Saturday, May 13, 2017
Another Year - R. C. Sherriff
Oh, Robert Cedric, how could you do this to me?! I love you! I've been telling everyone how much I love you! And now this!
After finishing The Fortnight in September, my reserved copy of Another Year arrived. I jumped right in. The story started with a vicar, Roger Matthews, and his wife, Ruth, enjoying their many years in a quiet, beautiful, country parish. They had always meant to go work in the slums of London, to really make a difference in people's lives, but they had just never gotten around to it. Now, at age 57, Roger decides it's now or never.
They go to the awful riverside parish of Woodbank, where the congregation is small and is ruled by an elderly widow, Mrs. Bannister Paget. Roger is ambitious and presents ideas to the church council to start some clubs to entice people, especially young people, with the hope that in addition to participation in the clubs, they'd try church, too. The council (Mrs. Paget) refuses to allow him to use the church hall, which Mrs. Paget uses for personal storage.
Roger discovers an old boat house and finds the owner, another old lady, one who's moved away. She agrees to rent it to him for recreational use only. He starts a rowing club, hoping that he can lure some of the local boys away from the fighting ring of Joe Briggs. They don't box, they fight drunk and get paid for blood. He succeeds in getting Pete and Tony and Dick and Tom to try rowing. They like it and start to understand the skill and strength and discipline involved.
Dick writes a play to try to raise money to buy the boathouse. (It's interesting to note that Sherriff, apparently, wrote his first play to raise money to buy a boat for the Kingston Rowing Club. He writes what he knows.) It's a long, historical farce, but it gets a lot of young people enthusiastically involved. A friend of a friend of Dick's will try to get a theatrical agent to attend the play. If he likes it, maybe it will go to the legitimate stage and they'll make even more money for the club. Roger and Ruth have a daughter, a beautiful girl, described by one young man as a 'dumb cluck'. She has a small part in the play. The agent sees her and thinks she'd be perfect for the movies.
Before you know it, the Matthews family is whisked off to Hollywood. They sail on the Queen Mary and then cross America by train. Mr. Matthews is amazed, frightened, and enchanted by all the details of their travel. (Once again, Sherriff writes what he knows: he wrote the screenplays for several well-known movies and was nominated for an Academy Award for Goodbye, Mr. Chips.)
I don't think I can say much more without giving away some plot points.
What I have to say is that after I got over worrying that this was going to be a religious novel, I loved the story. I loved it the whole way up to page 265 in my edition - when it stopped. Seriously, I kept turning the last page back and forth thinking there was something wrong. Maybe the final pages had been torn out. No, I didn't have a defective or damaged copy. Maybe the last part was written in invisible ink. The book left me hanging. There were so many things completely unresolved and I'm disappointed.