The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Magic Apple Tree: A Country Year by Susan Hill

I picked this one up in Oxfam when I was stocking up on Herbal Medicine books and I was totally drawn to it. By the author of The Woman in Black this is a completely different kettle of fish altogether. Documenting a whole year of her life in Moon Cottage in a small Oxfordshire village during the 1980's.
The book is split into seasons, starting with winter, and then split into chapters covering such things as village life, creatures, cooking, the garden, people, the wood, festivals and many other subjects. Overlooking all of it is the Apple Tree in the garden, gnarled, weathered and constant. Throughout there are lovely engravings by John Lawrence depicting the year passing around.
We are taken through all the lovely transitions of nature and how Susan and the other villagers lived alongside it, worked with it, and with each other to share their strengths and look out for each other. This is not a book about self sufficiency but about people living side by side. In fact Susan says she doesn't believe anyone can be totally self sufficient and she has seen many a well-meaning person arrive in the village only to depart a year or so later. The secret is not to exist alone but to exist as a community and this is a strong message that comes through in the book.
Susan's voice is unassuming and very easy to listen to, describing the beauties of the home she clearly loves and the people of the village. I loved hearing about the Twomey brothers who make cider, the WI autumn fair where jams and cakes are on show, the carol singing in winter, the preserving week in autumn, the hens, the cats, the walks with the dog in the woods. It is not about a super-woman ploughing the land single-handed in all weathers, but an attainable life in a small community, and what that meant to the author. It is quiet, observant and gentle. Looking for lights in the other houses, picking damsons, riding your bike up and down the lanes.
I totally loved this book. I felt a calmness descend upon me whenever I picked it up. Described as a 'comfort book' it was a pure pleasure to read and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in country life with nature and the English countryside on your doorstep.
Susan Hill has her own website and you can read about this book and lots of others by clicking the link.


Audrey said...

This is one of my favorite books of all time, just for that feeling of calmness that you described! Every once in a while at the beginning of a new season I read that season's chapters again; thanks for reminding me about it, so I can start again with winter!

Leah said...

Hi Audrey, thanks for dropping by and leaving a message. I think this book has this effect on most people who read it. I have already recommended it to a number of friends. Have just obtained Through the Garden Gate and Through the Kitchen Window too. Have you read these?

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