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Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan…

Miss Ranskill Comes Home (1946)

by Barbara Euphan Todd

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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"It was strange that values should make such a flashing change. ...There was not one truth but many. Was it possible for anyone to be innocent of the death of one just man?"

I was expecting something a little more farcical a la Three Men in a Boat but this isn't that. It's funny in parts but in an ironical fashion. The tone is more of grief, deprivation, and isolation; the sadness of loss and the liberation of loss. All told with that stiff-upper-lip Britishness that does not allow the story to lapse into maudlin dejection. There are no winners here, but that's real life. Miss Ranskill adapts as well as one might expect and that's not much, but it is enough to restore her to war-time usefulness . On her desert island she was expanded and worthy and capable in meaningful ways. In contrast, back "home", she is stranded in a society that has become small and stifling to her. This is an intimate character study, more than anything, with interesting historical artifacts of racism and anti-semitism, and some pertinent thoughts on the nature of killing in wartime. ( )
1 vote libbromus | Dec 16, 2015 |
This is one of those wonderful old books that I love. It was quite different than I expected, but much better and deeper. Wonderful insight into World War II England and the people and how they responded to privation. Very touching story of Miss Ranskill learning to cope with her new world (life after desert island) and past grief (loss of the Carpenter). ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
Miss Nona Ranskill went on a cruise in 1939 and tried to rescue her hat. She washed up on a desert island and found another survivor there, called the Carpenter. They lived on the island for four years, then he died. She rowed home in a boat they'd made together, and got picked up by a convoy of destroyers - and she discovered that England is at war and it's 1943. Miss Ranskill is clueless about what's happened to her country, and her homecoming is nothing like what she expected.

She goes to stay with an old school friend, Marjorie, who represents the worst aspects of British busy-bodiness, gung-ho patriotism and snobbishness, then moves on to find her sister, who's had to leave their house because it's in a sensitive area for the war. Eventually she tracks down the Carpenter's wife and son.

Some of the writing is beautiful, and if you like satire, books about World War 2 and what it was like in England this is well worth reading. It paints a much nastier picture than Mrs Miniver or the Diary of a Provincial Lady - lots of pointless one-upmanship and dobbing others in for breaches of rules. But - and for me it was a big but - I found the plot really contrived. (And yes I know it was satirical!) The book would have been much better if some of the more far-fetched bits had been reworked. If you came off a navy ship after 4 years of being shipwrecked, wouldn't you think that maybe you should report yourself to the police so that they could get on with sorting out your status, not do a runner from the Naval Officer who'd been looking after you for the last few weeks on board the destroyer? And then when you did track down your school friend, who'd remained an overbearing cow, wouldn't you manage to get her shut up long enough to tell her you had just been shipwrecked on a desert island for 4 years and just got back to England 7 hours ago? I really wanted to scream at her a few times. ( )
1 vote cushlareads | Jul 11, 2011 |
When middle-aged spinster Nona Ranskill fell overboard chasing an escaping hat on a cruise ship early in 1939, she didn't expect to spend four years stranded on a desert island - or to return, a changed woman, to an England itself changed beyond recognition by rationing, the blitz, and the immense practical and psychological upheaval of war.

Miss Ranskill Comes Home is a novel dominated by its characters. The character development of Miss Ranskill herself is remarkable, as are the detailed character sketches of her relatives and former friends. Some characters verge on caricature, and are clearly intended as parody; however, they have a depth and roundedness which makes them satisfying characters despite this.

The characters dominate - but to a purpose. There is some very powerful social satire, as Miss Ranskill finds herself unable to share the class (and other) prejudices of her sister and former school-friend, prejudices that she herself had held before her period on the island.

The disconnection Miss Ranskill feels with the other characters' lives and ways of thinking, the alien world in which she finds herself, the way she gradually adjusts to her new world, the responsibilities and bonds she now feels, the relationship she had with the Carpenter - the man with whom she shared the island - these are shown perfectly. The last is all the more remarkable given that the book opens with the Carpenter's death.

