PARGETERS by Norah Lofts


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In this posthumous novel by the late mistress of several genres, Lofts clinches her reputation for first-rate historical-fiction writing; here, the story, which takes inhabitants of a Suffolk country house through the upheavals of the Puritan Revolt and Cromwell's reign, is full of the kind of gritty detail that makes historicals ring true, enhanced by a varied cast of unfailingly sympathetic characters (even the villains--stingy Puritans, all--have their motivations), and gracefully written, avoiding torridness and clich‚. It opens with a humble tradesman's tale--Adam Woodley, a pargeter (or master plasterer), who catches the eye of his employer's daughter, Penelope Mercer. Her father, the slightly eccentric merchant, John Mercer, has just completed his country home, which he names Pargeters, commemorating Woodley's master craftsmanship. From here, the story moves on to narration by Sarah Woodley-Mercer, daughter of Adam and Penelope, who acts as custodian to Pargeters and its surrounding farms while her elder brother John goes off to follow the Loyalist cause, leaving her to also tend to their doddering, wonderfully senile grandfather Mercer (their parents having recently died). Sarah, another admirably resilient Lofts heroine, weathers the storm; she smuggles funds to brother John before his death, nurses a Loyalist soldier, Eddy Lacey, back to health while falling in love with her patient, takes in his homeless sister, as well as John's pregnant betrothed, and finally marries a stuffy, hypocritical Calvinist, Eli Smith, to keep Pargeters during the hard times that hit Loyalist families particularly hard. Her daughter by Smith engineers his death, thus releasing the household from his penurious tyranny on the eve of the Restoration. And not long after this, Eddy Lacey (thought dead) returns. If the last 50 pages seem an unnecessary addendum, if at times the interest of the daily routine of 17th-century Suffolk farm life flags, if the Sarah-Eddy romance seems a bit tenuous, these are forgivable failings in a novel that, overall, carries a reader from cover to cover without the urge to lay it down. All in all, a commendable farewell performance by Lofts.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 1985
Publisher: Doubleday