What’s your favourite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”
I had to think a little here, but then realised that there might be a couple of candidates; like Margaret at BooksPlease, I checked my LibraryThing catalogue to see if my instinct was correct, and yes! So here are books by three authors which I may have mentioned before, but which I share with very few other people – 12 or fewer. But I regard them all as real comfort reading, and return to them whenever I need to curl up with something soothing.
Dance With Me by Victoria Clayton. I have read all of her books, but this is my favourite. It's set in the '70s (she and I are obviously contemporaries, and this was when we were growing up) and tells the story of Viola, who has had a rather rackety upbringing and has never really been trained to earn her living. Nonetheless she muddles along at the Society for the Conservation of Ancient Buildings (SCAB) where she is employed by a rather obnoxious boyfriend. The story of how she finds love, "saves" the fortunes of dilapidated country house and teaches herself to cook along the way, is the best kind of escapism – witty, gentle and enchanting. All of Clayton's books tend to move along similar lines, and I love them all.
Mislaid Magic by Joyce Windsor. We've gone back in time to the '30s here, and another country house, this time in the throes of a small drama festival. The story is told by young Amy Savernake, daughter of an earl and younger sister to the manipulative Claudia and stately Portia. There are two sequels to this book, telling the story of the family during the War, and the early days of Amy's marriage. Again, they are characterised by their gentle humour.
Children of Chance by Elizabeth Pewsey. The first of a sequence of six novels set in Northern England, in and around the cathedral town of Eyot (a fictionalised Durham), these stories of the Mountjoy family have a sharper bite than the others I've mentioned. More country houses (and a castle; you notice a theme developing here?) populated by intelligent woman, predatory men and the odd ghost and a preoccupation with art and music, these books are tremendous fun.
To this list I'd add a collection of three interesting and unusual children's books by Mary Wesley called Magic Landscapes and, also written for children, the series set around Canterbury Cathedral Choir School by William Mayne: Chorister's Cake, Cathedral Wednesday and A Swarm in May. I've mentioned Mayne before – I think he would seem very dated to modern children, but his books are full of wit and a sharp eye for the way children think.