Tuesday, December 05, 2017

O. Douglas

I had the good fortune to obtain and read several books by the Scottish author O. Douglas, so I thought I'd do a little profile of her novels. She writes in the vein of the great female British writers of comfort lit. Douglas' novels are less farcical than, say Angela Thirkell's, have less substance than Barbara Pym, and are not as edgy as Margery Sharp's, but are enjoyable in their own right.

O. Douglas is the pen name of Scottish writer Anna Buchan (1877 - 1948). Her brother was John Buchan, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps and also governor of Canada.  (I had no idea.) I recently read four of her novels and each one was delightful. One thing common to all her novels is attention to the houses of her characters and how they are decorated. And they all have such lovely houses. She must have had an interest in interior design.

This is the edition I bought on Amazon. The original dust jacket pictured below.

First up, Olivia in India, which is a very short novel about an young English woman spending the cold season in India, which was apparently a thing that wealthy young ladies did in the early 20th century. It's written as letters home to Olivia's fiance in England and is a lighthearted and funny account of a pleasant time in India. There's hardly any conflict to speak of, other than everyday annoyances, a welcome respite from real life problems.

My copy didn't have its dust jacket, but here's a picture of it.

Pink Sugar is about Kirsty Gilmour, a young woman who has been living under the thumb of a querulous stepmother. When the stepmother dies, Kirsty is finally free to do what she wants, which is to move to Scotland and rent a beautiful house in the country where she impulsively decides to shelter a family of young children whose mother has just died. Kirsty is lovely and rich and perennially cheerful, and so incurs resentment from some of the people in her new town. It's that edge, the resentment, the difficult lives of Kirsty's new neighbors that keep Pink Sugar from being a Pollyanna. It's a light, entertaining, comfortable read. 

The Proper Place is about the aristocratic Rutherford family - Lady Jane, her daughter Nicole and niece Barbara who find themselves in financial difficulties after the death of Lady Jane's husband and must sell the family estate and move to a small fishing village in Scotland. The Rutherford estate is purchased by a Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, a mere Glasgow merchant and his wife, who feel it's time they were in possession of a country house. Here's where snobbery could take over, but it doesn't. Angela Thirkell would have mocked the Jacksons, but O. Douglas portrays them as likable and sensible (though Mrs. Jackson has regrettable taste in furnishings and paint colors). Meanwhile, Lady Jane, Nicole, and Barbara become involved with the people of their new community. Like Pink Sugar, The Proper Place has just enough seriousness to save it from being a Pollyanna, indeed, there's a heartbreaking occurrence at the end.

The Day of Small Things is a sequel to The Proper Place. I was glad to get my hands on it, because after the sad ending of The Proper Place, I wanted to know what happened next. The story continues in the same vein, with the doings of the Jacksons and the Rutherfords, although their circumstances have changed somewhat and Barbara turns out to be not very likable - a fact freely admitted by the narrator and the book's characters. 

Also, back in 2014, I read The House that is Our Own by O. Douglas and you can read my review here. I didn't enjoy it as much as these others. There are still quite a few O. Douglas books that I haven't read yet, and I'm going to continue to seek them out. Have any of you read any O. Douglas? If you did, let me know your thoughts.

One note, O. Douglas' books aren't easy to find in the US. None were at my local library and I had to buy them from Amazon UK, which has very reasonable prices and shipping rates. (Actually, Olivia in India came from a seller in the US, but it's one of those dreadful editions that's like a xerox of the original. 


  1. They sound fun, but I'm not one to go out of my way to find books, esp if I have to purchase them - probably because I own too many to begin with.

    1. Agreed. I feel s little guilty buying books, and I also own a lot that I haven’t read yet. I often donate the books I buy to the friends of the library book sale, but I’m keeping these O. Douglas books because I like the dust jackets and I think I might want to reread someday.

  2. these sound good - especially for winter reading. btw - sometimes if something isn't on amazon or it's more expensive, it's on ABE books for less (not sure why - don't they belong to amazon??) anyway, worth a try. good luck with your christmas tamales! sounds like a very good idea.

    1. I'd forgotten about Abe Books. I used to go there all the time. I'll remember that the next time I'm looking for something.