Apricot Sky

A review of Apricot Sky by Ruby Ferguson

I had never read anything by Ruby Ferguson, a writer associated in my mind as a writer of books for children and young adults, such as her series of pony stories featuring Jill. In truth, I would not have picked up Apricot Sky if Dean Street Press had not offered me a copy of it to review ahead of their reissue of the novel, first published in 1952, under the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint. I have learned that you should never judge a writer by your preconception of their output as I found this a thoroughly engaging, enjoyable, undemanding read, ideal fare for an escape from the travails of daily life or for vegging out on holiday.

What particularly charmed me was Ferguson’s ability to evoke the wonderful scenery to be found in the Western Highlands, the glistening sea, the network of small islands, and, of course, the colour of the sky with its apricot hue, especially towards sunset. I could imagine I was there. The book is full of humour, both in the dialogue and in the narrative. I rarely chuckle out aloud when I read but there were times when I caught myself guffawing from time to time. There is nothing vindictive or sarcastic about her humour, just a gentle poking of fun or a surprising comment that seems t come from the ether and just hang there, all of which is in perfect harmony with the general tenor of the book.

In some ways Apricot Sky covers much the same ground as Molly Clavering’s Mrs Lorimer’s Quiet Summer, although Ferguson’s book came out a year before. The mater familias has a house full with her extended family. In addition to her youngest daughter, Raine, whose nuptials to local farmer, Ian Garvine is impending and occurs before the book is out, and three orphaned grandchildren, Gavin, Primrose, and Archie, whom she has fostered. Towards the beginning of book her eldest daughter, Chloe, returns from a three-year sojourn in America and meets up again with Ian’s brother, Neil, who makes her tongue-tied and go weak at the knees.

Then there are the visitors. From time to time James, the MacAlvey’s son, brings his neurotic wife, Trina and their over-protected children, Armitage and Angela, . Then there are Leighs, friends from London, the hypochondriacal Mrs Leigh droning on about and making the most of her recent operation. Their daughter, Norrie, who wants to elope and marry a ringmaster from a circus, makes an appearance. Unlike Mrs Lorimer the MacAlveys seem to take everything that comes their way in their stride.

The book is really a series of episodes, held together by their association with the MacAlvey household. If there is a plot it revolves around Chloe’s return, how she sees her life panning out, and how she resolves her emotional block with Neil. Her maladroitness leads to an amusing episode of mistaken feelings as the book closes, only for a potentially disastrous situation to be resolved in a romantic early morning scene. The funniest passages involve the interaction of the various groups of children with an air of Swallows and Amazons pervading these passages as they jump into boats, bathe, and explore the coastline and its islets.

Apricot Sky ends with a great diaspora, guests going back whence they came, children returning to boarding, Raine getting married and off on honeymoon and even Chloe, who has, against her better judgment, agreed to stay at home but then has her future resolved. Life goes on and you can imagine that at Christmas much the same will happen again.

I found it a charming read and thoroughly recommend it.

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