REVIEW: Dear Hugo by Molly Clavering

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“When the time comes for you to retire, Hugo, if you want a quiet life, don’t settle down in the country. Bury yourself in London or any really large city, and you can live like a hermit, but avoid the outskirts of a village. I am dazed by the ceaseless whirl of activities in which almost everyone in and round Ravenskirk is involved.”

Sara Monteith makes an ideal correspondent for Hugo Jamieson, brother of her lost love Ivo, killed in the war before they could marry. Her neighbours in the lovely Border village of Ravenskirk don’t know that Sara has moved here because it’s where Ivo and Hugo grew up, but they welcome her warmly. Soon, she’s drawn into the active village social scene of tea parties, gardening, carol-singing, and Coronation festivities, dodging the judgments of stern Miss Bonaly, defending her helper Madge Marchbanks, an unwed mother, befriending kind, practical Elizabeth Drysdale and charming Mrs. Currie and her daughter Sylvia (the latter first met halfway through Sara’s drawing room window), and having an embarrassing first encounter with rugged Major Whitburn. Add in her nephew Arthur, neglected by an indifferent father, Arthur’s dog Pam, and even Hugo himself returning unexpectedly from overseas, and Sara’s life is a ‘ceaseless whirl’ indeed!


Furrowed Middlebrow comes through again. Molly Clavering was born in Scotland around the turn of the twentieth century and eventually became a neighbor of DE Stevenson. If the rest of Clavering’s books are like this one, I think I can safely say that if you like Stevenson, you will like Clavering.

The blurb can’t be improved upon. “Dear Hugo” is an epistolary novel in which Sara relates to her should-have-been brother-in-law Hugo everything that goes on in this small Border village. I was never sure of the source of Sara’s money but it has allowed her to purchase a small cottage and to enthusiastically whack away in the garden behind it as well as roam the hills around her. However once her neighbors get their (mostly very nice) hands on her, she is whisked away to various village committees and groups. As she tells Hugo, a small village is more full of things to do than any large city.

Sara enjoys where she is both in place and time. She did choose the village as her lost fiance Ivo and Hugo had grown up here and it’s obvious that she’s seeking some kind of peace. Yet Sara doesn’t mope, cries her tears in private, and seeks to be an open hearted neighbor. As it’s the early 1950s, the older villagers still tend to think in ways that are even then passing out of style.

The lovely Mrs. Keith who lives in the stately Ladymount still has two live-in servants who are fiercely loyal and protective of her. Sara soon gains a local who comes in “to do” for her three times a week. Madge Marchmont had met with a man during the war and is now a single mother (of wee Helen) living with her aunt who sought the position for Madge. The occupants of the cottage near Sara are mysteriously absent and then mysterious after they’re there. A charming family lives close by with a mother who cheerfully manages her brood while dragging Sara into village life.

Then there’s the Major (Sara just knew that the man had some title other than Mr.) Sara met in less than ideal circumstances and his single sister who is both witty and biting. Sara quickly learns to beware of Miss Bonaly who pries information out of people like MI6 and who is less welcome in most houses she just “happens to be passing by” when she arrives on her gossip gathering mission. Then there is Atty, a (IIRC) thirteen year old second cousin who is landed on Sara when his remarried father and new wife head off to Washington, DC. Atty, as Sara soon learns, is a dear boy with a bottomless stomach.

Sara’s rambling letters detail everything for Hugo and for readers. All the village secrets and goings on plus lots of descriptions of the scenery that is obviously so beloved to both Clavering and Stevenson. It’s a nice, easy going novel which really is women’s fiction as it tends to focus on the female characters and how the men relate to them. I wasn’t sure just how it would end but I’m both slightly surprised yet also very satisfied. I’ll leave readers to discover for themselves how things turn out. B+


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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