The Setons

March 28, 2017

I’ve made myself start reading things that aren’t by Anna Buchan again, but here’s one more from her: her second novel, The Setons. I’m getting to the point where I’ll read something and think, “oh, that’s very Anna Buchan.” The Setons is very Anna Buchan. It also seems to be very autobographical, which is almost, but not quite, the same thing. Anyway, Anna Buchan was a minister’s daughter with brothers who spent at least part of her youth in Glasgow, and so is Elizabeth Seton.

I really enjoyed The Setons, but I haven’t got much to say about it. It’s without much of a plot, in a very natural-feeling way. Elizabeth’s father is sweet and not terribly practical, and Elizabeth has a full time job helping with parish duties and managing her father and the household and her youngest brother, Buff. The mother and eldest brother are dead, and two additional brothers are in India. There’s a visit from a very nice young man, and Mr. Seton has health issues, but these are normal kinds of interruptions.

Then World War I starts, and is a much more significant interruption. One feature of a book that’s very Anna Buchan is that lots of people are going to die in WWI, whether the action of the book takes place during or after it. I don’t know if anything’s ever really made me feel the impact of WWI on the UK the way Anna Buchan’s grieving families have. She makes it feel like sending your sons off to the army and never getting them back is the default, and anything else is a gift. I know that sounds miserable, and it is, a bit. But Buchan has a belief that everything is good and worthwhile in the end, and she makes you feel it too.


  1. I actually had this one in the “slush pile”, and I’m nudging it up to the top. I think I downloaded it because I liked the opening; from what you say, I think I’ll like it all the way through.

    • The characters from the opening are in the background for most of the book, but it makes a pretty representative introduction. I think it’s sort of the most satisfying book of Buchan’s I’ve read so far.

  2. I think I need to read some Anna Buchan!

    • I’m beginning to feel like everyone should. Of the ones I’ve read, Penny Plain or The Setons would probably be the best to start with. Olivia in India would not.

  3. I completely agree with your comment on the depiction of WWI and its devastating consequences for people. I also had a similiar reaction when I read Priorsford and SPOILER

    one of Jean’s children has mastoiditis. I’d never read a book that really drove home how banally horrible life before antibiotics was. On goodreads someone wrote that she longs to live in the “civilized, good old days of manners and gentleness” world of Anna Buchan, but she has the complete opposite effect an me. Never have I been so happy to live today.

    I think very often in books war, death or disease are simply plot devices that I can rationalize as an author’s choice, but in Anna Buchan books – so blessedly devoid of plot – the randomness of horrible events affects me more deeply.

    On another blog, I read that all the boys (the Mhor etc) are based on her favorite little brother who died in WWI… so so sad.

    • That’s a really good point about the lack of plot–in other books death and disease always seem to have a point, whether the author needs them to make something else happen, or there’s some kind of moral to be conveyed. In Buchan’s books events don’t feel tied to anything–they happen because they happen. And without a reason, they have more impact.

  4. Oh, so much weeping.

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