“Immensely enjoyable. As usual when I finish a novel by D. E. Stevenson, I cannot wipe the happy contented smile off my face…“
~ Reader Review
“D.E. Stevenson has earned a place as the great lady of current British literature.”
~ Augusta (GA) Chronicle
“D. E. Stevenson writes with a delicate perception.”
~ Book Week, Listening Valley
More than once, D.E. said she hoped her books would be like lighthouses to her readers...
I doubt I could ever choose just one favorite author, contemporary or classic. So many cherished word-painters from my earliest reading to now. But, that said — discovering D.E. a few months ago on a Barnes and Noble shelf (D. E. Stevenson – A Charmer of a Read) has set me off on a fresh and rare, search-and-find reading adventure. Another novelist to love!
Fresh – because, though she wrote in one of my most favorite time periods (between 1930 and 1960) it is joy I relegated impossible — to again find such a delightful writer who is new to me!
Rare – because sadly – I can count on one hand the writers today who have such a gift for seemingly endless and inventive storytelling. (And if they do, they haven’t yet had time to produce as many because each one they have given us is an intricately cut jewel. Oh, there are popular authors with 30 or so titles to their credit, but don’t they often disappoint with repeated re-telling?) No cookie cutter formula with the same characters donning new names and living in different locales — then basically following the same storyline — here.
With each D.E. treasure the library locates for me, I return to how reading a beloved author always made me feel as a girl… slipping my bare toes into the lacy wavelets at the sea, sinking them into the deep sand, and looking out on a shimmering expanse where each light promises more unique characters who leave me wanting…oh so much more.
I love the varied style approaches I’m finding in D.E. – from the satire of the Buncle series to the warm and cosy, romantic and engaging heartwarmers like Katherine Wentworth, House on the Cliff and Shoulder the Sky to the fun, semi autobiographical and humor-laced journal diary in the Mrs. Tim Christie series.
I delight in finding little connectings where one beloved character or setting sometimes pops up in another book of a completely different story.
I’m constantly marking beautifully-expressed passages or lines that strike me with how someone 70+ years ago expressed beauty or sorrow or friendship or loss in the same ways I feel them today…yet knowing I can’t possibly write them all down. Marveling at how she astutely compared Hitler to Pharaoh at a time when the writer herself was in the midst of WWII and didn’t have the access to all that was happening the way our news relays today. And dreaming of someday purchasing my favorites to keep on my own shelf, to re-drench another day. Savor as tea and crumpets…
Such is Listening Valley… one of my absolute favorites. For from the opening lines, she had me…like a Dickensian hook:
“Most people, looking back at their childhood, see it as a misty country half-forgotten or only to be remembered through an evocative sound or scent, but some episodes of those short years remain clear and brightly-coloured like a landscape seen through the wrong end of a telescope…”
And in this tender, sometimes riveting story of a girl who emerges from a deeply sheltered and lonely childhood to young womanhood in war torn England and Scotland, Stevenson holds me from page to page, character to character.
Reminiscent of Dickens with his Pip – or Bronte with her Jane – D.E. introduces us to Tonia Melville as a fragile and shy child, overshadowed by her only close companion — her beloved and adventurous sister. Together, they devise ways to occasionally steal away from their home, spy out a world that is shut to them. Yet…malnourished for love, with emotionally handicapped parents who pretty much ignore their two daughters, not even recognizing a weakness in Tonia’s hands as more than simple clumsiness…Tonia often seeks solace and joy by slipping into a dream-place in her heart that she calls “listening valley.” A place within that feeds her appreciation and need for beauty and wonder.
At first, this seems unspeakably sad… like Anne Shirley finding her only friend in the looking-glass. Later in the story, this place of inner wonderment reveals more of a spiritual intuitiveness… one that shapes and leads her on, like the Holy Spirit opening life and love to her in step out in faith ways she never imagined herself capable.
Watching Tonia grow from stunted girlhood to strong, creative, wise and witty woman, I hated to reach the story end. And in between, Stevenson filled me with, I think, a few more puzzle pieces of her own WWII heart.
- With a vivid, so real portrayal of Tonia, caught out on a dark London night when sirens and bombs were going off, when shell shocked herself, she awakes to find herself drafted as nurse of mercy to so many wounded around her… not knowing if her own loved ones were alive or dead… A scene written by someone so close to those days that maybe it spoke deeply of personal experience…and brought me right into it with her. A night that sparked a coming of age for Tonia…and, perhaps, for the author.
- And with her unfolding of Tonia’s character and personality and growth as a woman of caring and heart… her life changing alliances and tender, funny, sweet romance.
As in all her novels, some moments are predictable. (I wonder if that is just because we are now a generation filled with movie-going and ongoing news, that maybe the first readers weren’t? Or if the author always intended them to be easily deciphered by her public.) Still… it never detracts but instead spurs you on to the moment when the character uncovers what you highly suspect.
Life is also real... as when the writer reflects,
“She was so happy…yet sad… She ought to be grateful. She was grateful… If only something could happen now, this very minute, so that the war would be over…so that you could enjoy the beauty of the world without this burden of sadness…”
But overall it is a world that inspires, pulls you up to tea at Britain’s tables, leaves you heartened for having sojourned among its pages and people — and deepens a love for windswept beauty of lands like Scotland and the charm of quaint homes of England along the way. And even should the ending be tinged bittersweet, it closes the way that satisfies me most…on a happy hope. I give this one five stars.
Allowed to go out of print prematurely because of wartime paper rationing (wow!), Listening Valley only became available again in 1972, after 30 years. And here we are 30+ years past that. Which leaves me with this injunction for all my fellow British literature anglophiles… You don’t want to wait another 30 to pick this one up! 🙂
In the meantime, I’m off to the library to check out more of her 50+ treasures I’ve yet to read! And finding that hour a day to give to these gems… 🙂
…And if I could talk with D.E. for one moment, I’d say… surely dear writer, your stories ARE still like much-needed lighthouses to our world!
© Pam Depoyan
Note: I am not promoting any site and can’t vouch for them, but just fyi for those of you who like to buy books online — I do see Stevenson books listed on Amazon, audio books and here: