Miss Read1 wrote two series, set in the fictitious towns of Thrush Green and Fairacre. These books fall firmly into the gentle read category, though without any significant religious element.
This is a somewhat idealized bucolic small town England, but the descriptions (barely) miss being saccharine by a leavening of the problems in those same villages. Some of the problems stem from agricultural shifts brought on by shipping wheat from Canada and the United States or meat from New Zealand, Australia and Argentina in the nineteenth century and two world wars and a depression in the twentieth. Some problems were always there: poverty, lack of opportunity and so on. On the whole, though, it’s a world of thatched cottages, one room schools, afternoon tea, church fetes, babies, travelling fairs set up on the village green and so on. Life is not perfect–people drink and gamble, wars and economic crises impinge on the lives of the villages, but on the whole, they’re nostalgia pure and simple. Doctors make house calls. The schoolteacher is respected and the shopkeeper delivers.
I’ve only read Thrush Green and Miss Read Remembers; I’ll definitely return to these series, though I might alternate Miss Read with grittier edgier modern novels. Writing styles change, though I think Miss Read was deliberately harking back to something a bit outdated even when she was writing. Thrush Green, the first in that series, could probably best be described as “a day in the life of a Cotswolds village”. It takes place (for the most part) within a short span of time, with a few flashbacks to explain the backstory; it’s the first of May and the gypsies have arrived with their annual travelling fair. The matron/doyenne of the fair, widowed years ago, has been carrying on her deceased husband’s fair, with the aid of their many children and now grandchildren. This year, aging and ill, she decides to make her grandson a full business partner to carry on the family tradition, now that he’s settled down to marry a Thrush Green girl. Miss Clare Remembers is the reminiscing of a now-retired schoolteacher; her childhood friend is coming back to move in with her, and Miss Clare reflects back on fifty years of life and friendship in Fairacre, from the 1880s to the ‘present’, presumably approximately when the book was written.
What to read next? Jan Karon’s Mitford series comes closest to the general tone of Read’s books; they’re set in the U.S. and are about a priest but there’s the same general feeling of things coming out right and love for one’s fellow man with a minimum of pain. Angela Thirkell wrote in the ’30s and ’40s about a similarly rural England, though her books tend more to the social commentary on class structure than Miss Read…though Read does touch on that!
1pen name for Dora Jessie Saint