The prose is beautiful, and contains some very poetic passages. There is also some wonderful humour, which is balanced by some very poignant and profound passages. Through Miss Ranskill, Barbara Todd comments on the massive changes that take place not only when the war comes, but also when a war is over: Miss Ranskill experienced this after the First World War, and reflects on what it will mean not only for those who have fought in the war, but also those whose childhoods have been dominated by war and marked by the absence, temporary or permanent, of their fathers and other male role models.

Add to all this a great delicacy and poise in timing, delivery, plot and pacing, and the result is a book which is a delight to read. ( )
4 vote catherinestead | Nov 6, 2010 |
Shortly before the start of World War II, Nona Ranskill was swept overboard whilst on a cruise and was washed up on a desert island. The only other inhabitant of the island is a man known as 'the Carpenter', who had also fallen overboard on an earlier occasion. At the beginning of the book, the Carpenter has died and we first meet Miss Ranskill as she's digging his grave. After burying the Carpenter, Miss Ranskill makes an attempt to escape from the island - and luckily she is rescued by the British Navy. Returning to England after almost four years, Miss Ranskill discovers that it's not the England she left behind: in her absence, World War II has begun..

This may all sound very far-fetched, but Todd actually makes it seem believable. I thought the whole idea of someone being cut off from the world and returning home only to find themselves suddenly thrown into the middle of a war was absolutely fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the first half of the book which deals with the first few days of Miss Ranskill's arrival in England, when everything feels strange and surreal. Even the English language seems different and full of unfamiliar words. When she tries to buy food she can't understand why she's asked for her 'ration book', or why she needs 'coupons' to purchase clothes. This leads to some very amusing situations but at the same time you can't help but feel sorry for poor Miss Ranskill.

Although he's dead before the story even begins, the strongest character in the book is the Carpenter. He is constantly in Miss Ranskill's thoughts and his presence is there on almost every page in the form of flashbacks and memories. His optimism and words of wisdom had helped to sustain Miss Ranskill during her time on the island and continue to give her comfort on her return to wartime Britain.

However, the years on the island and the company of the Carpenter have given her a new outlook on life and she finds it difficult to adjust. Unlike her friends and family who are all absorbed in their war work, Miss Ranskill feels detached from what's going on and spends most of the book remembering the island and even feeling nostalgic about the fact that she had to eat fish for every meal and wear the same clothes for nearly four years! England may have changed, but Miss Ranskill has changed even more.

This book has the perfect blend of humour and poignancy and gives us an opportunity to explore World War II from a unique perspective. ( )
2 vote helen295 | Jul 9, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
A story of the war years in England with a different slant, this is a warm-hearted little book. Nona has courage, but four years shipwrecked on an island have left her out of touch with the world. She finds modern life difficult but you're bound to admire the way she faces her problem. She's so sympathetically drawn you'll feel you've known her a long time.
added by KMRoy | editWings - The Literary Guild Review (Sep 1, 1946)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Todd, Barbara Euphanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pollard, WendyAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Miss Ranskill sat back on her heels; even that movement was an agony, driving the sand into her sweat-softened skin, but it was the torment of her hands that had forced her to stop digging.
I shall buy a dictionary first of all. No, a knife first. Then a dictionary. It's funny, I always used to read the lists of books that people made out for imaginary islands, but nobody ever put down a dictionary.
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"I wondered if it would be possible to buy some underclothes and put them on, and then choose a frock and some stockings?"
"There may be a few cotton pairs left."
"I only want one pair."
"No real silk, of course, and certainly no lisle."
Miss Ranskill had heard the same tone of voice in her nursery days - "Not jam AND cake, Miss Nona; the very idea!" As she had done then, so she argued now.
"Why not?"
"Well, there's a war on."
"A what?"
"A war, Madam. Naturally it is difficult to get exceptional articles."
"I'm sorry. I forgot."
This time raised eyebrows and tightened lips conveyed more sorrow than anger, but more contempt than both.
"You see, I haven't read a newspaper for over three years."
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