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This Cold Country

This Cold Country

5.0 1
by Annabel Davis-Goff

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The author of the New York Times Notable Book The Dower House, known for her elegant prose and her keen eye for the nuances of class, now adds the lush, large-screen immediacy of a Merchant-Ivory film to her compelling tale of a woman and a culture forever changed by World War II.
Only a few days after Daisy Creed precipitously marries Patrick


The author of the New York Times Notable Book The Dower House, known for her elegant prose and her keen eye for the nuances of class, now adds the lush, large-screen immediacy of a Merchant-Ivory film to her compelling tale of a woman and a culture forever changed by World War II.
Only a few days after Daisy Creed precipitously marries Patrick Nugent, scion of an Anglo-Irish family, Patrick rejoins his regiment in France. Having never met her in-laws, Daisy sets sail for her new home, Dunmaine, County Waterford. The family's affairs echo its estate: grand and forbidding on the outside, decaying and corrupt within. Patrick's vain, spoiled sister, Corisande, soon flees to her lover, leaving Daisy alone with Patrick's feeble brother, Mickey, and grandmother, Maud, who has taken to her bed. In her determination to save Dunmaine and secure her place as its mistress, Daisy unwittingly becomes an accomplice in a dangerous political plot, as old and as fraught as The Troubles.
With grace and wit, Davis-Goff portrays a lost way of life and the war that rendered it obsolete. In the character of Daisy Creed she has created an unforgettable Everywoman of her time—part Elizabeth Bennett, part Scarlett O'Hara.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The book feels like a Christmas dinner: rich, heavy, extravagant, lush and traditional in a way that no one would dream of objecting to."—The New York Times Book Review
"Fine and poignant . . . A richly comic, tender evocation of Ireland's dwindling, splendid Anglo-Irish."—Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Davis-Goff, author of The Dower House, a New York Times Notable Book, and Walled Gardens, a memoir, plumbs her Irish roots once more in this tale about a young English woman adjusting to new social, political and class demands when she moves to Ireland during World War II. A volunteer in England's Land Army, Daisy Creed works on a farm in Wales. Given the rare wartime occasion to meet an eligible bachelor, she quickly marries Patrick Nugent, a distant Anglo-Irish cousin of her employer. In a matter of days, Patrick is called on duty and Daisy joins Patrick's family in Ireland. Gothic touches abound; the Nugents are eccentrics, their home full of mysteries and reminders of better days. Daisy's new family includes Corisande, a spoiled beauty growing bitter as she approaches middle age without a suitor; her mild-mannered brother, Mickey, who silently puts up with all in exchange for solitude; a grandmother who may or may not be in a coma. All are residents of Dunmaine, the family's overgrown, undermanaged estate. Through Daisy's dogged questioning, Davis-Goff gets at the reasons and implications behind Ireland's WWII neutrality. Daisy's queries are answered mainly by Mickey: As soon as there were two religions, it was all over for Ireland. Up until then the conquerors and colonists became enthusiastically Irish in about five minutes. These conversational, encyclopedic passages fill in blanks for readers who don't know their Irish history, but water down the already thin story. Davis-Goff is a talented writer, however, and there is much to appreciate here in the way of elegant prose and careful characterizations. 4-city author tour. (May) Forecast: The Anglo-Irish world recently got an airing in the disappointing film version of Elizabeth Bowen's novel The Last September. The period and setting have undeniable appeal, and will help readers overlook the slow spots in Davis-Goff's otherwise well-crafted novel. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Daisy Creed, a land girl in World War II England, impetuously marries Patrick Nugent days before he is sent to France with his regiment. When she joins his family in County Waterford, she finds that the Nugent family home, like many of the old Anglo-Irish estates (and the aging aristocracy itself), has fallen into a state of decay. Its residents Patrick's grandmother, spoiled sister, and backward brother have mortgaged it to the hilt with no apparent regard for the future. Daisy carefully begins to assert her position as mistress of the house and to control expenses, eventually taking in paying guests. Her first guest is a recuperating British soldier who seduces her and then vanishes after the murder of a questionably Fascist local lord. This is yet another marvelous Anglo-Irish novel of manners by Davis-Goff (The Dower House); Daisy is a charming character, and the lush but languishing Irish landscape of the 1940s is the perfect setting for this wartime love story. A rich and satisfying read; highly recommended. Susan Clifford Braun, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Third-novelist Davis-Goff (The Dower House, 1998, etc.) offers a leisurely, elegiac portrait of a decaying Anglo-Irish family in County Waterford during the dark days of WWII. Daisy Creed, the daughter of an English vicar, volunteered for national service and became one of the "Land Girls" who helped run Britain's farms while the men were off at the front. On a farm in Wales, Daisy was introduced to Patrick Nugent, an Irish relation of her employer. Whirlwind romances were the norm in wartime, and Daisy and Patrick managed to fall in love and become engaged over the course of one weekend. When Patrick, an army officer, received word soon after that he was being ordered back to France, he and Daisy were quickly wed. Patrick then shipped off for the Continent, and Daisy journeyed to Ireland to visit her in-laws. Anglo-Irish Protestants, the Nugents were landowners whose fortunes had come pretty far down since Ireland's independence. Only three Nugents were still living on the old family estate of Dunmaine, in County Waterford: Patrick's senile grandmother Maud, his feeble-minded brother Mickey, and his somewhat disreputable sister Corisande. Daisy moved into this cold and unhappy household and slowly accustomed herself to a strange new world. From the perspective of neutral Ireland, the war in Europe seemed at once more distant and more ominous. Irish president De Valera's refusal to open Irish ports to British warships brought fears that the republic would be invaded by the Germans. Axis bombings in Belfast prompted Dublin to send fire trucks across the border in violation of neutrality laws. An exiled English fascist was murdered. Daisy's wartime fears grew even more intense when shelearned that Patrick was in a POW camp. After a fire raged through Dunmaine, she resolved to stay and rebuild a new home for her and her husband. A lovely tale, in an old-fashioned unhurried style, that succeeds in re-creating a strange, lost world.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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0.94(w) x 9.00(h) x 6.00(d)

