Fiction – print. Persephone Books, 2017. Originally published 1931. 326 pgs. Purchased.
For the past two decades, the Stevens family has taken a two-week holiday in Bognor Regis on the southern coast of England. The family has their routine down; tasks and chores are handed out the night before in order to make sure they can leave their home at 22 Corunna Road in Dulwich in time to catch the train via Clapham Junction to their holiday destination.
Upon arrival, they head straight for their usual accommodations – a bed and breakfast that has seen better days – and then, after a quick lunch, head to the beach to book a bathing hut, contemplating along the way whether or not to indulge in a larger hut this year. Since the two oldest children are working, the Stevens family decides to indulge, promising themselves that this will be the holiday to remember.
The rest of the novel is spent recounting their time in Bognor Regis with meticulous detail and a keen understanding of how much emotion is wrapped up into a holiday. While I am not one for a beach holiday and rarely vacation to the same spot twice, I felt a kindred spirit with the Stevens family.
The anticipation of the holiday slightly overshadowed by the anxiety that some misstep or poorly timed connection will impede the journey. The resentment felt when precious hours that could be spent on the beach used up by an activity one does not want to complete. (In the Stevens’ case, this activity is a visit that must be paid to the wealthy client of Mr. Stevens’ employer.) The realization that becoming a working (wo)man limits the amount of time and freedom one has, placing even more pressure on the all-too-short holiday to deliver the rest and respite needed.
That last emotion is the center point of seventeen-year-old Dick’s story. (Each family member receives a chapter dedicated to their individual experience with the exception of Mrs. Stevens, who tends to fade into the background after the family arrives due to her dislike of the beach.)
Dick is miserable at work, disappointed by the realization that being a clerk with two weeks of holiday time is all he has to look forward to in life. I remember feeling this same way when I first started working; not miserable at work, per say, but somewhat downtrodden by the realization that my time was no longer my own.
There is nothing truly remarkable about the Stevens or their holiday. The family is likeable and, clearly, recognizable, but I’m afraid that makes them also a bit forgettable. (Even now, I’m trying to remember if Mr. and Mrs. Stevens had first names.)
Yet, the level of detail in this book is remarkable, and the story itself is rather charming. I thought a holiday where little happens would be dull, but I found reading Sherriff’s novel to be a pleasant way to spend a few nights after work.
Sherriff is one of the few male authors published by Persephone Books. His novel was reissued as part of the Persephone Classics collection, which presents twelve of Persephone Books’ bestsellers in more ‘bookshop-friendly’ editions (i.e. with pictures on the front). The endpaper in these editions are printed in greyscale, so the 1931 design for a dress silk by Madeleine Lawrence titled ‘Dahlias’ is presented without color.