Tuesday, April 7, 2015

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes


Typically I gravitate towards doorstoppers of books: long, involved, descriptive, etc.  However, I am often stunned (in a good way) when I read concise novels where an author has achieved so much in considerably less pages.  I have to give One Fine Day along with A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr, The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald and Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor a place of prominence on my figurative shelf of short novels that I personally have found to be brilliant and just as immersive as a 400+ page tome.
I read this book as part of the Back to the Classics 2015 challenge hosted at http://karensbooksandchocolate.blogspot.com/  as it fulfills the “Classic Novella” category.   I am not sure exactly what the line is that divides a novella from a novel, but Karen only criteria was that the book have less than 250 pages, so this fits.

Published in 1947, One Fine Day depicts a day in the life of a certain upper middle class family who live in a large house in the countryside outside of London.  There is no plot, nothing extraordinary happens really. However, every thought and observation is related in impeccable detail; every small moment echoes with larger story.  The writing is at times melancholy, at times wistful, at other times joyful.

The main focus of the book is Laura, a wife and mother, who despite her middle class upbringing, is at heart a little bohemian. She has a young daughter still in school and a husband who takes the train in to his office in London.   Laura’s dreamy, spontaneous nature is curtailed by her responsibilities in the post war era. Before the war, she had servants to manage the house and the housekeeping.   Two years after VE day, those who might have looked for a position of nanny, gardener, or cook prior to the war are now either dead or moving towards better paying, more liberating jobs in industrial areas. 
Laura isn’t only person adjusting to life after wartime of course, everyone in the village is, for better or for worse. At home, her daughter Victoria and her husband Stephan are both only getting to know one another again, since Victoria was just a toddler when the war began and Stephan left to fight in Europe. Victoria is a little bit resentful of her father’s intrusion into the cocoon she and her mother developed while he was off fighting. And Stephan seems slightly bewildered by the small person his daughter has become, no longer a baby to be tickled or to give horse rides to.  And the same is true for Laura and Stephan and their marriage after such a long separation. After the first prayer of thanks that they have been reunited when so many have lost so much, they too have to adjust their expectations of each other, now that they are older and so much has changed in their mutual absence.

One Fine Day is a beautiful story told in small instances. The take away is that life moves on and we decide how we move with it; one can decide to appreciate each beautiful day as it comes or one can stay stuck lamenting a lost past that cannot be changed.   
The edition of the book I read  (shown above) is published by Virago, a publisher that re-issues books primarily written by women which have fallen out of print. I am so glad they did for this title, because it was really an amazing depiction. I know that this book has been compared with Virginia Woolf and I think that that is fairly apt in Panter-Downes depiction of the rich inner lives of her characters.


  1. I just read Mrs Dalloway and I would be interested to see how this compares. I like your description, "a beautiful story told in small instances."

    1. Hi Lory,
      Thank you for your comment. I think if you enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway, you would also really like One Fine Day. It has been some years since I first read them but I also loved Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.

  2. I finally got around to reading this and I just loved it. I wish MPD had written more novels! I still have London War Notes left to read an am looking forward to it.

    1. Thanks for the comment Karen! I am glad you loved this title too!