A real treat. A warm, witty, lively book' Val Hennessy, Daily Mail
Mary Wesley was born near Windsor in 1912. Her education took her to the London School of Economics and during the War she worked in the War Office. Although she initially fulfilled her parent's expectations in marrying an aristocrat she then scandalised them when she divorced him in 1945 and moved in with the great love of her life, Eric Siepmann. The couple married in 1952, once his wife had finally been persuaded to divorce him. She used to comment that her 'chief claim to fame is arrested development, getting my first novel Jumping the Queue published at the age of seventy'. She went on to write a further nine novels, three of which were adapted for television, including the best-selling The Camomile Lawn. Mary Wesley was awarded the CBE in the 1995 New Year's honour list and died in 2002.
Octogenarian Wesley's novels are distinguished by her sharp eye for human frailties and the ironies of fate, and by her witty and incisive prose. If her last novel, An Imaginative Experience, was a bit mean-spirited and cynical, she almost overcompensates with this heartwarming story of May-December love. On the most fateful day of her life thus far, 17-year-old Juno Marlowe loses her virginity to two men she has adored for years, cousins Francis Murray and Jonty Johnson, who share her favors just before they leave for active duty during WWII. Soon afterwards, Juno experiences her first London air raid, from which she is rescued by a stranger, Evelyn Copplestone, who dies a few hours later, having given Juno a letter addressed to his father. Handsome widower Robert Copplestone proves to be no less kind than his son; he takes Juno under his wing, and she remains at the Copplestone estate in Cornwall as a landgirl, milking cows, feeding pigs and in general endearing herself to the wholesome country people in Robert's employ. When the results of Juno's brief tryst prove fateful, 60-year-old Robert must admit to himself that more than kindness motivates his insistence that she remain at the farm during her pregnancy. Juno is one of Wesley's most enchanting characters, a mixture of teenage bravado and childlike vulnerability. Wesley makes the romantic attraction between her and father-figure Robert altogether credible, though she is less successful in convincing the reader of Juno's total naïveté about sexual matters. Moreover, the story verges on melodrama when a raging storm blocks the roads and knocks down the telephone lines just in time for Juno's accouchement. But Wesley's skill with character development and her subtle, amusing dissection of that paramount British preoccupation, family background and breeding, endow this novel with the charm of a comedy of manners and the enduring appeal of a satisfying love story. (Apr.)
Idiosyncratic characters, sublimely understated prose, and coincidence-driven plots make the splendid Wesley (An Imaginative Experience, LJ 2/15/95) an acquired taste. Darker than Barbara Pym, more romantic than Anita Brookner, she's carved out a singular literary territory. The setting of her latest work is World War II England, and her heroine is vulnerable, intelligent Juno Marlowe, who has been terribly ill used by the two men she's adored all her life. Wandering London's streets after seeing them off to war, she is caught in an air raid and is plucked from danger by sickly Evelyn Copplestone, whose lungs were shredded by mustard gas in the Great War. Touched by Juno's beauty and desolation, he gives her a letter of introduction to his father, Robert, and then dies. Juno treks to Robert's farm in Cornwall and is taken in. A tender, entirely believable May-December romance ensues. This beautiful, ironic, and utterly winning story is one of Wesley's best. Highly recommended.‘Jo Manning, Staten Island, N.Y.
YA‘Set in England during World War II, this story has some of the charm of Maeve Binchy's writing, but with more of a bite to it. Juno Marlowe is an innocent 17 year old. Her cold and remote mother has already fled to Canada and her daughter is to follow, all arrangements made. However, plans change when Juno goes to London with two neighborhood boys to see them off to war. Caught up in the excitement of enlistment departure, they take easy advantage of the teen's affectionate enthusiasm and both make love to her. Then off to war they go, leaving her in the midst of an air raid and, as it turns out, pregnant. A kindly acquaintance provides Juno with a letter of introduction to an estate owner, where she settles into the role of Land Girl. The sketchy, frenetic scenes in London yield to more thoughtfully paced views of a James Herriot-like farm and readers sense in Juno strengths that had not been revealed in her distraught flights and loveless upbringing. Her happy and amusing experiences with the animals and the kindly folk of the village gradually restore her spirits and feelings of self-worth. Change in and development of a strong character, combined with a vital re-creation of the gallantry of the Brits of World War II and a happy romance, make this an appealing historical novel.‘Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
A novel whose freshness of tone, energy of plotting and sweet
nature make it exceptional by any standards * Sunday Telegraph
Few novelists offer such a rich concoction of amoral spice and cleverness; but to judge her work exclusively on this level is to miss more subtle rewards * Mail on Sunday *
With its brilliant final twist, this is Mary Wesley's best yet * Evening Standard *