In my recent post about breast cancer, I mentioned how nervous I was to learn the results of this year’s mammogram. The results, to my great relief, were normal, but I had some anxious days until I got the notice in the mail. In times of stress, some people turn to religion, some turn to food, and others turn to drugs or alcohol. I turn to books, and there are certain authors who calm me down and help me find my balance when I’m feeling frantic for one reason or another. Miss Read, the nom de plume of Dora Saint, is one of those authors. (Ellis Peters, of Brother Cadfael fame, is another.)
Born in 1913—as far as I know she is still alive—Dora Saint is an English writer whose novels revolve around two fictional country villages—Fair Acre and Thrush Green. There is no strong central plot, and there are no murders. Instead, the books chronicle the concerns of various, everyday people, young and old, who live in the villages featured in the books. The countryside is described in loving, glorious detail, and there’s quite a bit about food, too. In fact, fish with parsley sauce is mentioned so frequently that I’m determined to make it sometime soon. But all is not sweetness and light in the Miss Read books. There are deaths, squabbles over how things should be done in the villages, feuds, and resentments. Sometimes, children are neglected. A wife leaves her husband and runs away with the oil man. A husband deserts his wife and child for a lover in France.
Miss Read takes everything in, the bad with the good, and she accepts it all. She is a shrewd but sympathetic writer with a keen appreciation and understanding of human nature.
One of the books I turned to while waiting for my mammogram results was Battles at Thrush Green. It turned out to be the perfect choice. Two elderly women—Winnie Bailey and Dotty Harmer—are discussing their fears. Winnie says, “And you know, Dotty, we all have fears, and I’m beginning to realize that we must accept them and not feel ashamed of them….it does no good to torture oneself with guilt and shame simply because one has fears. We’re right to have fears about some things: evil for instance, and violence and lying, and I’m not going to add to my misery by feeling ashamed of my loneliness.”
Winnie Bailey comforted Dotty Harmer, and she comforted me as well. Come next August, when it’s time for another mammogram, I expect I’ll be turning to Miss Read again.