Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: Domestic Bliss

I added The House that is our Own by O. Douglas to my reading list after reading a review at Leaves and Pages.  This is one of those obscure, long-out-of-print books by an author most people haven't heard of.  I certainly hadn't heard of O. Douglas until I read the above-mentioned review.

Written in 1940, and set in England and Scotland in 1937, this is one of those supremely uneventful comfort reads that I can't get enough of.  Kitty and Isobel are friends and live in a residential hotel in London.  Kitty decides she needs a place of her own and rents a flat on Sloane St., which she proceeds to paint and decorate and set up bookshelves, all of which is most interesting.  Then Isobel decides she needs a place of her own too, and boards in a Scottish country farmhouse and soon buys a two hundred year old house with a romantic history, and conveniently furnished with antiques and fine china and linens.

So apparently, in 1937 England, to buy a house, you tell the caretakers that you want to buy it and then you write to your lawyer, and ten seconds later you are hiring servants and airing out the linen cupboards.  And Kitty, in London, had to hire a live-in servant, the dour Mrs. Auchinvole, before moving into her flat, because it is unthinkable that a woman of the middle class should do any cooking or cleaning for herself.

Perhaps you sense that I did not love this book unreservedly.

I did like this book, but it's no literary masterpiece.  In the opening chapter, O. Douglas indulges in the sloppy technique of using dialogue to inform her readers about her characters: "How sad I am since my husband died!"

Later they write letters to each other, which further the "plot" such as it is.  Nothing much really happens in this book, which is fine, but you do need a little conflict in order not to bore your readers.  In the last few pages, a minor character does something truly malicious with no discernible motive, a sort of wicked-witch-ex-machina, and for an entire two or three paragraphs there is conflict, but no confrontation.  There's also some snobbery and silly commentary on the working classes.  How sad for them that they need to work all the time!  But perhaps they enjoy drudgery!  They probably do enjoy it, the dear, simple souls.  Let's ring for tea.

But I am too harsh.  Despite its flaws, The House that is our Own is an excellent book to turn to after a hard day.  You have to appreciate it for what it is: a grown-up game of house.


  1. I want a housekeeper. I could live in books like that.