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By Annabel Davis-Goff

Harcourt, Inc.

Copyright © 2002 Annabel Davis-Goff.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0151008477

Chapter One

No one liked the rats, and only Daisy felt any affection for the ferrets. She liked the thickness of their coats, their efficient sharp teeth, and their stubborn refusal to establish a relationship with their owners, or—as Daisy, and maybe the ferrets themselves, thought of the humans who caged them—their captors.

    The ferrets worked for their keep. No bargain had been struck. They did what they would have done in nature and in return were fed with food they would not have needed had they not lived in captivity. They seemed aware of this, Daisy thought, and their constant vigilance and ready teeth seemed to her less an instinctive reaction than a conscious wish to sink their teeth gum deep into the wrists of the humans who exploited them.

    Although she was not unsympathetic to their plight, the rough treatment, the small, dirty, and foul-smelling cages in which they lived, Daisy was determined not to become an object of their revenge. She quickly learned how to grasp a ferret by the neck, lift the temporarily powerless creature, and drop it into the sack used to transport them.

    It was a skill she had learned less reluctantly than when she had been taught to snap the neck of her first rabbit, the rabbit itself a victim of the unnatural alliance between ferret and man. It had struggled in her hands; she could feel its warmth, its weight, its terror. She had been appalled by what she was doing and had been clumsy, failing to snap the rabbit's neck at her first attempt; Frank, the shepherd who was instructing her, had had to finish killing it. She had vomited afterward—a little way off, behind a bush—and Frank had pretended not to notice either that or the tears that she wiped away with the sleeve of her jacket. Although Daisy had enlisted in a branch of His Majesty's Services the day after war was declared, it was the Women's Land Army and she had been sent to a farm in Wales—so far the only blood she had seen spilled had been that of rabbits, and the greatest danger she had faced had been a sharp nip from a ferret.

    "Can I come, too?" A child, Sarah, stood on the badly lit landing outside the nursery bathroom. An only child, she was holding a tatty doll dressed in expensive baby clothes.

    Daisy shook her head.

    "Take Dolly back to the nursery and make sure Marmalade is there. Then close the door. I'll come and tell you afterward."

    Sarah trotted obediently along the landing, proud of the responsibility. Daisy watched her go; Sarah's gait had a little bounce that made her seem to float for an instant between steps. It always gave Daisy pleasure. Although Sarah left her doll in the nursery when she took a bath, Marmalade—the old black Labrador—accompanied her every time she ventured into the chilly bathroom.

    When Daisy wanted a long soak after a cold day's hard work—plenty of hot water was one of the luxuries at Aberneth Farm—she usually rousted the old dog from wherever she was sleeping and had her flop on the bath mat. Marmalade was more a talisman against the rats than a practical deterrent. The rats, far from desperate, were not likely to invade the bathroom while humans were there. But, if she entered the room quietly, there was sometimes a sinister scrabbling sound and occasionally even the glimpse of a naked, obscene, gray tail disappearing under the tub.

    The rats came up under the bath. Where the pipes came through the floor they had gnawed the edge of the wood and were able, it seemed, temporarily to flatten their bodies and squeeze through before returning to their usual surprisingly large size. Under the bath and in one corner of the skirting board, pieces of tin cans had been hammered out and nailed over holes. Similar metal barriers, less skillfully worked, covered corners of the barn floor and the small room where the feeding grain was stored.

    With her right hand—the ferret dangling helplessly from her left—Daisy locked the bathroom door. Losing a ferret was an eventuality as eagerly to be avoided as being bitten by one. The overhead light did little to alleviate the gloom under the large iron tub that lay close to the linoleum-covered floor. The narrowness of the dusty space between its heavy iron base and the hole the rats shared with the plumbing pipes made it impossible effectively to seal the gap.

    The ferret averted his nose as Daisy pointed him at the small dark hole; then, when she persisted, pushing his unmuzzled snout down beside the drainpipe, with a wiggle, as she released him, he was gone.

    Daisy stood at the window and waited. She did not expect the return of the ferret, which she had privately named Sebastian. Although the ferrets had not been given names, Daisy had once overheard the gardener—in whose shed they lived, and who fed them—call one of them Fred. His tone, if not of affection, then of familiarity.

    Nevertheless, she had to stay. If Sebastian-Fred returned and she were not there, he represented a danger to the next person entering the bathroom. Or, she considered (for she spent quite a lot of her time exploring the logistics of "what if") what a problem she would have set herself if she were on the other side of the closed bathroom door attempting to enter in order to recapture a not so small, fierce creature while preventing it from fleeing, with or without a passing nip, between her ankles and disappearing into the recesses of the large old house—forever. Seen only when it came on food raids or waged intermittent guerrilla warfare against the legitimate inhabitants, a scapegoat and a reproach to Daisy for years to come. "Daisy's ferret" they would call it, she thought dreamily, pleasantly aware of the smell of baking drifting up from the kitchen below. The window overlooked fields and a copse of gnarled trees, behind which, unseen, lay the sea. It was from here that Daisy had first seen the sky light up when the oil storage tanks nearly fifty miles away had been bombed.

    A scream from the kitchen below suggested the return of Sebastian was now unlikely, and Daisy left the bathroom, closing the door carefully behind her; like many of the doors at Aberneth Farm, it required a tug after it seemed closed to ensure the click that prevented it slowly reopening when the house settled on its timbers, or when the persistent drafts in the upstairs corridors, supplemented by the wind outside, reached the proportions of a small indoor gale.

    Hurrying down the back stairs, the thick wool of her stockinged feet (her muddy gumboots stood side by side outside the back door) catching unpleasantly on the dry splintered wood of the steps, Daisy reached the kitchen. By the range, Mrs. Thomas, the cook, remained on duty beside a large and fragrant pot, permitting herself only an expression of extreme disapproval while Elsie, the housemaid, stood to one side of the door leading to the scullery, intermittently screaming. Tabitha, the kitchen cat, an animal that Daisy had never before seen awake, now stood, arch-backed, bristling, on the table, a primitive, dangerous glare in her eyes. Daisy was not sure whether the stance was aggressive or defensive, but she knew it would not be wise to touch her.

    "Where is he?" Daisy asked.

    Mrs. Thomas's lips remained pursed, but Elsie pointed to the larder, a small dark room off the scullery. Daisy, following Elsie's pointed finger, stepped into the room, closed the door, and turned on the light. Behind her, the screaming stopped. She could hear the sound of the wireless from a shelf behind the range.

    Moments later, she recrossed the kitchen, the ferret held out from her body; dangling helplessly from her hand. Elsie looked at her with an expression that contained both respect and disdain; Mrs. Thomas merely shook her head, indicating that were there not a war on, she would not, for a moment, put up with that kind of carry-on in her kitchen.

    Hearing the newscaster's words, Daisy paused by the kitchen door. The two women looked at her pointedly; she had not been invited to remain in their territory, particularly not with that creature hanging, although apparently patiently, from her arm. After a moment, they followed her gaze to the wireless and they, too, heard and began to comprehend the words. Daisy silently indicated the set with a gesture of her head and Mrs. Thomas reached up and increased the volume, at the same time adjusting the tuning so that the voice, although still overlaid with static, was easier to understand.

    The three women and the inert ferret stood still while a Welsh voice—the BBC broadcasting from Cardiff—announced the sinking of the Royal Oak in Scapa Flow.

THE LIBRARY WAS the warmest room in the house. Daisy closed the door behind her, aware that her entrance was heralded by a blast of cold air from the hall. As she came around the strategically placed screen, the change in temperature reinforced the impression of a small enchanted pre-war room, one in which now sat three young, attractive, and laughing people. Rosemary, Daisy's employer—for although Daisy had enlisted in the Land Army and had been issued a uniform, it was on Rosemary's farm that she worked, and Rosemary who paid her at the end of each week—sat in a low armchair beside the fire, a tea tray on a low table in front of her. Even the two men—one a little older than Daisy, the other perhaps in his late twenties—in uniform, smiling and healthy, suggested nothing more ominous than a stint in a smart regiment. At Rosemary's feet, Margo, the older black Labrador, snoozed; Rosemary looked up with a welcoming smile as Daisy entered.

