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This came to me from my mother's bookshelves. Alison Uttley wrote the Little Grey Rabbit stories that my mother loved when she was a child, and later in life she read Uttley's non-fiction with much pleasure. She was also very fond of Tunnicliffe's woodcuts, and had a number of books illustrated by him and some about him. This collection of twelve short essays, with one or two beautiful woodcuts per essay, occupied my bedside table for a couple of months last year, as I intermittently felt like reading another.

The essays read oddly to me at first, a mixture of memoir and observation, without offering any theory or conclusion, until about half way through I realised that they were essentially fan writing, by someone who was a fan of her own long life and family heritage. Uttley was born in 1884 and brought up in rural Derbyshire, deeply rooted in a manner of living that did not long survive her childhood. These essays range across her life, describing minutely buildings, their contents, animals, fields and woodlands, people, emotions and experiences from her childhood onwards, recollected in what she would have called and we might still think of as old age. They seem very artless, at first reading, as the paragraphs slip seamlessly between times and moods. It's only on rereading, and I reread several of these as I went, that you begin to reflect on what she achieves here.

From the first essay, An Author's Room: "Next to the dresser is an oak settle with cushions of green velvet, for a settle is a comfortable, roomy seat where two of three people can sit. This settle is often piled with the books I am reading, and the typewriter is there too. When I sit down I must clear them away. Our farmhouse settle had a mattress and cushions stuffed with feathers and covered with blue and white checked linen of everlasting wear, for it was woven by my grandmother long before I was born. No labourers were allowed to sit there; it was reserved for friends and relations. The three panels of my settle are polished till they reflect the firelight, and I think, perhaps, somebody invisibile rests there, enjoying life with me."

Well, I found myself enjoying life and reflections with Alison, and this book can remain on my shelves. Even if I never read it again, when it comes to my attention it will always remind me of my mother, and itself.

[P.S. I would particularly commend the essays to a lover of music seeking this kind of diversion, for there are some very fine passages about the making and meaning of music in those long ago and far off days.]


Caroline M

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