoom through this book in a day that I literally left it to the last minute. Of course, I was wrong.

It's a short book, but not one that I would recommend rushing. As the title suggests, it's a single day in the life of Laura Marshall, who lives in Wealding, a fictional English in Sussex. It's shortly after the end of the war, and her husband Stephen commutes by train to his job in the city; daughter Victoria, about 9 or 10, is off to school and then visiting a friend afterward for tea.

Laura goes about her early summer day, filled with the normal tasks of cleaning, cooking, shopping and errands. The family live in a big house that once had several servants, but now must make do with a part-time daily charwoman and elderly gardener. Her tasks that day include asking a local youth to help out with the gardening maintenance; putting an advertisement in the local paper for a cook.

The reader really gets a feeling of what life was like in the aftermath of the war. The book was published in 1947 and it's very obvious that WWII is still very fresh, with rationing, queueing, and German POWs still working on local farms. Laura picks a basket of gooseberries for her husband's work assistant who lives in London; there are mentions of the sudden availability of oranges, and daughter Victoria longs to live on a farm where milk and cream are there for the taking.


It seems like any ordinary day, it's really a microcosm of how life was changing in England, neatly encapsulated in less than 200 pages. Much of the story is also focused on how life was before the war and how it will never be the same due to changes in class and social structure. Laura and her family are faced with the impossibility of finding help, as all the working-class people are no longer interested in service. Laura's snobby mother can't understand why her daughter has to -- gasp -- do housework! but the local squire's wife has faced reality and is moving off her crumbling estate to smaller housing and has given over her mansion to the National Trust. The young man asked for gardening help has no interest in sticking around the little poky village, and is ready to move on to bigger and better things.

Overall, this book is just beautifully written, too good to zip through in a single sitting.

How hot it was! The midday heat was rising to a head, like milk to the boil, singing in a clotted hum of bees, of crickets among the sorrel and daisies, of gnats dancing above the cresses tugged all one way by the trickle of water running under the hedge. An old woman came out with a pail, hobbling across the lane to the tap dripping among the moss. She had lived to see men flying overhead like birds; to stand among the hollyhocks watching bombs spluttering across the stars to kill a family forty miles away; to turn a switch and hear the great voice from Westminster correcting her kitchen clock. 


I loved this book and it was the perfect read for a beautiful spring day. I read a good chunk of it on Saturday afternoon sitting outside in the Japanese garden in Kaiserslautern. I didn't take any photos this time but here's one of my favorites from last year.



Mollie Panter-Downes worked for years as a correspondent for the New Yorker magazine and as a short story writer; sadly, she really didn't write many novels. However, I've read and enjoyed both of her short story collections published by Persephone, and I also own London War Notes, a collection of her wartime columns which was thankfully republished (also by Persephone) because the previous edition from the 1970s was terribly expensive.  It's on my TBR Pile Challenge list so I'm hoping to get to it before the end of the summer.

8 comments:

  1. Hey Karen! This is Jillian from forever ago at The Classics Club. I tried to friend you on Goodreads, but it doesn't like my answer to your challenge question (Texas). I can't find a way to follow you there, either. If you want to connect, can you send me a request at my Goodreads page? :D

    I like that you read the Persephones, & I'd like to keep in touch for old times sake. :)

    One Fine Day sounds lovely, by the way. I love the idea of a glance at a single day to reflect the changes happening in that moment, in history. :)

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    1. Hi, I've sent you a friend request (I'm not actually from Texas, though I lived there for 11 years!) Of course I remember you from the Classics Club! Nice to hear from you again!

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  2. What a wonderful review! I am so glad you loved this book; I thought it was perfection. I have her London War Notes on my mental list but want to purchase (and read) all the Dorothy Whipple published by Persephone first.

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    1. I still haven't read all the Whipples, I think I've been putting them off because I know I'll be sad when I've finished reading them all! I still have Greenbanks and the latest short story volume, and I also tracked down a copy of her memoir The Other Day (they're tough to find but I wonder if Persephone might reprint it someday). I will probably start London War Notes soon but I'll probably read it in bits and pieces, maybe over the summer. A couple of years ago I read another Persephone about WWII, Few Eggs and No Oranges, and it took me quite awhile. I think both are the sort of book I won't want to read straight through. And I'm glad you also loved One Fine Day, it was a lovely book.

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  3. I really enjoyed this one too and her London War Notes. It's a shame she didn't write more. I also got a Goodreads 'knockback' with Texas! That photo of the Japanese garden is lovely.

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    1. I will send you a friend request on Goodreads!

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  4. I am always nervous when people review One Fine Day because I think it is an absolutely wonderful book and I want others to love it too. The writing is just so lyrical and gorgeous. I read London War Notes a few years ago and highly recommend that as well.

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    1. I've just started London War Notes and it's great, but I can tell already it's going to be a lengthy read. I'll be reading it in bits and pieces for quite a while.

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