I noted when I read Westwood last year that I was determined to become more acquainted with Stella Gibbons. Once again, instead of reaching for the famous Cold Comfort Farm I picked up The Bachelor, a story about a well-off 'family' in wartime. This family consists of middle-aged brother and sister Kenneth and Constance Fielding, their cousin Miss Burton, the home help Vartouhi and the various guests who descend on the house, including mother and son Betty and Richard (Betty happens to be Kenneth's old flame) and the Fielding father, something of a playboy who abandoned his family years ago. Rounding out the main cast is Alicia Arkwright, a local girl who had an ill-fated love affair and may be in line for another when she catches sight of Richard (catches sight as in accidentally runs over his foot in her car).
You see, the romantic entanglements of the household are a little complex. Kenneth had his heart broken in his youth by Betty and has been ruled by his sister ever since but there's still a spark between the old sweethearts. Equally, there is a spark between Kenneth and the much-younger foreigner Vartouhi. Richard falls hard for Vartouhi himself while Alicia falls hard for Richard. To complicate matters further, the older Mr Fielding takes an interest in his son's old flame.
In parts this book is hilarious. Meek Miss Burton has a voice in her head labelled The Usurper who passes internal comment on what's going on, particularly in relation to her heavy-handed cousin, Connie. Miss Burton is probably the nicest character in the book and, being separate from all the love affairs, she is somebody to anchor onto. Although the war is ostensibly the reason for all these characters converging Sunglades, it doesn't impact the house much as Connie has determined it won't. Connie is a recognisable 'type' - an intellectual woman who believes she knows best in everything. In a way, all the characters are recognisable types but that doesn't make the novel boring.
There are some genuinely funny pieces of dialogue in The Bachelor. It's an unpretentious satire about love and human nature. Although Vartouhi's speech gets a little irritating after a while, that's really my only criticism of a wonderful book.