My thanks to Handheld Classics and Edelweiss for a review copy of this book.
Malcolm Saville is another from the list of authors whom I was aware of but had never read. I only had a vague idea that he wrote adventure stories for children. But on seeing my friend Alwynne’s review of this book on Goodreads, I found to my surprise that he wrote on nature centric themes as well, which I love reading; so this sounded a book right up my alley. (In fact I also discovered from the wonderful introduction by Hazel Sheeky Bird that Saville’s adventure books have a mystery element on the lines of Enid Blyton which made me interested to explore them as well. Like Blyton his books were somewhat ignored by critics and reviewers despite being popular with his readers.) In fact, this book too reminded me of Blyton’s nature writing and one of her books I recently read, The Caravan Family.
Jane’s Country Year is fairly simple by way of plot; actually there isn’t as such a plot but a context for our story. Jane, who is 10, has been seriously ill and to convalesce the doctor has advised she spend a year in the country. So she is sent off by her parents from their town home to the farm of her Uncle William and Aunt Kate. The book essentially traces the year she spends on the farm taking in and becoming part of activities on the farm, enjoying the fresh air, and more so the nature around her—birds, animals, plants and flowers. She soon befriends Richard Herrick who is the rector’s son and at 12 slightly older than her. Richard is very knowledgeable about birds and exploring the country with him, she too begins to observe birds as keenly. Alongside from Susan, Richard’s younger sister, she learns about flowers. Besides their adventures and expeditions in the country we also get a look into farm life, the constant and different activities involved and also special occasions and celebrations like birthdays, the harvest festival and the village fair. Jane is soon so much a part of this life that she finds it hard to think she must return. Each of the chapters in the book traces the events of a month.
This was an absolutely wonderful read for me—gentle and full of charm. I had thought of the Caravan Family when I started this book since that involved some adventures on a farm and glimpses of farm life, and this was like it, only with far more ‘meat’, in terms of the detail it goes into and also in the fact that it covers every season.
Saville gives us in a sense a proper look into farm life, always busy and full of activity and hard work yet one that brings with it much satisfaction. With Jane we get to see different activities from harvesting to hay making, the horses being shoed and sheep sheared among other things. But with it, she has also every chance to explore the countryside, see different birds, observe their nests and other habits; she also helps Richard in putting together a nest map. She starts a book to collect pressed flowers of all kinds. Saville really shows us nature at different times of the year, from changes in weather to the appearance and nests of different birds, flowers blooming and berries ripening and of course, parallel developments on the farm. And as Jane starts to go to school, she also makes friends who turn out rather lovely as well. These with the events in the village—festivals and occasions—form an idyllic picture of country life with its clean and healthy environment and natural beauty all around— a world like Miss Read’s which one wants to live in. On her first morning on the farm, Jane feels uncharacteristically hungry smelling the bacon frying and the fresh bread toasting. With this she is almost instantly drawn into country life and with her so are we.
But Saville is not painting any false idyll—in fact, like Miss Read, he doesn’t gloss over the less savoury aspects—whether it is rats and rabbits having to be killed to protect the crop or stoats with their prey, or a cat getting at a bird or even sheep not being that comfortable when sheared. Then poor Jane must also grapple with her growing love for the country and the fact that she must eventually return home.
This was a really lovely read which I enjoyed every moment of, and with some nice illustrations complementing the text (the original ones from 1946).
4.5 stars from me