Day’s End and Other Stories by H.E. Bates

Days End Herbert Ernest Bates is best known as the author of The Darling Buds of May and My Uncle Silas, both of which have been adapted for television (in the 1990s and early 2000s respectively) but he also wrote a large number of other novels, novellas and short stories. I have never read any of his work so when I saw that Bloomsbury Reader were reissuing some of his books as ebooks, I decided to try Day’s End and Other Stories, a short story collection which was available on NetGalley.

Day’s End and Other Stories is one of Bates’ earliest books, originally published in 1928. The title story takes up almost a quarter of the book but there are twenty-four others in the collection as well – and this new edition also includes a bonus story called In View of the Fact That.

Day’s End is the story of Israel Rentshaw, an elderly man who lives on his farm in the countryside with his daughter, Henrietta. Israel is growing too old for heavy work but Henrietta is unable to persuade him to leave the farm that has been his home for forty years and go to live in the village. But when Israel receives a letter informing him that the land he rents is going to be sold, he has some big decisions to make and could be forced to face the very thing he has been trying to avoid.

Day’s End sets the tone for the rest of the book: almost every story features a beautifully described rural setting and a lonely, bored or troubled character who is trying to deal with a difficult or miserable situation. A baker’s wife trapped in an unhappy marriage; a shepherd lost in the snow while his wife gives birth alone; a little boy having his first encounter with the death of a loved one; a piano-tuner whose daughter has committed suicide. It’s hard to believe that Bates was only twenty-three years old when he wrote these stories. They are so mature and poignant, so filled with themes of regret and lost hope that they feel more like the work of a much older author.

Apart from the title story, the others are all very short, often just a few pages long. The beautiful writing made the stories worth reading, but unfortunately there was nothing very memorable about them and I didn’t find any of the stories particularly satisfying. I couldn’t see the point of some of them – there was no plot, no message, and the characters, despite being well-drawn, didn’t seem to learn anything or make any attempt to change the situation they were in. The descriptions of feelings and emotions were moving and insightful and the depiction of the countryside was lovely, but that wasn’t quite enough and I was slightly disappointed with this collection overall.

Because this is one of the earliest examples of his work and because I liked the writing, I think I would still consider reading something else by Bates. Recommendations are welcome!

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12 thoughts on “Day’s End and Other Stories by H.E. Bates

  1. whatmeread says:

    Well, that’s a little disappointing. I keep hearing about Bates but haven’t tried him. I thought he was supposed to be a little like P.G. Wodehouse or E.F. Benson, who are very funny.

  2. Yvonne says:

    I haven’t read anything by H.E. Bates, though I have The Two Sisters in my reading pile. Bates has such a large body of work that I also found it difficult to make a selection. In the end I went with The Two Sisters as this was his first published novel.

    • Helen says:

      It can be difficult to know where to start with a new author and I think I made the wrong choice. I hope you have better luck with The Two Sisters!

  3. Jane @ Beyond Eden Rock says:

    I love H E Bates’s writing, but I can understand why you found this book disappointing. Maybe it resonated more with his own generation. My own particular favourites are ‘Love for Lydia’ and ‘Fair Stood the Wind for France’ and I think you’d enjoy them too.

  4. Jo says:

    I remember reading all The Darling Buds of May stories when the programme was out in the 90s. I got the book from the mobile library that came one a week on a Friday. Then I was most excited when I got my own copy of the set of books, which ironically I knew was still at my parents just recently and I now have it with me to read!

    I never ventured further in reading anything else by Bates, I was too captured by The Larkins.

    • Helen says:

      I remember it being on the television in the 1990s but I never thought about reading the books. I will probably try them at some point as I did like Bates’ writing (even though I wasn’t very impressed by these particular stories).

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