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!