Book Review for “Apricot Sky” by Ruby Ferguson.
Summary: “It’s 1948 in the Scottish Highlands, with postwar austerity and rationing in full effect, but Mr and Mrs MacAlvey and their family and friends are too irrepressibly cheerful to let it get them down. There’s Raine, newly engaged to the brother of a local farmer, and Cleo, just back from three years in the States, along with their brother James, married to neurotic Trina, who smothers their two oversheltered children. There are also three MacAlvey grandchildren, orphaned in the war, whose hilarious mishaps keep everyone on their toes. There are wedding preparations, visits from friends, an adventurous hike, and frustrated romance. But really the plot of the novel is, simply, life, as lived by irresistible characters with humour, optimism, and affection.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary, UK: Scotland; Other Categories: Novel, Vintage, Romance, Family Saga, Humor, Coming-of-Age.
There was something very symmetrical about Dean Street Press sending me this book together with the Molly Clavering novel (“Mrs. Lorimer’s Quiet Summer”), since both of them are set in Scotland and both of them are filled with descriptions of this beautiful country. Furthermore, both of them focus on one family and their very chaotic lives during one summer. Mind you, this book continues on into the early autumn as well, but that’s just to help with including the wedding and giving us the darling (yet, not unexpected) conclusion. I should say that despite having figured out early how this book would conclude probably, I was actually very pleased with the way in which Ferguson handled it.
I should mention that one blogger rightfully pointed out that there are actually two stories going on here. One is the central MacAlvey family with the return of Cleo and Raine’s upcoming wedding. The other is about the three grandchildren and their adventures and mishaps. Thankfully, the shifts in focus aren’t at all distracting and they are carefully woven into each other. Together with this, the overall impression here is that with this multitude of characters, Ferguson’s main aim was to write a type of social satire. There isn’t even one character here that Ferguson doesn’t seem to laugh at, either by their silly antics, or their dimwittedness, or by their overblown egos. Not a page will go by without a smile or a laugh, and that’s certainly a good thing.
Another thing that will impress readers here is just how obvious Ferguson adored this part of Scotland. The highly poetic descriptions of the sea side, and the islands, and the lands, and the homes themselves, are so lovingly written, it is hard to not ache to be there to see it ourselves. Since I’ve been to Scotland several times, I can assure you that there’s no hyperbole here, and that she has set upon the most glorious of settings that the country has to offer. Even bad weather and annoying midges don’t seem to tarnish her adoration in the least. For nothing else, this would be an excellent reason to read this book, to get a taste of Scotland or be reminded of its beauty.
The thing is, even with the split focuses, this is actually Cleo’s story more than anyone else’s. Although she isn’t the center of attention throughout the book, she seems to get primary status whenever she’s in a scene. My biggest problem with this book is that I felt Ferguson focused too much on Cleo’s romantic interests, and that her angst was over the top in some places. Now, I realize that this was written in 1952, and that country girls of that time were either looking for a husband, or moving to the cities to have careers. At one point, we realize that Cleo’s three-year stint working in some office in New York hasn’t turned her into the latter at all, and in fact, she’s still the former, and in a very big way. Ferguson even brings in a semi-love triangle here, if only to frustrate Cleo to the max.
All told, this is truly a fun novel, and one that is very sweet (without being saccharine), and richly written with poetic adulation for this spectacularly special land that only a true Scotswoman could imbue. Okay, so I could have done without some of the torments that Cleo goes through, but otherwise, this was genuinely entertaining. I think it deserves a very healthy four out of five stars, and I’ll recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of agony to muddle the ways for their passionate female protagonists, together with some stunning vistas (despite, or maybe because of some foul weather along the way – both literal and figurative).
Dean Street Press re-released “Apricot Sky” by Ruby Ferguson on June 7, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel.