Posts Tagged ‘The House on the Cliff’

the house on the cliff pb cover d e stevensonThe House on the Cliff by D.E. Stevenson ~ 1966. This edition: Fontana, circa 1960s. Paperback. 224 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10

What a blissfully easy read, second time around this year for The House on the Cliff. Looking at my handy-dandy reading list, I see that I first read it way back in March of this year, while in the throes of dance festival season (my teen daughter was a competitive dance troupe member until this autumn) which seems aeons ago now, as we’re as close as touching to mid-November.

And though I still retained a reasonably accurate memory of the plot line, many of the details were completely erased from my brain. Not such a bad thing in a comfort read, I maintain, because much of the charm in those is their re-readability. I see I rated this one quite highly back in March, and I’ll keep it there, for though it is a slight thing, it is very pleasant, and that has merit enough for me.

Young Elfrida Jane Ware – twenty-one-ish, I believe – is having a rough time of it. Elfrida has grown up as a child of the theatre, accompanying her second-rate actor father and third-rate (despite beauty and intelligence) actress-mother-turned-seamstress from posting to posting, knowing only the backstage world as she grew up, until one day her father disappears, leaving Elfrida to eventually scramble into an acting career herself, in order to help support herself and her frail mother. “Dead”, her mother claims; “Run off!” whispers the theatre community; but no matter which is was, Elfrida has been popped in at the deep end. She’s been working bit parts here and there, but she’s not exactly star stuff herself, though she’s managed to snag a key role in a failing comedy, along with theatre star Glen Siddons, whom she has a serious (though, she thinks, hidden) crush on.

Now her ailing mother has quietly died, and through her grief Elfrida gamely soldiers on, until one day when her benevolent landlady shows her an advertisement in the newspaper asking for news of Marjory Thistlewood – her mother’s maiden name. When Elfrida visits the lawyer’s office named in the advert, she is astounded to find that she has inherited her grandparents’ country house, Mountain Cross, a not-so-shabby two-storey stone-built gentleman’s home on a sea cliff in Devonshire.

the house on the cliff dj d e stevenson

Here is someone’s vision of Elfrida’s house. In the book it is surrounded by neglected gardens, which appear to be missing here, though it does have the appropriate stunning view of the sea. At least there are no couples clinching on this dust jacket, or on the Fontana cover above. For this heroine is very good at standing alone, and avoiding passionate advances with firm grace. Some other covers I’ve seen in my internet travels are rather more trashy, showing the heroine in full embrace with an unspecified male companion. (Coming back to add that there is one passionate embrace, but as it is very much a last page sort of thing, it doesn’t necessarily represent the heroine’s usual habits.)

The search for her mother was meant as an attempt at reconciliation from her estranged parents – Marjory had eloped with Elfrida’s father against all parental advice – and since both of Marjory’s parents and Marjory herself are no longer living, Elfrida gets the estate.

Unluckily there is only the tiniest of cash inheritances, but Elfrida decides to go off anyway and try living in her new possession, hoping to scrape by on her meagre inherited income. In this she is encouraged by one of the junior partners in the law firm, one Ronnie Leighton, who knows Mountain Cross well from his own childhood. Ronnie and Elfrida get along like old pals from the first time they meet; the reader may draw what inference they like from this convenient kindred spirithood!

To Mountain Cross goes our heroine, abandoning her life on the stage with only the briefest moment of regret, and that for the glamorous Glen. She falls in love with her ancestral home, and everyone about falls in love with sweet Elfrida, relieved that she is not some flighty actress, but a new version of her gentle mother, whom everyone remembers fondly.

Everything goes most swimmingly, in fact, until the visit of a cousin from Canada, who has lost out on the inheritance through his own carelessness. Walter Whitgreave is on the hunt for a stamp album which he claims is off sentimental value only, but a search is unsuccessful, and Walter wanders away muttering forebodingly. (Cue dramatic music.)

Then who should show up on Elfrida’s doorstep but Glen Siddons himself, along with his eight-year-old son from his tragically ended youthful  marriage. The child, Patrick, has been fostered out since his mother’s death, but Glen has collected him at last. Though Glen is playing the doting father and  promises to take an interest in Patrick at long last, we sense that this is not going as well as it could be.

The cast of characters includes a slightly fantastical married couple who decide to stay on at Mountain Cross for love alone (Elfrida cannot afford their wages), a handsome local bachelor who has checked out his new neighbour and found her most appealing, and various local characters (“characters” in every sense of the word) who bend over backwards to ease Elfrida into country life. What with the three young men (Ronnie, Glen and neighbour Lucius), not to mention the adorable Patrick – also smitten with our heroine – Elfrida’s retreat is becoming rather full of male presence; we know romance is inevitable, but which one will it be?

I’m not telling, though I did drop a rather obvious clue early on. Oh, and the stamp album reappears, with prefect timing. The villains wander away, leaving Elfrida in possession of her house on the cliff, and her happy new life.

(And there are pigs. And a friendly milk cow. Though no ducks. Read the book, and you’ll get the reference to ducks. A minor note, but I’m rather fond of ducks myself, so their mention piqued my interest.)

How very sweet! <happy sigh>

I wonder if some of the appeal in this not-very-complex story is Elfrida’s gallant disposition, her quiet but witty sense of humour, and her refusal to make a complete fool of herself even while enmeshed with forthcoming and handsome young men? One gets the feeling that this young lady knows a lot more than her swains (bar one) give her credit for. We wish Elfrida well from first to last, enjoying with quiet vicarious pleasure her acquisition of lovely house, thoroughly nice new friends, and well-deserved romantic partner.

Shall I read another, or should I go for something a bit more intellectually demanding? It’s been hectic round here lately – all in a good way – just dreadfully busy – so I suspect another easy-on-the-tired-brain D.E.S. may be coming to bed with me tonight. Which one, though? Hmmm…

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