Reading this book felt like I imagine taking a leisurely walk down an English country lane might feel, except that here you might pass into Wales somewhere along the way. The hedgerows are full of birds, the lanes edged with wild flowers, cricket is played on the village green and a regatta takes place on the river. In this setting lives a cast of eccentric and endearing characters who drive the story.
Batch Magna is a village on the border of Wales, a back water with a manor house, a pub, a few shops and a river with a bunch of houseboats on it. When the old lord of the manor dies without direct male heirs, the rules of inheritance deem that the property be turned over to an American nephew. Death duties and an ancient property badly in need of repairs means that something has to change, and with the help of some friends with questionable motives, Humphrey, the new lord, sends eviction notices to those on the houseboats. He plans to turn them into restaurants and accommodation for tourists. So we have Sir Humphrey (or Humph as he prefers to be known) on one side and the river dwellers on the other side.
Our first impression of Sir Humph comes before we actually meet him. Like most of the villagers we have an idea of him as some brash money-grabbing American, but things aren’t that simple and it’s that that makes this story interesting.
This is no fast paced action novel, it’s unashamedly leisurely and character driven. The plot is simple, but the people aren’t. We read on because we want to find out what happens not only to the boat people, but also to Humphrey who is not as rich as we thought, and has a softer heart than we imagined. The language is simple but beautiful and very English, to the point where I had to look up some of the terms (my kindle was able to enlighten me, luckily)
It took a while for me to get into it because the story begins slowly and I’m more used to stories that leap straight in and grab you, but eventually its pace and charm seeped into me and took me quietly but surely into the world of the Cuckoos of Batch Magna. Humph becomes the main character and it is his journey of self-discovery that gives this book it’s guts.
The book is light-hearted and at times quite amusing, for example when Humph first arrives and is trying to get to his estate, he gets lost in the lanes that seem to go in every direction other than where he wants to go. When he comes upon someone and asks directions, the answer is, ‘oh yes, it’s simple.’ Then she gives a convoluted series of instructions that are not at all simple.
This is a charming book that is so real that it makes me think, wow, the English really are like that! (Are they?) In some ways it’s a kind of Wind in the Willows for adults. It’s perfect for a lazy summer afternoon or a cosy evening by the fire.
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