‘Is it really so bad?’ asked Olivia. ‘The countryside looks so beautiful and the people so happy.’
‘They’re having a hard time. We hear a lot these days about factory workers and conditions in slums. No one bothers about rural poverty – we deal with it locally of course as best we can but when there’s no money in land there’s no money for charity. No one cares about country people. All the attention goes to the towns.’
‘I should have thought that every English person’s deepest idea of England was of the country. Doesn’t England mean a village green, and smoke rising from cottage chimneys, and the rooks cawing in the elms, and the squire and the vicar and the schoolmaster and the jolly villagers and their rosy-cheeked children?’
‘It has not existed for many years now.’
‘It must exist. How could we all believe in it so if it didn’t exist?’
‘Exactly. We believe in it. That is why the idea is such a powerful one. It is a myth.’
Oh, I should have liked this book more than I did, I really should.
Isabel Colegate created a little gem of Edwardiana here. It’s historical fiction, but doesn’t read like it. Stylistically, The Shooting Party was fantastic.
What turned me off was that the book is very short but tries to address so many aspects of the dying days of the world of Britain before the Great War that I thought it was all a bit crammed. When it wasn’t trying to convince me that a house party would cover so many topics of conversation – while also spending a lot of time changing clothes, and getting to know each other, and conducting private affairs – I was fairly bored every time we got to the actual shooting.
And apart from one character who haunts this book, I never got the feeling of ever getting to know the people who are coming together at this house party. Maybe this would have worked better if the book had been longer. Or maybe this was the author’s intention – to keep the characters at a distance from the reader. But then, if Colegate had intended this, why give some of the characters interior lives and flesh them out?
I really don’t know. All I know is that I felt anxious about one character for the entire read: the duck.