Lorna Page's first
novel, a thriller entitled A
Dangerous Weakness, was published when the author was 93
years old, at the instigation of her daughter-in-law. Now 95,
she lives near her birthplace, in Devon. She started writing, she says,
"As soon as I could hold a pencil."
with Lorna Page
felt in the proffered pocket
and walked up the short path between rows of overgrown roses and
trailing honeysuckle. canterbury bells and sweet williams jostled
marigolds and asters – and mixed with them all was a plentiful supply
of wild flowers."
Reviewed by Sheila Cornelius
The title of this collection comes from a poem by the author’s friend,
"With ebb and flow and ebb and flow
watery movements form a metaphor for slow-paced episodes in the lives
of conventional characters. Very English in mood and setting, these
tales of country life and every day routine are enlivened by humour.
Change, and the prospect of change, is slow, often seasonal, evoking
regret and nostalgia.
It’s surely the way most lives go."
The pastoral genre has been a perennial
favourite in English fiction. Lacking Hardy’s restless passion, with
characters of a more lowly status than Shakespeare’s rustic ramblers,
Lorna Page’s stories firmly belong in the Jane Austen tradition of
social satire. Like Austen’s "two inches of ivory" the social world is
narrow but the themes are universal.
That said, a darker undercurrent is discernible: in Strangers,
for instance, an escaped murderer is lured to a seaside cottage by an
‘innocent’ hostess with her own sinister agenda. The contrast of quiet
opening mood with macabre ending recalls some of Roald Dahl’s creepy
Cottages and gardens feature in landscapes full of flowers,
trees and birdsong. For the most part the weather is sunny, but
wind-lashed branches and stormy squalls can be harbingers of the
supernatural. Trees here are as likely to speak aloud as to whisper,
their dark shapes menacing a lone pedestrian caught in a storm at
One might wish for more conflict and drama, but dialogue is authentic
and deployed to good effect: in Genius,
for instance, a child delights his parents with a frankness they would
shrink from, expressing by proxy their disapproval of an irresponsible
relative. Nostalgia often surfaces, whether reminiscences of a ghostly
kind or fanciful dreams of what might have been. Self-deceit is more
common than hypocrisy and foibles are of the harmless kind: an old
woman disapproves of a friend placing small on horse races but indulges
a taste for football pools.
Old age is a time for gentle
pursuits: gardening, dreaming on benches or watching the sea; there’s
more than a touch of Last of the
Summer Wine to her companionable old
men. Younger ones are obsessed with cars but prefer good plain food.
Their problems are ripples of alarm for what seldom happens: the fear
of moving house move turns out to be based on a false assumption; an
old man is rewarded with companionship when he extricates a friend’s
wife from a nursing home. For the most part death is absent, and the
infirmities of old age, apart from indicators such as walking sticks,
are absent. Admirers of rural idylls touched by a frisson of unknown
forces will find much to enjoy.