Book Review: “A Thatched Roof” and “A Village in the Valley”

picture-2     “A Thatched Roof ” and “A Village in the Valley ” (Timber Press, 2005) are the most recent releases of the second and third reprints of the Allways Trilogy by Beverley Nichols. The first in the trilogy, Down the Garden Path (Timber Press, 2004 ), was primarily about Nichols’ garden in the fictitious village of Allways in  Huntingdonshire, England. The newest releases are about the cottage that is central to that garden and the unforgettable neighbors who live nearby. But, somehow, Nichols manages to infuse his love of gardens and gardening throughout books two and three. It’s pretty obvious that his heart lies in his love of gardening.

Beverly Nichols

Beverly Nichols

     First of all, Nichols has a clever way of including you in his stories. In “showbiz” they call it “breaking the third wall”. It basically means that the spectator participates because the actor talks directly to his audience. The actor doesn’t pretend that the audience is only watching. That’s what Nichols manages to do with his writing. You don’t just read the book; you participate in the story. He writes in first person but he draws you in willingly. He even apologizes for getting “carried away” with descriptions. asks for your opinions and warns you when he is about to end a  chapter.  He is as observant as Jane Austen, as witty as Oscar Wilde and as sentimental as James Herriott.  He also happens to be as funny , timely and un-PC as Jon Stewart. It’s hard to believe that the books were written in the early 1930’s. When reading about his “concerns” in the 1930’s in this tiny village, the one phrase that keeps popping into mind is “some things never change”.
     Everything takes place in the village of Allways. I guess you could say “the names have been changed to protect the author”.  Nichols is the main character, a bachelor who observes, complains and waxes poetic about his fellow eccentric neighbors. He has a faithful dog named Whoops (a surprise cross between  a poodle and a Chow). He deals with droughts, dry wells, gentrification, new technology and the onslaught of progress. Sound familiar? 
      Nichols’ village residents are hilarious. Characters like Mrs. Wrench, the housekeeper who was forever “having five minutes” and Mrs. M. whose practice of insulting people developed into high art are only two of the village’s many eccentrics. Add to that a 16 year old “modern” student who visits during vacations spouting new fangled speech and modern ideas and you have an endless supply of British humor.
 
     At first glance, the books might appear sweet and a little cute but don’t be fooled. Nichols knows how to throw out a few “zingers” and reveal his true feelings with a good dose of sarcasm. He doesn’t hold back. “Dry British  wit” is an understatement.
 
     Beverley Nichols is one of those authors whose books you can’t help wanting to share. He is funny, clever, irreverent, sarcastic and smart. Because many of his books revolve around Nichols himself, he makes you hunger for more information. And, of course, a website is devoted to him,www.Beverlynichols.com.