Feb. 9th, 2017

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The Ready-Made Family was the last of Antonia Forest's books about the Marlows I hadn't ever read, and having read it now I think it may well be my favourite. In this one (set between The Thuggery Affair, which was the only one of the "holiday" books I read as a child, and The Cricket Term), Karen, the eldest Marlow sister, returns from her second term at Oxford to announce that she's getting married in three weeks to a widower twice her age with three children (the oldest only three years younger than Nicola and Lawrie), and the plot is driven by the tension and conflicts of the two very different families coming together.

Obviously, I was particularly interested in the Oxford-set section of the book. While things have clearly changed in the last 50 years (I didn't realise the library used to be in the Town Hall, just for starters), it's recognisably Oxford and walking past Carfax on my way to M&S at lunchtime today I suddenly found myself looking down St Aldate's and up at the figures on the clock (I'm not sure I'd ever noticed them before) in a slightly different way than I would have done yesterday*. Given how much Nicola Marlow's experience of Oxford (like her experience of everything; I am not at all like Nicola in most ways, but when I first read the books that was the thing which drew me to her, even if I don't think I would have been able to articulate it then) is influenced by the Oxford of literature, it seems very fitting that her Oxford has now become part of mine**. (Also, the Oxford section is crying out for an Endeavour crossover. Seriously, it practically writes itself.)

Apart from the Oxford bit, I enjoyed the human drama, and was particularly struck, somehow, by the opening with its catalogue of reported disasters piling one on the other and the family's reaction to them; I also liked the depiction of the way the younger Marlows, or Peter and Nicola at least, begin to grow up a bit when they suddenly find themselves responsible for the younger Dodd children.

Having now read all the books at least once (and having managed to complete my collection with the purchase of a very expensive copy of Run Away Home), I must do a full readthrough sometime...

* It reminds me of the time I walked through Lamb and Flag Passage while halfway through Gaudy Night and recognised that chestnut tree, which had always seemed like just any tree until then.

** I think I'm glad that I didn't read so much of the classic literature of Oxford until after I'd moved here as an adult. Not getting into Oxford was devastating enough to me at 17 without losing the Oxford of Peter Wimsey and Nicola Marlow (among others) as well as the one of my dreams.


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