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Mary Wesley was born near Windsor in 1912. Her education took her to the London School of Economics and during the War she worked in the War Office. Although she initially fulfilled her parents' expectations in marrying an aristocrat she then scandalised them when she divorced him in 1945 and moved in with the great love of her life, Eric Siepmann. The couple married in 1952, once his wife had finally been persuaded to divorce him. She used to comment that her 'chief claim to fame is arrested development, getting my first novel Jumping the Queue published at the age of seventy'. She went on to write a further nine novels, three of which were adapted for television, including the best-selling The Camomile Lawn. Mary Wesley was awarded the CBE in the 1995 New Year's honour list and died in 2002.
June 2014 Guest Editor Freya North on Not That Sort of Girl... Mary Wesley, Rose Tremain, Barbara Trapido and Jane Gardam – I really do owe my career to them. But this book in particular really did change the course of my life. I read it during my finals at University after which I headed off to do an MA and was all set to start a PhD in Art History. But deep down I knew that all I really wanted to do was write fiction. I love the way that Mary Wesley marries gentle romance with quite surprising sexiness in all her novels – but here in particular. For over fifty years, Rose is loyal to her husband Ned while also maintaining a relationship Milo. I loved the way this novel puts our perception of morality in a centrifuge – there’s nothing dissolute or duplicitous about either of Rose’s relationships, rather it’s about enduring love. This book really proves how commercial fiction can be deceptively simply – a pleasure to read through the clever, beautifully written and thoughtfully woven layers.
Oliver is just back from the Spanish Civil War and world-weary at only nineteen. Calypso is gorgeous, utterly selfish and determined to marry for money. Polly and Walter, brother and sister, play their cards close to their chests. Then there's little Sophie, who nobody loves. Soon the world will be swept into war again and the five cousins will enter a whirligig of sex, infidelity, love and loss, but for now they have one last, gaspingly hot summer at the house by the cliffs with the camomile lawn. A beloved bestseller from an author ahead of her time, The Camomile Lawn is a waspishly witty, devil-may-care delight.
I would give myself, darling, if it would do any good, but who am I? I love money and a good time, I'm enjoying the war, I find it exciting and frightening. I enjoy the raids, I like all the men taking me out.' Behind the large house, the fragrant camomile lawn stretches down to the Cornish cliffs. Here, in the dizzying heat of August 1939, five cousins have gathered at their aunt's house for their annual ritual of a holiday. For most of them it is the last summer of their youth, with the heady exhilarations and freedoms of lost innocence, as well as the fears of the coming war. The Camomile Lawn moves from Cornwall to London and back again, over the years, telling the stories of the cousins, their family and their friends, united by shared losses and lovers, by family ties and the absurd conditions imposed by war as their paths cross and recross over the years. Mary Wesley presents an extraordinarily vivid and lively picture of wartime London: the rationing, imaginatively circumvented; the fallen houses; the parties, the new-found comforts of sex, the desperate humour of survival - all of it evoked with warmth, clarity and stunning wit. And through it all, the cousins and their friends try to hold on to the part of themselves that laughed and played dangerous games on that camomile lawn.
Seventeen-year-old Juno Marlowe has just waved off to war the two young men she has loved for the best part of her life when the air raid sirens begin to wail out across London. She is rescued from this nightmare by a gaunt stranger called Evelyn, frail and older than his years, who offers her the protection of his house and his family before dying suddenly in the night. Determined to avoid being sent to Canada to join her mother and new step-father, and still grieving for her lost lovers, Juno instead finds herself on a train to Cornwall in search of Evelyn's family. There she discovers the blossoming of an English spring into which the war only occasionally intrudes and finds at last a peace for herlself and a world in which she is more than simply part of the furniture.
Laura Thornby is independent, individual and perfectly in control of her life. Her affairs are brief but delightful, her career fulfilling and she copes with her two rather peculiar relatives and the gossip about her parentage with wryness and humour. But then she meets twenty-three-year old Claude, a struggling writer, and she is overcome by an irresistible desire to interfere, manipulate and experiment - all for his own good, of course. What Laura does not foresee, however, are the possibilities that one day Claude may actually complete his novel and that she may well fall in love.
