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This lady

Dora Saint wrote novels about English life under the pen name Miss Read. Most of her books are about one of two fictional villages, Fairacre or Thrush Green. There are a bunch of them, too — twenty about Fairacre, fourteen about Thrush Green and a smattering on other subjects. None was a bestseller, but she had a loyal readership and put out about a book a year well into her eighties. She died in April last year, ten days short of her 99th birthday.

I read her first book, Village School, over the weekend. It’s one of the Fairacre ones. It was slow, gentle, subtly funny and only a very tiny bit sharp. I liked it. I’m not sure whether to tackle the whole series — I’m at the point in life where I’m painfully aware I won’t live long enough to read all the good books, and twenty is a big ask — but then I catch myself wondering what happened next.

It was her publisher’s idea to release the books under the name of her main character and narrator, the head teacher Miss Read. The village school is what we would call a one-room schoolhouse, with all the local children between the ages of five and ten, taught in two groups by two teachers. Thirty or so at a time. The school has no running water and buckets for latrines. Coke stoves for heat.

Thing is, it was set in 1955. And I gather, little village schools like this persisted into…well, I guess in more remote places, into today. I would like to think they all have toilets now.

Oh, what the heck. I’ve just bought the second one. I would like her publisher to note (I’m looking at you, Orion Book Group) that if they’d offered the Kindle edition for a sensible price (say 99p) they’d have gotten my money like a shot. I prefer reading off my Kindle. As it is, the used trade got my pittance and the publisher can go jump. I’m not paying £5 for a download when I can get something nice in the mail for under £2.


Comment from Crabby Old Bat
Time: August 12, 2013, 11:19 pm

Read them! Read them all! These books turn into comfortable old friends, and they don’t take very long to read. As you noted, they are set in the fifties but they reflect an entirely different world. (One little kid gets in trouble because he won’t eat the healthy fat on his meat.) I love these books.

Comment from Steve Skubinna
Time: August 12, 2013, 11:49 pm

Didn’t they continue wartime rationing for some food items into the 1950’s as well? The difference between the UK winning WWII and losing it was nowhere near like it was in the US. Old Blighty didn’t get the massive economic and industrial boom we did. Most of their veterans didn’t come home to college on the GI bill and VA home loans, or even jobs.

Comment from weasel tablet
Time: August 13, 2013, 12:19 am

Oh, yes, Steve. Things were rough here for quite a long time after the war.

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: August 13, 2013, 12:47 am

Miss Read? I’m stunned it hasn’t been deliberately misread as a condemnation of her teaching abilities.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: August 13, 2013, 1:19 am

Hm, wonder if my mom would like them. She love this kind of thing

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: August 13, 2013, 2:17 am

The author looks so definitively British to me. I am absolutely certain that she had to move her cup of tea out of view for that picture. I am sure that her books are full of quietly polite people muddling through in the best sense of the word. In short she makes me pine for the Albion of old books.

Comment from Can’tharkmycry
Time: August 13, 2013, 10:45 am

I read one of hers when I was in my snooty thirties, and despised it, but possibly I’d see it differently from the perspective of my more tolerant sixties. Hm.

Comment from Ken
Time: August 13, 2013, 1:42 pm

My dad used to say his mark of a good book was reading the last page, closing the book, and wondering what the characters did the next day. (Okay, we don’t wonder what Sidney Carton did the next day, but the _other_ characters….)

Comment from Deborah
Time: August 13, 2013, 2:43 pm

Oh! I love authors like this, so I will look for “Miss Read.” Dora Saint sounds like a soul sister to Elswyth Thane, who are no doubt cousins to Neville Shute Norway and Paul Gallico.

Re: 99p for Kindle. I rarely pay more than $1.99 for Kindle books. I go for weeks without buying one (though I review the daily offerings), and then I’ll buy one every day for a month. Last month, I bought all of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series—“A” through “K” for $1.99 each. I’ve paid the full Kindle price for writers Robert Crais and James Church—but they are the rare exceptions in my book budget.

But a promo like yours is worth a bundle in advertising. Maybe Dora Saint’s publishers will put her books on the economy list if they see a flurry of sales.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: August 13, 2013, 5:37 pm

Apparently my mom has read one and didn’t care for it, apparently the characters annoyed her or something. Oh well.

Comment from Paula Douglas
Time: August 14, 2013, 1:56 am

Crais is almost always worth twice the price of admission. Except for that Pike story with the Paris Hilton clone. That sucked.

Comment from Paula Douglas
Time: August 14, 2013, 1:59 am

In fact, I was in Jacksonville, FL the day his last Elvis book came out, and I rented a car from the hotel and drove to the nearest Barnes & Noble (about 10 miles) to pick it up. That’s how much I can get taken for when it comes to Crais.

Comment from Tibby
Time: August 14, 2013, 3:42 pm

I think in the dim past I read some of her books. I’ll have to go back and try them again. Loved the real old cozies, not the newer to cute to stand ones. And if you like Crais, try Andrew Vachss – dark, but oh so good. The address below is a great site for keeping up with mystery authors and their works.


Comment from GIL
Time: August 14, 2013, 5:20 pm

I’m sorry, but I don’t know this Author. I would like to read her, but I accepted a loan from a friend–it’s a bodice-ripper written by a Norwegian–it borders on WWII Nazi-Porn. The first chapter, so far, is extended dialogue aboard a war criminal train headed for the ever-so-clean German Frontlines Hospital. “What kind of genteel, fishnet stockinged, perfumed madamoiselle do you fancy, then, when you are sweaty and returning from Algeria to Paris?” “I don’t know, Amigo, my thigh has been cut off.” Enter: Spitzfire strafing. Good Stuff.

This woman? I SEE her, and I instantly stand up, smooth my shirt and jeans, and go to the kitchen to make myself a nice cup of tea and treat myself to three parakeet beak-sharpening biscuits. I have a quick wee, spray some Airwick Citrus, and then rush back to read another chapter. PeeYew.

Comment from Deborah
Time: August 14, 2013, 9:02 pm

Tibby—thank you for the splendid link!

Comment from Tibby
Time: August 14, 2013, 10:58 pm

My pleasure Deborah!

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