Each chapter is another story about someone who lives in or around the village. I spent some time trying to figure out the time frame, but eventually gave up when I realized that there was no firm time frame; rather the families and stories remained the same and lent a familiar air to other stories. I got a sense of the history of this village being knitted together each time I started another tale.
The stories range from humorous, to sad, to tender, to simply fond memories about people and events. Some of my favorites: Mrs. Mac and her ghostly husband; Colonel Barkwell and his disastrous dinner (was the fish bad?), the beautiful house that a young man never wants to leave; the big fish that must be caught in order to save the baby birds that make the pond a home, too. I especially loved Miss Agatha Feakes. You quickly understand the layers of memories, people, and lives lived that have made Notwithstanding a home to many souls. It is, in some ways, the quintessential English village we all expect in our wild imaginings to be scattered across England.
Well, as Louis de Bernieres writes in his afterword, he wrote these stories based loosely on the village he grew up in; a village that was slowly becoming a modern space. It was becoming less and less of the countryside and quirky folks who made villages such a solid foundation of our collective British yearning for the old days. Because yes, even those of us who have grown up elsewhere all have that tiny bit of longing for that romanticized village with the bakery, the friendly postman, the police officer on the bike; the crusty old military man who lives in the large house on the hill and dreams about the good old days. The mysterious woods, the wildflowers, the batty old ladies who drink their tea every day at the same time, on the dot. It is a way of life that is gone, mostly, in today's world; but these delightful stories give us back a piece of it.
This book was first published back in 2009; the stories were all separately published over the years in magazines, and finally in 2016 Penguin/Random House put them all together again with a new cover. A definite must read for any Anglophile or short story fan. I'm not one to read short stories, but I found these captured my attention quickly and with the overall theme of one village tying everything together, they seemed less like short stories and more like a novel to me.
Rating: 8/10 for a lovely collection of stories about the people and goings-on in the fictional village of Notwithstanding. Easy to read one chapter (story), then put down and pick up again without feeling lost. A magical, time-warp feel to this one.
Available in paperback and e-book.