In A Few Green Leaves, Emma Howick arrives at her mother’s Cotswold cottage and, in want of a project, decides to write up her anthropological musings on village life. There are the doctors and their wives, the genteel ladies (one of whom keeps hedgehogs), and the local manor family. The vicar, Tom, with his interest in the local deserted medieval village, his sister Daphne, who longs to escape to Greece, and Adam Prince, a food critic, add a little spice, but for the most part life is quiet and gentle in the village, even in the roisterous 1970s.
Under the influence of a bottle of wine, Emma succumbs to the impulse to write to an ex-lover of hers, Graham Pettifer. His subsequent visits, and the almost-but-not-quite dalliance that forms between them, are wry and accurate. It’s clear that there would be an affair if Emma would show a little more enthusiasm, but her diffidence is beautifully drawn. She’s named to be a romantic heroine, and extremely unsuited to it.
This book was elegant, gentle, and charming. Barbara Pym’s light touch shows the little sadnesses and disappointments of village life, along with the humor and humanity. A few things did tend to drive me crazy about it, though, and I wondered if it wasn’t more emotionally set in the 1950s than in the late 1970s. The men, for instance, were constantly behaving as though they were utterly helpless in the kitchen, unable to do more than forage for bread and cheese. Women kept carrying casseroles to men they didn’t care about at all. Come on, people: my mother did almost all the cooking when I was a child, but my father could, and did, rustle up a fine dinner when called upon to do so. I wonder. I liked Excellent Women better, perhaps because it was set just after the war. Still, A Few Green Leaves was lovely, a fine sketch of village life, with a gentle touch of romance.