Penny PlainMarch 21, 2017
More Anna Buchan: Penny Plain, which is pretty great, although it gave me fewer “I only care about Anna Buchan now” feelings than The Proper Place. Jean Jardine, a 23-year-old Scottish girl, is the main character, but not by a lot. She lives in the town of Priorsford with her three brothers–technically two, but Jean doesn’t like it when people imply that the Mhor isn’t really part of the family–a dog, and a middle-aged maid. The Jardines are poor and literary and happy, and Jean’s chief worry is that their landlord will someday come from London and evict them from their cottage.
Their landlord does come, incognito, but he’s so impressed by Jean’s selfless kindness and the Jardines’ attachment to the cottage that he goes away again. Anyway, his arrival in town is overshadowed by that of Pamela Reston, a 40-year-old society beauty looking for some peace and quiet. She and Jean become good friends, and her newness is a good excuse for Buchan to introduce us to all of the local characters.
I’m not sure Penny Plain knows what it wants to be. Pamela and Jean each get a romance, and there’s some moderately dramatic business about an inheritance, but those feel like afterthoughts, things that Buchan put in because a book is supposed to have them, or something like them. The heart of the book is the small domestic incidents, and the casual conversations with neighbors, and the little bits of family histories, and people being nice to each other. Not that any of the plottier bits are bad–I was definitely invested while they were happening–but in retrospect I would rather have had more of the Macdonalds and Mrs. Hope and the Mhor. And I think this is going to be a great one to reread, because it will be better with no element of suspense.