If you’ve ever been lucky enough to go on holiday you’ll be able to remember the excitement such a trip entails. There is the planning, the packing, the mad rush to leave, the mild panic that you won’t get to your transportation on time or leave a vital piece of the holiday paraphernalia behind. You may look forward to the unknown, the discovery of new countries and cultures. You may, like the Stevens family, seek the familiar, look forward to returning to a home away from home, where you can relax fora week or two.
In The Fortnight in September we follow the Stevens family on their annual trip to Bognor Regis. They have stayed at the same guest house for 20 years and have the holiday routine down to a fine art. It all starts with Marching Orders, the list of tasks to be completed before the holiday begins. Though those tasks themselves are now so integrated into the routine they are part of the holiday themselves. There’s the excitement of travel, the slight risk of not getting a carriage in the train, and the joy of finally having that carriage to themselves. There is the routine to come, but one that is lifted from the everyday monotony because it is part of the break from the norm, a routine that ensures every last drop of enjoyment can be squeezed from two short weeks.
For Mr Stevens, his holiday allows him to escape the confines of his office job. Like most of us, he resents his work intruding on his holiday time, especially when he suddenly finds himself reminded of the everyday. Both he and his wife understand that Mary and Dick, their older children, will soon no longer want to come on holiday with their parents. To them, this trip is almost a final one as a family, making it all the more dear to them. The holiday brings enlightenment for Dick, struggling as he is with his first year in employment. The fortnight gives him chance to assess his life, and brings with it an epiphany that allows him to no longer dread the return to the everyday. Mary too takes the next steps towards adulthood, moving further away from the comfort of her family but with the safety net of them being around allowing her to make decisions for herself.
If someone tells you that a book where nothing happens is boring, then show them this book and tell them they are wrong. Everything happens in this book because it is about life and its simple pleasures. It is about the joys of family, of the familiar. It is about acceptance that things will inevitably change, that that which has always brought enjoyment will, like everything, have a finite lifespan. It shows how breaks from the norm allow for introspection, reassessment, a chance for growth and change and a chance to simply enjoy life in that moment.
By taking a step back from reality and placing the family on holiday RC Sheriff allows the reader to examine the everyday in a new light. The sense of excitement a holiday brings, the counting of days when there, the regret that time seems to pass at an inordinate speed are all encapsulated in this delightful novel. It’s refreshing to read that the magic of a vacation hasn’t diminished over the last 80 years.
A charming, warm, encompassing read, it has become one of my new favourite Persephone books (though each Persephone book I read becomes a favourite). Highly recommended.