Angel Pavement Business Failure Is Novelistic Success

Angel Pavement is a spellbinding insiders’ view of a small business failure.

Twigg & Dersinghan at 8 Angel Pavement, London, sells veneers and inlays. The firm makes enough to pay the six-person staff, but business is steadily declining. Mr. Smeeth, the bookkeeper, fears Twigg & Dersinghan could go under.

A stranger arrives with a business proposition. Through his contacts in the Balkans, Mr. Golspie offers to provide Mr. Dersingham with veneer and inlays at far cheaper rates  than the firm had been paying. Mr. Smeeth feels there is something not quite right, but Mr. Dersingham reassures him.

J. B. Priestley takes readers into the lives of the office staff, letting us see what their colleagues don’t see.

Unlike Mr. Smeeth, who lives for his job, Mr. Dersingham would rather be anything than a businessman.  Stanley, the office boy, wants adventures, as does the formidable Miss Matfield, though she is too genteel to admit it.

Turgis wants love enough to die for it, except that he lacks money for the gas meter so he can commit suicide. Poppy Sellers wants Turgis.

Business booms as Golspie promised. The staff get raises.

But Mr. Golspie is a crook; the boom can’t last — and it doesn’t.

This sympathetic but unsentimental story will hold your attention to the last paragraph.

Angel Pavement
J. B. Priestley
Harper & Brothers, 1930
400 pages
1930 Bestseller #5
My grade: A-

© Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mrs. Miniver Finds Something Good Every Day

Of all my favorite novels, Mrs. Miniver is undoubtedly the worst.

The characters are pleasant, but not memorable.

It doesn’t have a plot; Jan Struther’s chapters were originally printed as short stories in The Times of London, and they remain short stories.

The writing is good, but not brilliant.

Despite all those flaws, I usually spend New Year’s Day reading Mrs. Miniver.

The Minivers are an intelligent, cultured, fundamentally decent couple. As a second world war becomes inevitable, the household gets gas masks, the children are evacuated to safer schools, Clem joins the anti-aircraft corps, his wife signs on as an ambulance driver.

In a topsy-turvy world, the Miniver household is emotionally stable and comfortable. The Minivers don’t dwell on worst-case scenarios. They concentrate on looking for something good today to be thankful for. Even the youngest, Toby, lugging his Teddy bear as he goes to be fitted for his gas mask, finds something to chuckle about.

Without preaching, Mrs. Miniver reminds us of the debt each person owes to the world, and shows that the most ordinary human interaction can be an extraordinary blessing if we allow it to be.

Mrs. Miniver
By Jan Struther
Harcourt, Brace 1940
288 pages
My grade: B-

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Roper’s Row Is Clear-Eyed Romance

Roper’s Row is an engaging romance about a brilliant doctor who finds love on his doorstep and tries to step around it.

Christopher Hazzard works his way through medical school, hoping to do medical research. Socially, Kit finds medical school as unfriendly as grammar school. He is mocked for his lame foot and hated for his brilliant mind.

A romantic young woman rooming in the same house with Kit takes an interest in him. Ruth Avery is hard working, clean living. Kit hardly notices her until she get sick.

Ruth attempts suicide when vicious rumors of an illicit relationship kill Kit’s chance of a hospital appointment. Kit responds by marrying her: She’s a really good housekeeper.

Secure in the marriage, Ruth flourishes. She scrimps and saves, looking for a way to provide Kit with enough income to allow him to do research. She mothers Kit until a crisis makes him realize she’s not his mother.

Warwick Deeping freshens the humdrum plot by letting Kit and Ruth mature without transforming them into ways that deny their roots. Kit and Ruth come to love and respect each other, but Kit remains for the most part an emotional isolate. With his background, anything else is impossible.

Roper’s  Row
By Warwick Deeping
Alfred A. Knopf, 1929
365 pages
1929 bestseller # 5
My Grade: B+

© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mrs. ‘Arris as Warming as a Nice, Hot Cuppa

The heroine of  Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris is a “char,” one of the army of self-employed London cleaning women.  Mrs. ‘Arris lives by her wits and her dust rags, making enough to cover her expenses and occasionally go to the pictures.

One day she sees a Dior gown in a client’s closet and decides she must have one. A lucky choice in the football pool starts her on her way. Scrimping and saving she gets the rest for the dress and  the trip to Paris.

The trip is a series of challenges.

By law, people can take only 10 English pounds out of  the country and Mrs. ‘Arris needs 450 £ just for the dress.

She’s unprepared for Dior’s invitation-only showing and waiting to have her selection made for her.

Then there’s the problem of getting the dress back through customs without getting pinched for smuggling.

Mrs. ‘Arris is a sweetheart. Her pluck, friendliness, and interest in people win her friends everywhere. Without doing more than being herself, she makes a match between Dior’s most important model and it’s chief auditor, gets a promotion for the husband of Dior’s manager, and improves foreign relations.

Paul Gallico’s slim, sentimental novel will warm you as comfortably as a  nice, hot cuppa.

Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris
By Paul Gallico
Drawings by  Gioia Fiammenghi
Doubleday, 1958
157 pages
1959 bestseller # 9
My Grade: B-
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni