Thursday, January 25, 2024

Review: Babbacombe's by Susan Scarlett

Warm, sweet, and wholesome are just some of the adjectives that apply to Susan Scarlett's (Noel Streatfeild) novels. Streatfeild is probably best known for her children's books (Ballet Shoes, et al) but her lovely, WWII, adult novels must have proved to be the kind of cozy, escapist reads that would have been embraced during wartime. In fact, they are still appealing today, even if they feel a little simplistic in their lack of nuance. Babbacombe's is the second of her novels that I've read and it was as charming as the first.

When the story opens, sweet, naive Beth Carson is graduating from school amidst a shower of compliments and despite wanting to go on and study further, she must take up a job to help her loving family, which lives paycheck to paycheck. Father George, who has worked faithfully at Babbacombe's department store for decades, has secured her a position as a junior assistant in Gowns. As Beth is starting her new job, cousin Dulcie, who is Beth's age, comes to live with the Carsons and she is also found a job at Babbacombe's. But she can't be more different than Beth. Dulcie is scheming, spoiled, and nasty, and her work ethic is non-existent. She causes stress for the family, none more so than when David Babbacombe, the son of the store owner, meets the pretty and natural Beth and continues to show an interest in her, despite her continued assertion that they have no future given their different class situation. Dulcie's machinations threaten everyone's happiness but in the end, good will triumph.

Scarlett gently highlights class difference here and plays into the trope of the cheerful working class. The story is predictable but still delightful for all that. The characters are quite one dimensional with Beth being good through and through and Dulcie being the villain at every turn but somehow this straightforward and uncomplicated rendering works for this easy, undemanding, and heartwarming, if unrealistic, read. It's a winsome book all the way around.

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