The Proper PlaceMarch 15, 2017
Monday I started Anna Buchan’s The Proper Place. By the end of the day, I was like, “this is my favorite thing; I only care about Anna Buchan now.” Yesterday I didn’t read any of it at all. Today I returned to it, and it turns out I still care about things other than Buchan, and this isn’t my favorite book. But it’s pretty great.
The Proper Place is fundamentally a kind book, but not without humor, or bite. It follows the Rutherfurd women—Lady Jane, her daughter Nicole, and her niece Barbara—as they’re uprooted from their estate in southern Scotland. The two Rutherfurd sons died in World War II, and the father soon after, and selling the house becomes a financial necessity. Lady Jane is quietly gracious, but not very interested in life now that her husband and sons are gone. Barbara is the most upset at leaving Rutherfurd—she’s the proud, fastidious one. Nicole is interested in everything and everyone, and has a facility for being happy.
They find a buyer in a Mr. Jackson, from Glasgow, a businessman with a yen for old furniture. He fades into the background a little in the presence of his wife, who’s cheerful and outgoing and not entirely happy about being uprooted from her comfortable suburban home. Their son, Andy, is just…nice. The nicest. I’d like a whole book about Andy being nice to people.
The Rutherfurds find a charming house for themselves in a seaside town called Kirkmeikle, and start to involve themselves in the lives of the inhabitants—or, Nicole and Lady Jane do. Barbara is aloof. This is probably the nicest part of the book, too nice to try to explain. Nicole (or Anna Buchan) has a gift for making you like people for both their virtues and their imperfections, and the cast of characters is varied and interesting.
Later, as the romances develop and the women return to Rutherfurd for visits, something about the book winds down. It’s about enjoying the happiness that’s available, all the way through, but the middle of the book says “and there’s lots, everywhere,” and the later parts say, “there will be disappointments, and it will be work.” Which, you know, fair enough. But I’m feeling a little bit subdued now.