It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Persephone Books. I love the warmth of them, the feel-good factor of many, and the insight into lost worlds and ways of lives in almost all of them. The idea behind Persephone Books is charmingly simple: to republish and celebrate forgotten classics, most of which were written by women, and bring them to light and to a new audience. And the formula works so well.
Which is why it makes me sad on the very, very rare occasion when I come across a Persephone book that I just don’t enjoy, and I’m sorry to say that Rosalind Murray’s 1926 novel The Happy Tree is one such book.
In a nutshell, The Happy Tree follows our protagonist Helen, who grows up with her grandmother in London but spends her holidays with her cousins Guy and Hugo, and their mother, in the countryside. It’s an idyllic time, spent in and around the ‘Happy Tree’ of the book’s title. And although Helen evidently falls in love with the enigmatic Hugo, she ends up marrying the boringly stolid Walter… which whom she is left after her cousins go off to fight in the war, for which Walter is declared unfit. In simplicity, The Happy Tree is a novel about how the war swept up previously happy families, tore them apart and left misery and desolation in its wake. But that’s a very stark description of this novel, and one that doesn’t really do the delicate content justice.
Rosalind Murray’s writing style was where I struggled with The Happy Tree, and I found it very hard to become engaged in the book or to want to follow the narrative on. Her sentences are often very staccato, and the prose is very factual with heavy description of rooms and items, but seemingly little drive to the narrative. Personally, I find this style of writing hard to engage with, but clearly the team at Persephone disagree and found much in The Happy Tree to make them choose to republish it.
I’d love to hear from others who’ve also read the book and find out what you think. Maybe I’m alone in my disappointment with The Happy Tree? I’d heartily recommend one of this season’s other Persephone reprints instead: Because Of The Lockwoods by the ever-reliable Dorothy Whipple, which is impossible to put down. Review here.