Sunday, December 6, 2015
Greengates - R. C. Sherriff
I love this book. I read about another of the author's books on one of the book blogs I follow, but I can't remember which blog. As I researched his novels further, I believe I also read about The Hopkins Manuscript on Thomas's blog a long time ago. The two books, from reading one and reading about the other, couldn't be more different. The Hopkins Manuscript is science fiction, about the Earth after a collision with the moon. I've just put it on hold at my library, which has, amazingly, several of Sherriff's books.
Greengates, however, is a quiet book. But it enchanted me. Maybe partly because my husband and I are easing into retirement and are facing a lot of the problems and issues that Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin face. Also because it's about a quieter time in the throes of change. Very much like today, although I'm not sure I can really say we live in a quiet time by anyone's definition, except maybe the future's.
Mr. Thomas Baldwin is retiring from a career in business. He's certain he won't be like the newly retired man found hanging in his garage. He plans to 'do things'. He will take better care of his health. He will garden, of course (this in an English book). Astronomy? Geology? Maybe he will be an historian, although he often falls asleep over his book. His wife, Edith, suggests he write history for the common person, about the things ordinary people are interested in, not all dates and names. Publishers reject his articles. Mr. Baldwin is depressed.
Having Mr. Baldwin around all day every day is driving Edith and their old servant crazy. He's disrupting their longstanding schedules and routines. He has a fight with the servant when he takes her house broom to sweep up leaves. Edith can't take her nap in the afternoon because he sits in her chair. He reads her newspaper instead of his. She asks herself how he would feel if he had come back from lunch at his job and found her sitting in his chair! "It was funny how Tom seemed to think that because he had retired, she had retired, too." This cannot go on. Adjusting to retirement is not easy and is not what many people expect it to be. She feels bitter and resents him.
Tom feels old and finds himself preoccupied with his health. He's gone from a hearty, healthy man in his late fifties, to an old, useless man who has nothing important to do. He dogs his wife, waiting for her to return from shopping, asking her where she's been and when she'll be back. They haven't made a lot of friends. He has no one to talk to, to teach him about his imagined new interests. (We should be thankful for the Internet!) He's lonely and depressed, and she's unhappy.
Mrs. Baldwin tries to cheer him up by suggesting they go out to the country and take a walk that they used to take years ago. Reluctantly, he agrees. They find some of the path the same and enjoy the peace of the countryside, but as they top a crest overlooking the old village of Welden, they're horrified to see a new housing estate under construction in the lovely meadow.
They look around some of the built and partially built houses, grumbling that the houses would be falling to bits in five years because of what must be shoddy construction. A salesman appears and asks them if they'd like to see the show house. They're there, so why not. They fall in love with all the conveniences that their old house doesn't have. Everything is new and clean and modern. There's central heating. Their old house is damp and dark and old - like they are. Certainly they'd feel rejuvenated in a new house. It would keep them young.
They sell their house and auction off all their furniture. They buy one of the new houses, to be constructed in a far corner lot under a magnificent elm tree. There are many ups and downs before they move into the new house. They're excited, they're devastated. It's a hard process. Even when they close the door of their old house for the final time, they wonder if they've made a mistake. Will the new house and new neighborhood be all they hope?
It turns out that it is everything they had hoped it would be. Their lives become easier and more comfortable, they make new friends, Edith takes over the gardening and makes new friends, and Tom becomes president of the Welden Close Club, a country club for the estate. They again have purpose and are enjoying life.
I love his writing style, too. "The room was at its best in the winter warmth, for the sun had a way of pointing out things that the standard lamp forgave." "It was a doleful clock at the best of times, but it looked at its worst at twenty-five past six, when its hands gave it a dreary, drooping mustache." "...a high wind one night that unraveled Mr. Baldwin's leaf heap and restacked it against the kitchen door." "There's nothing in our garden that's got enough spirit to catch hold of your trouser legs and tear them." There's a funny part when Tom can't get to sleep in the new house. "What did one do with one's arms upon a normal night in bed? Wherever he put them they either slipped down or tugged his pyjamas. One arm was a yard too long - the other a yard too short."
I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading it. Is it a sign? Should Jack and I uproot ourselves and try to find a more satisfying life? Or does that only work in fiction?