There's nothing like an aga saga to leave you feeling satisfied and soothed, so feast on these
A Force to be Reckoned
With: A History of the Women's Institute
by Jane Robinson
Virago (2012) €11.45 ***
Agas and vicars and wellies, oh my! There is nothing like an Aga Saga, the term applied to 'family' novels set in the English countryside. At the heart of any English Aga Saga is the Women's Institute.
Jane Robinson tracks the history of the women's group and what emerges is an institution that has been the butt of jokes, but at its heart it still strives to make the world a better place for women through connection.
Robinson is clearly delighted by her subject and her subjects, so it is both a fun and a virtuous read. For those among us who will not be converted, its tone is not detached enough to make us feel we are reading an impartial history.
I was reading Aga Sagas back in the States, when I didn't even know what an Aga was. This did not diminish the sheer pleasure of reading most of the below, and, in fact, only made them all the more exotic.
Light a Penny Candle
by Maeve Binchy
Arrow (reprint 2006)
I myself would like the O'Connor family to adopt me. Written in 1982, this is our Maeve's first novel, and recounts the story of shy Elizabeth White, whose parents shipped her out of England during WWII to her Irish relations, and of her lifelong friendship with daughter of the house, Aisling. Start here and, just for fun, work your way back through Binchy's oeuvre. Bliss.
The Queen of New Beginnings
by Erica James
All the elements of a cracking good saga, yet they don't quite gel. Here, we have a grumpy hero who has been sent on a rural retreat to bust through his writer's block. Alice is hired to clean his house, and the usual advances and reversals ensue. James is an amazingly popular author; I find her tone to be acerbic.
The Shell Seekers
by Rosamunde Pilcher
Hodder Paperbacks (2005; 1987)
This is as warming and satisfying as a stew cooked on the massive appliance that sits at the centre of this genre. In the waning years of an active and exciting life, Penelope Keeling discovers that her father's painting of the seekers of the title, is a worth a fortune. Family rifts ensue. This is the gateway drug to the class-A substances that are Pilcher novels.
A Village Affair
by Joanna Trollope
Black Swan (1990)
A village! An affair! An affair between two women! This is an amazing twist on the genre, as unhappy Alice Jordan of the boring husband Martin, and the bossy nosy parker mother-in-law Cecily, soon discovers that idyllic countryside living gives you too much time to realise that maybe your perfect looking life is dull, dull, dull. Enter Clodagh, with whom Alice becomes friendly and family rifts ensue. Plus: scandalous!
The Little Village School
by Gervase Phinn
Written by a former schools inspector, this recounts what happens when a school hires a new head teacher to prevent the schools' inspector closing the school. At times it feels as though the author completely loathes his characters. The only ones that come out, and particularly well-written, are the children, and he does a lovely job with the love-interest storyline. However, I have never liked an author's tone less.