Book Review – The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill

While my previous book, A Star for Mrs. Blake, left me unsatisfied, my reading experience with The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill was the complete opposite.  I enjoyed every bit of it, savored each page, read and re-read passages that were especially beautiful, and came away full of lovely word pictures and having experienced a pleasurable year in the English countryside along with the author.

The Magic Apple Tree is Susan Hill’s memoir of her life in the Fen country of England where she and her husband bought a cottage in the village of Barley.  She tells of their life in an old cottage, of finding logs for the fire, fighting the clay soil and insects and weather in the garden, raising chickens, watching the birds and local wildlife, participating in the community life in the village, cooking in each season, going for walks with her dog through the local countryside, and of the magic apple tree, a tree growing in their back garden which gives them new views and comforts throughout each season.

Here are just a few of the word pictures in this lovely book:

“one of the richest pleasures of domestic life is, and has always been, filling the house with the smells of food, of baking bread and cakes, bubbling casseroles and simmering soups, of vegetables fresh from the garden and quickly steamed, of the roasting of meat, of new-ground coffee and pounded spices and chopped herbs, of hot marmalade and jam and jelly.”
“In the field that abuts on the orchard garden, at the top end, nearest the hedge, there are thistles and, in early August, they seed themselves and are covered in their ghostly puff-balls, that fly about in the air and cling to hair and clothing, and on these seed-heads feed goldfinches, masses of them together. When I go through the gap into the garden they rise up like insects and fly in panic to the far side of the field where there are more thistles, flashing gold and scarlet and white.”
“These are the sights and sounds and smells of every English village with a cricket team in summer, they are unchanged since my childhood, when I went, Sunday after Sunday, with my grandfather, to watch matches in half the villages of Yorkshire, if I close my eyes I believe I am still there, hearing the crack of the bat and the spattering applause, and the sudden cry of appeal like a harsh bird call.”
“But day by day there are slight changes, subtle alterations in shape, in the mood of the season, it is as though everything is slipping and sliding very gradually downhill, like some great high hayrick sinking softly into itself as it dries.  The year has turned and it is autumn, though we do not fully acknowledge it.”
“Spring so often promises what in the end it never pays, spring can cheat and lie and disappoint.  You can sit at the window and wait for spring for many a weary day.  But I have never been let down by autumn, to me it is always beautiful, always rich, it always gives in heaping measure, and sometimes it can stretch on into November, fading, but so gently, so slowly, like a very old person whose dying is protracted but peacefully, in calmness.”
Those are just a handful of the passages I highlighted and in which I delighted.  If you love England and the countryside and homey things and beautiful prose, read this book.  You won’t be sorry.
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