This isn’t my first rodeo with Angela Thirkell. Early last year, I read Pomfret Towers and thought it was a very floofy but satisfying book, the kind you settle down with when you want nothing more than to be shut-in at home, curled up on the farthest end of the couch and drinking copious amounts of your hot beverage of choice. Because of this, I expected nothing less from Thirkell’s first Barsetshire book, High Rising.
The bulk of the story takes place in the sleepy village of High Rising, where writer and widowed mother of four, Laura Morland takes her youngest son Tony for the Christmas holiday. Hoping for a relaxing holiday after an autumn spent working, Laura learns that her friend and fellow writer George Knox has recently hired an ambitious secretary by the name of Miss Grey to assist him with a new book. After deducing Miss Grey’s true intentions, Laura is determined to thwart the woman before she could sink her claws into George, enlisting her own secretary, the ever efficient Miss Todd and a few other friends to help, with amusing results.
While the book comes highly recommended as cozy escapism – light, charming, and seriously addictive – there were some moments that had me sharply pulling back and questioning what I just read, particularly the joking references to one of the character’s Jewish background, made not once, but a handful of times in the same chapter. It made me wince whenever I encountered it. Another example is a scene involving an emotionally-charged and, in my opinion, sexist marriage proposal, irking me so much I practically cheered when it was rejected. And don’t get me started on the use of ‘delicious’ as a compliment that another character uses to as a compliment or to describe a young lady. No way, not having it, get out of my house.
Negative aspects aside, I still ended up enjoying this book, with its memorable cast of characters. There’s Laura’s son Tony, who is both adorable and exasperating, always working on Laura’s last nerve with his obsession for trains, pompous but kind George Knox and his shy 20-year-old daughter Sybil, the scheming Miss Grey, Laura’s long suffering publisher Adrian Coates, and Stoker, Laura’s opinionated servant, just to name a few. You definitely start to care for them as you get more involved in the story, and find yourself rooting unexpectedly for certain ones. It’s one of the reason why I think Thirkell is worth coming back to for essential comfort reading.