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Cookley Green by Margaret Chappell

Cookley Green

by Margaret Chappell

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20/06/07 – 24/06/07
A beautifully conceived little book. Following in the celebrated footsteps of Flora Thompson, Margaret Chappell in her first novel written at the age of 78 has brought to life a village on the very cusp of the changes bought about by the advent of the First World War. When in 1999 the new young schoolteacher and her son befriend her elderly neighbour Pearl, late of the local workhouse, her curiosity and imagination are stirred by stories of long-dead inhabitants of Cookley Green. Written in ‘diary form’ the narrative moves back and forth from the present to the past – to the Suffolk of 1908 to the 1920s.

We meet Lord and Lady Summerfield, lord and lady of the manor, and their only son and heir Neville and share their desolation when he is killed in the war – ‘shot by his own NCOs’ – and Neville’s Becky, serving girl and love of his short life who befriended Pearl and passed on to her her cottage and her vivid memories of the village and its folks.

Here are assembled Dolman the recalcitrant butler and the young footman Edward who triumphantly joined the army to ‘escape servitude’ only ‘to meet death’: Josh, the deaf wheelwright, and Rose his wife who lost three of their seven sons to the carnage: Rose’s sister ‘Bossy Bertha’ the village midwife with her ‘direct line to God’ who, with Dr Weston’s complicity smothered the newborn handicapped and disfigured Boggis child to save a mother’s agony: the kind George Gudrun – flaunting the vicar and laying the unchristened babe to rest one dark night under the churchyard’s ancient yew – moral George, the conscientious objector – condemned by Stella, loved by Ellen and supported against villagers by the invincible Miss Hastbury, familiarly known as Miss Raspberry – suffragette and ‘new woman’ - and her friend the timid Miss Gale, lovingly called Windy, until his untimely death at the hands of ‘fascists’.

Not easily forgotten is the tale of Stella who started out so well with two beaus and ended as a resentful and sad old maid or of Neville’s friend Gerald, nouveau riche northerner with his fast cars, flashy ways and social aspirations – the latter fully realised to Stella’s chagrin - nor yet the love and loyalty of Stella’s father, Brigadier Benson-Brick, towards the crushed, aged and infirm Lord Summerfield.

Humour and a bitter-sweetness is introduced by characters such as Jacko the ratcatcher and Kenny (Stinky) Ling the Bumby King - former gamekeeper at the Hall whose generosity with his landlord’s game led to his ‘demotion’ to self-employed night soil collector; the seemingly prosperous Ginty, his worn-out washerwoman wife and his lady love (the village bike) Molly of the Ploughman’s Arms who died so tragically; poor simple Bendy / Bernard - whose nickname was acquired so dramatically, who always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (‘why me’), and whose accidental death rocked the village.

All in all a book which on the surface appears seemingly ‘small’ and peopled with seemingly ‘insignificant’ individuals but which proves Shakespearian in its depth and breadth, characterisation and complexity. ( )
  eas | Jun 24, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0552149748, Paperback)

When a new school teacher settles in Cookley Green with her young son Sammy, she finds herself neighbours with old Pearl, a former workhouse inmate whose memory goes back to the Great War, when Cookley Green was a village nestling innocently in the Suffolk countryside.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:32 -0400)

When a new school teacher settles in Cookley Green with her young son, she finds her neighbour is Pearl, a former workhouse inmate whose memory stretches back to the Great War, when Cookley Green was a village and the great Summerfield estate ruled the lives of the villagers. Pearl can remember them so vividly: Lord and Lady Summerfield, their son Neville, Josh the wheelwright, Bendy the cobbler, Bossy Bertha the midwife...As Pearl begins to unlock the secrets of the past, she paints an enchanting portrait of village life that may have vanished for ever. .… (more)

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