A Penny a Day

Written by Lilian Harry
Review by Geoffrey Harfield

This, one of Lilian Harry’s Burracombe novels, is the fourth of her books I have reviewed. They were all excellent regional sagas, but the more I read of this one, the more I feel the author is sinking into complacency after sixty books.

Beginning in a confusing and irritating way, it introduces ten names on the first page. There is no main character’s story to follow. Mid-book, even more people with opinions are added, making over thirty. Names are confusing, too: there’s Sammy, Stephen and Stella; Maureen and Maddy ‘who used to be Muriel’.

Page 16 gives a promising hint of an emotional tangle. By page 24 the drama begins, but the author assumes the reader has read the other Burracombe novels, because little personal or location detail is offered. The author has her mind full of her characters. Is it a good idea to revive the same people in sequels?

As a student in 1952 I cannot remember the words ‘electronics’ or ‘computers’ being used. In any case both words had different meanings then. Essential emotional intensity begins late, around page 80, starting in earnest at page 100. Two contrasting romances now run concurrently: Lizzie’s Yankee lover returns to upset her marriage, and young Maddy’s and Sammy’s begins.

This book does get better. In the middle, when the young romance blossoms, the reader enjoys masterly descriptions. Some chapters shine like gems. But why so late in the book? Intensity peaks in the final pages as infidelity breaks a marriage. A charming scene in the country between the innocent young couple contrasts sharply with the shattering, tragic yet brilliant ending, when at last the book is redeemed.