The Four Graces is a pleasant, relaxing beach read for the discerning reader. Early 21st century England, life at the vicarage in a quaint parish, local gossip, eligible young bachelorette’s – it’s fairly staple Victorian fare. Not quite up the alley as Gaskell or Trollope, there is sufficient amount of plot to keep it interesting. The war clouds hovering over the story add some depth to the somewhat two dimensional storyline.
The Four Graces are the daughters of the Vicar of a small village (the name of which I can’t recall). Sal, Liz and Tilly live with the father. Addie works in London. The book may as well have been called the ‘The Three Graces as Addie is hardly in it and is clearly not loved as much by all the sisters. She is painted as a self-centered, immature girl who does not have much regard for her sisters’ lives or hardships in the village. What I do like about the book is that the portrayal of the sibling relationship is realistic. The four sisters love each other, but there is does exist elements of friction over matters big and small.
As there are four young girls of marriageable age, the central plot predictably includes love interests. Several eligible men make their appearances. There is for instance the young Roderick Herd who inexplicably takes to hanging about the household, sending mixed signals to the girls about his interest. Then there is William Single, a professor type of indeterminate age, who comes to stay with them. A lot of space in the book is spent in developing their relationships with the girls.
There also is the annoying Aunt Rona, who imposes herself on the household and then goes on to become even less endearing by needless matchmaking.
In terms of character development, the book makes clear all the four sisters have their own personalities but does not really dive into them. Tilly, the youngest follows in Sal’s footsteps, but is much inspired by Liz and starts to find her own voice towards the end. The most interesting character in the book for me is Liz – she is the only one who imbibes some quality of the modern women. She is outdoorsy, independent, witty, calls a spade a spade. For unfathomable reasons, she is not her dad’s favorite who tries to find the image of his late wife in them.
This book will pass very nicely as a young adult novel that introduces this generation to the Great War. Even in the tranquility of the English village life, the realities of war are not far away. Everything is in short supply and rationed – salt, sugar, meat, clothes, patience, and faith. An extra guest is a strain on the resources. Small events in the village life take larger significance and are important distractions. There is the fear of separation and death. Men are on the frontlines, and women are also joining the services. Each family has a life or two at stake.
But days go on. People get married, have babies, gossip and plan village fetes.