Monday, July 24, 2017

Amberwell, Summerhills, Still Glides the Stream (Book Review)

Title: Amberwell (1955), Summerhills (1956), Still Glides the Stream (1959) (Ayrton Family)
Author: D.E. Stevenson
Publication: Fans of Stevenson are bringing these charming books back into print so you may be able to find them inexpensively
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Amberwell and Summerhills are about the Ayrton family, five children growing up on an affluent estate in Scotland before WWII, doted on by the devoted servants but ignored by their parents. Initially, this doesn’t matter as the siblings are close and love their home, but the sisters suffer from their parents’ expectation that an inadequate governess can provide all the education and social interaction they need. The two brothers are fortunate because they are sent to boarding school and groomed for careers, although the younger son is bullied into taking up medicine when he wants to join the Navy. The sisters have a harder time escaping their parents’ cold, controlling authority, and do so with varying success.  Connie, the eldest sister is a bit like Susan in the Narnia books.

 In Summerhills, Roger Ayrton returns to Amberwell where his sister Nell has been managing the household. Roger has survived combat in WWII but experienced personal tragedy; Amberwell provides the soothing comfort he needs to recover from his experiences, regain his sense of humor, and ability to care about people. He undertakes a project of turning a nearby estate, too expensive for its current owners to maintain, into a boarding school for the sons of the local middle and upper class. The new school becomes a project that Roger and all his acquaintances enter into enthusiastically and it brings the people in his life together in a postive way.
Still Glides the Stream is not about the Ayrtons (although they make a cameo to please Stevenson’s readers) but is the story of Will Hastie, another ex-military man who has returned to the Scotland Borders after the war to start a new chapter in his life. However, his closest friend Rae Elliott Murray has died, and both Will and Rae’s family miss him terribly. Rae’s sister Patty shares one of Rae’s last letters with Will which sends him off to France to capture Rae’s last days. His discovery there changes the lives of all those left behind by Rae and adds much needed humor to what starts off as a melancholy story.

Audience: Fans of light romantic fiction set in England; readers who enjoy authors such as Eva Ibbotson, Elizabeth Cadell, and – more recently - Katie Fforde and Christina Jones.

My Impressions: Amberwell, the Ayrtons’ estate is like its own character in the first two books. In addition to her ability to capture major and minor characters, Stevenson had an amazing ability to describe physical places memorably. My mother introduced me to Stevenson when I was about 18, I think, and I read every book at my local libraries, so assume I read these three years ago; each seemed familiar. However, I had not previously read them in chronological order, which I enjoyed, although each includes Stevenson’s signature humor as well as sorrowful moments. The Ayrton parents are obsessed with their estate and their place in local society, but ignore their children even more than is typical in upper class English stories. The only thing William Ayrton had in common with his children was his love of Amberwell, and for all his flaws, he maintained the estate in an era when others were losing theirs, which meant that for four of the five children, Amberwill became a valued home and refuge in a time of need.  There is a charm to this story in knowing nearly everything will turn out well eventually.
Source: I own copies of Amberwell and Still Glides the Stream, and checked out Summerhills from the library (it is partly I enjoy rereading but I also believe if I check them out regularly, the libraries won't discard the copies left).


Jennifer said...

So, I am not the only one that checks books out of the library in order to keep them active and prevent them from being discarded! Unfortunately, it didn't work for the D.E. Stevenson books at my library. It is such a pity. I own Amberwell and Summerhills but I haven't read Still Glides the Stream in years.

Constance Martin said...

If you are near Boston, come to tea and you can read my copy!