The reading of this slim volume is something of a diversion, as I’m actually in the middle of some non-fiction at the moment – D.J. Taylor’s “Bright Young People”, which is turning out to be very absorbing. But after I read Booksnob’s lovely review of The Heir, I had a rummage in my tbr pile (which, in all honesty, is more of a to-be-read bookshelf…..) and found that it was about the only Vita Sackville-West book I didn’t own. As Hesperus have produced such a lovely edition, I didn’t take much persuading to hit the Internet for a reasonably priced copy!

“The Heir” tells the story of Peregrine Chase, a mild-mannered clerk from Wolverhampton, who inherits a beautiful house called Blackboys from his aunt. She, Phillida Chase, has hung onto her property and land for years against the advice of one of her solicitors, the rather unpleasant Mr. Nutley, and as there is very little in the way of funds, it is assumed by all that Mr. Chase will sell up to pay off the various mortgages and duties and take what money he can get.

But the story of Mr. Chase and Blackboys is not to be so simple. Despite the limitations of his nature, placed in the main upon him by his upbringing and surroundings in Wolverhampton, his heritage will out. He begins to connect with the house and its contents, with the land and its tenants, even with the family dog Thane. The butler, Fortune, is quite aware of the effect that Blackboys is having on Mr. Chase and there is a sense of continuity with the past growing on the heir.

But the house has to be sold, and the various professionals come in to make inventories and catalogues, while prospective purchase trample all over Mr. Chase’s solitude.

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons HTML

I won’t reveal the climax of the story because it’s actually quite nail-biting and I could hardly wait to find out how things would end. For a short volume this certainly packs a lot of punch! It’s a lovely read – Vita’s descriptive prose is absolutely gorgeous and she evokes beautifully the country evenings, the views from the house, the connection with the land that the farmers on the estate have. Some elements of the story are heartbreaking, like the tenant Mr. Jakes who will lose the cottage where he has always lived, and the flowers he tends with love and care. The appalling Mr. Nutley is an obvious philistine, bent only on the prestige of making a big sale and not caring if a beautiful wood might be chopped down to build rows of boxy houses. His partner, the aptly named Mr. Farebrother, is a much nicer kettle of fish and is justifiably happy with the resolution. As for Peregrine Chase, it’s a joy to watch him blossom in congenial surroundings and really connect with living rather than just existing. It’s quite significant that this story is subtitled “A Love Story”!

I feel rather ashamed that I’ve read so few of the Vita books I have and it certainly is bad that she’s more remembered for her love-affairs than her work. I guess being bracketed with Virginia Woolf is not going to do any writer any favours, but Vita’s writing is just lovely and I think I will have to go and have another dig in the tbr…