Henry Tillotson, a generous, genial man who inherited his father's philanthropic attitude along with his beautiful house, rescues Margaret from a disastrous marriage in Egypt and brings her home to the West Country as his new wife. On the threshold she gives him a black eye and retires straight to bed where she remains, apart from the occasional malevolent outburst, for the rest of her life. Over the years two young couples become regular if uneasy houseguests, listening, speculating, keeping a watchful eye on Margaret's door until finally, piecing together the gossip, the rumours, the mystery, they find themselves and their children thoroughly tangled in the web of Henry's life...
A train screeches to a halt in the middle of the English countryside and, observed by her fascinated fellow travellers, a woman climbs down and rushes to the aid of a sheep, stranded on its back and unable to rise. Sylvester Weekes watches with interest and noticing, as she turns, that her face is full of tragedy, the woman's lonely image lodges in his mind. But he is not the only one to speculate over her actions - Maurice Benson, former private detective turned full-time birdwatcher, is convinced that the mysterious woman must be tracked down, in whatever way possible. This is a story rich in character and wit, and powerfully moving in its exploration of the heart's pain and deliverance. It is a tale of loss, of release, of an acceptance of the cruelties of fate and of the imaginative experience of love.
Hebe sits in the darkness and listens to her hypocritical grandparents and her older siblings discuss how her unexpected pregnancy must be terminated to avoid the shame it will bring. Determined to raise her child, she flees into the night with only her mother's jewellery to support her. Twelve years later she is living happily alone in Cornwall, whilst her son attends an expensive private school. Hebe has harnessed her two great talents - cooking and making love - to make a living for herself, but when the separate strands of her life become intangled the even tenor of her days is threatened, and her world changes forever.
Poppy Carew has just been dumped by her unscrupulous boyfriend, Edmund, when her beloved and eccentric father dies, leaving Poppy one last request - that she ensure he is buried in style by a 'fun' undertaker - and one large fortune. Carrying out his wishes, Poppy finds not only a fun funeral parlour, and an equally fun wake peopled with very generous old ladies who all seem to know her father very well, but also several eligible young men, all of whom are keen to get to know the new heiress. And when Edmund remembers the charms that he quickly forgot in the arms of his new lover, Venetia, there are suddenly too many choices for Poppy Carew...
Behind the large house, the fragrant camomile lawn stretches down to the Cornish cliffs. Here, in the dizzying heat of August 1939, five cousins have gathered at their aunt's house for their annual ritual of a holiday. For most of them it is the last summer of their youth, with the heady exhilarations and freedoms of lost innocence, as well as the fears of the coming war. The Camomile Lawn moves from Cornwall to London and back again, over the years, telling the stories of the cousins, their family and their friends, united by shared losses and lovers, by family ties and the absurd conditions imposed by war as their paths cross and recross over the years. Mary Wesley presents an extraordinarily vivid and lively picture of wartime London: the rationing, imaginatively circumvented; the fallen houses; the parties, the new-found comforts of sex, the desperate humour of survival - all of it evoked with warmth, clarity and stunning wit. And through it all, the cousins and their friends try to hold on to the part of themselves that laughed and played dangerous games on that camomile lawn.
Flora Trevelyan is a ten-year-old misfit, despised by her selfish and indolent parents, and left to wander the streets of a small French town whilst her parents prepare to depart for life in colonial India. There she befriends the locals, acquires an extensive vocabulary of French foul language and encounters the privileged lifestyle of the elegant, middle-class British families holidaying in 1920s France. Introduced for the first time to kindly, civilised and, above all, caring people Flora falls helplessly and hopelessly in love with not one but three young men. Over the next forty years Flora will grow from an awkward schoolgirl into a stunning beauty and explore, consummate and finally resolve each of these affairs.