My mother-in-law was a great fan of the books of O. Douglas, which was the pen name for the Scottish novelist Anna Buchan, sister of John Buchan of The Thirty-Nine Steps. Recently, while Doug and I were bookshopping in Victoria, I found six small hardback copies of her books, and I bought them just because they reminded me of Bessie.
I read a few of the books at Bessie’s request years ago when I was a young mother, and I found them to be sweet but a little too sentimental. I didn’t have the patience for them. But now as I read them from a middle-aged viewpoint, I am seeing a few things differently. First off, they remind me a bit of Jane Austen because the stories are usually set in an obscure little Scottish town, and all the action is really simply getting to know the characters by accompanying them to tea or on a trip across the Scottish countryside. These are not action-packed thrillers by any stretch.
Secondly, the writing is clever, if occasionally sentimental. Buchan clearly appreciated that everyone has a story, and she writes compassionately and humorously about widows, orphans, ministers’ wives, and spinsters, as well as young boys (which seem to be her favorite characters), cooks and maids. It was a different era when she was writing (her books were published between 1912-1940’s). Many had lost loved ones at war, and she writes with understanding about grieving wives and mothers. She loves the cheerful character who is up against it. And throughout all her stories is the assumption that her reader will understand her biblical allusions and her Christian viewpoint.
A few years ago I found a copy of Unforgettable, Unforgotten, which is a memoir she wrote about her brother John. Imagine my joy when I opened the cover and found it had been signed! So of course we bought it for Doug’s mom.
So this has been some nice summer reading for me. I’m finding that I understand my mother-in-law far better since I am reading these book now, at the same age that she was when she first urged them on me. They aren’t easy to find. If you stumble across them, do pick them up.