Published by Furrowed Middlebrow
Publication date – 5 August 2019
Source – review copy
Unmarried and nicknamed “Button” by her friends, Mary Morrison is a (very mildly) distressed gentlewoman. She no longer lives in her family home, but remains at the very centre of village life, surrounded by friends including carefree, irresponsible Catha, Lady Rollo, just back from India and setting up lavish housekeeping nearby with her husband and children—socialist Tony, perfect Crispin, and Elizabeth who’s preparing to be presented at Court. Then there’s Marcelle, Mary’s widowed sister-in-law, and her challenging daughter Rosemary, who may soon be planting themselves with her to escape London bombs, Miss Rosanna Masquerier, a historical novelist who might just be a wry self-portrait of the author, and an array of other Sirs and Ladies who rely on Mary’s sympathy and practicality. And perhaps there’s just a hint of romance as well . . .
Mary Morrison or Button, as she is known to her friends, lives a seemingly quiet life in village of Went. However, with war approaching that quiet life becomes a whole lot noisier. Between old friends moving back, family threatening to move in with her and trying to organise a gas attack, Button finds her life is busier than ever.
There are a lot of characters, so many that I sometimes lost track of who was who. However, each one adds a little to the story, making the village seem more rounded. I found it easier to go with the flow and follow what was being said, rather than who was saying it. This is a rather gentle novel, one to while away a few hours with, where the reader can enjoy the slightly wry humour and self-deprecation. It is easy to imagine that life like that depicted in Nothing to Report was happening across the country in the lead up to the war. The social structure is still in place but signs are there that the division between working class and upper class is breaking down, similarly with the gender divide as preparations for war hospitals and gas attacks see people from all backgrounds working together.
Mary thinks of herself as leading a quiet life, not expecting much in the way of change or excitement. As she is relied upon more and more the reader sees that she is held in high regard by her friends and neighbours, who turn to her for help and guidance, and friendship. She believes herself to be over the hill at 41, so does not recognise the chance at love when it first appears. She puts others before herself, and it is only towards the end of the novel that she realises she can do something for herself without it sacrificing her ability to aid others.
Not many big things happen, whilst a number of small changes alter Mary’s life, much the same as in real life. The war is a distant threat that comes rumbling closer but the effects of it are almost taken in the stride of the inhabitants of the village. There is very much the sense of people just getting on with things, the worry acknowledged but not discussed. Life goes on and the concerns of fitting in evacuees and the disappearance of an evening gown for a debutante’s mother go hand in hand.
There’s a sequel available from Furrowed Middlebrow, Somewhere in England, which I will have to obtain and read soon. A nice, easy going read, which gives a small insight into how the threat of war was viewed. An enjoyable way to spend a few hours. I’ll be on the look out for more books from Furrowed Middlebrow.