Wild Strawberries was my first foray into the works of Thirkell and I believe I’ll return to her work whenever I have a need for some fluffy interwar comfort read now that I’ve run out of E.F. Benson.
This was a sweet story of a family that can only be described as … chaotic. I guess, eccentric would be a hit, too, but as there was no plot to the story as such this book is more of a portrait of delightful chaos in the same vein as P.G. Wodehouse’s Wooster novels – but without the plot. And this brings me to the main issue I had with the book – I am one of those pesky readers that prefers, nay needs, a plot, however so thin it might be. It’s what makes the book memorable for me. Without this, the only thing that has remained with me even only days after finishing the book is the glorious scene of Gudgeon and the Gong:
Mr Leslie had abolished the use of the gong.
‘’Er ladyship is just ze same,’ said Conk. ‘She never ’ear ze gong. If she was in ’er bedroom she often say to me, “Conque, ’as ze gong gone?”’
Gudgeon pondered these remarks. One day he ventured to sound the gong, gently and for a short space, for lunch. After a day or two, finding that no one checked him, he sounded it for tea, then for dinner, but always with brevity and restraint.
Finally, taking advantage of the absence of Mr Leslie in town, he liberated his soul in tocsins, alarms, fanfares of booming sound.
At the end of the week when Mr Leslie returned, Lady Emily remarked at dinner:
‘Gudgeon, did you sound the gong tonight? I never heard it.’
‘Yes, my lady,’ said Gudgeon, ‘but I can sound it a little longer in future if your ladyship wishes.’
‘Yes, do,’ said Lady Emily. Mr Leslie, occupied with Mr Macpherson about the matter of mending the cricket pavilion roof, did not hear this conversation, and being at the time absorbed in a cattle show at which Rushwater Robert was like to do well, he never noticed that the gong had begun again.
To see Gudgeon sounding the gong for dinner was to see an artist at work. Taking the gong-stick, its round end well padded with wash-leather, which it was his pride to replace with his own hands from time to time, he would execute one or two preliminary flourishes in the manner of a drum-major, or a lion lashing itself to a frenzy with the fabled claw in its tail. Then he let the padded end fall upon the exact centre of the gong, drawing out a low ringing note. With increasing force he sounded it, the end of his stick moving in ever-widening circles upon the dark, pitted surface of the gong, till the sound filled the whole house, booming through corridors, vibrating in every beam, thrilling and pleasantly alarming Agnes’s children in bed upstairs, making David in his bath say, ‘Damn that gong; I thought I had five minutes more,’ making Mr Leslie, in the drawing-room, say, ‘Everybody late again as usual, I suppose,’ making Lady Emily say as Conk pinned up her hair, ‘Has the gong gone yet, Conque?’
Today the last ripples of its booming had hardly died away when Mr Leslie came in with Mr Macpherson, the agent, and Mr Banister. Agnes, with James, who came down to Sunday lunch, David and Martin followed close behind.
‘We shan’t wait, Gudgeon,’ said Mr Leslie. ‘Her ladyship will be late.’
‘Very good, sir,’ said Gudgeon pityingly.