    "Daisy, you're just in time for a cup of tea," she said.

    Daisy hesitated. She was aware of the figure she cut: stocking-footed, an inert ferret held a little away from her body. Rosemary, in contrast, was wearing a tweed skirt and a light brown twinset; her low-heeled shoes were elegant and well polished. Only her hands, her wedding and engagement rings emphasizing her short nails and reddened skin, suggested that she was not presiding over tea at a peacetime house party.

    "Daisy, this is my cousin James Nugent. And Patrick Nugent, he's by way of being a kind of cousin too. Daisy Creed."

    "I just came—" Daisy said awkwardly. "There's something on the wireless—I was in the kitchen. A battleship called the Royal Oak has been sunk. In the Orkney Islands—somewhere called Scapa Flow."

    The two men exchanged glances—Daisy had the impression that the mention of Scapa Flow had caused a greater reaction even than had the sinking of the battleship—and the younger, James, turned on the wireless that sat on the table beside him. It was tuned to the BBC, and after a moment Daisy heard the same bulletin that had been broadcast in the kitchen. All four looked at the wireless and listened to the account of the Royal Oak, sunk at anchor by a German submarine. Seven hundred and eighty-six officers and men dead.

    "Dear God," Rosemary said softly.

    For an instant no one spoke or moved. Daisy felt as though she were part of a painting or photograph commemorating a moment in history. Then Rosemary poured a cup of tea and handed it to her.

    "They aren't supposed to be able to get into Scapa Flow," James said.

    "They tried during the Great War. In 1918, a submarine, manned entirely by officers, was destroyed in the attempt," Patrick said to Rosemary. "The tides and currents and the difficulty of navigating the channels were enough to keep the fleet safe from submarines ... then. The Admiralty thought they still were."

    "So what'll they do now?" she asked.

    "Find a way of keeping the subs out, or move somewhere else. Rosyth, probably. It was the main base at the end of the last war. But now you'd have to worry about air raids."

    After a moment the newscaster repeated information he had already read and the tableau unfroze. Daisy was aware of how awkwardly she was placed. She was unable to drink her tea since it was all she could do to balance the saucer and spoon while Sebastian twitched slightly in her other hand.

    "There are drop scones. Delicious, although I don't know how you are going to eat them with that thing in your hand. Maybe one of you chaps would like to hold Daisy's pet."

    Patrick reduced the volume of the wireless a little and turned toward Daisy.

    "Isn't there somewhere we can park that brute?" he asked.

    "Turn a wastepaper basket upside down and pop it under," James suggested.

    "She will if you sit on top of the basket," Rosemary said.

    "I will if you get him out afterward," Daisy said, the grasping of the ferret by the scruff of his neck being the only part of the operation that entailed either skill or risk.

    "Put your cup and saucer on the table," Patrick said, indicating the round table that stood a couple of feet away. "That way you can drink your tea."

    As Daisy sipped her tea, all four listened again to the sparse account offered by the BBC. Then Patrick switched off the wireless.

    "We'll turn on again at six o'clock," he said.

    Daisy put her cup down and went out to take Sebastian back to his cage in the gardener's shed. As she stepped into her gumboots outside the kitchen door she wondered what would happen if England lost the war. It was not a question she had ever heard asked.

RABBIT STEW FOR dinner. The two men had left, and dinner was, as usual, a female affair. Daisy looked forward to meals; she was young and hardworking and often she ate because she was tired. The food at Aberneth Farm was good. Maintaining a prewar standard of cooking was Mrs. Thomas's war effort. Mrs. Thomas complained about wartime shortages, but having accepted a sympathetic hearing as her due, she turned around and adapted her recipes.

    Before she came to Aberneth Farm, Daisy had never eaten rabbit. The stew had a rich, thick brown sauce, made with herbs, and over the top were sprinkled toasted breadcrumbs. There was finely chopped parsley on the mashed potatoes; the potatoes, parsley, and the carrots in the stew came from the garden. Daisy ate heartily, but Valerie, the other Land Girl, picked at the meat. There was a small heap on the side of her plate, rejected as not immediately identifiable.

    It had been agreed Valerie was conservative about her food. What Rosemary, and for that matter Daisy, really meant was Valerie was suburban, but they didn't say it, even when they were alone together. Although Daisy and Rosemary had become friends, Rosemary knew that if she were to preside over an efficiently and harmoniously run house and farm, there could be no suggestion of factions, favoritism, or, worse still, acknowledgment of—or alliances formed along—class lines.

    Daisy thought that even if there had not been rabbit for dinner, Valerie would have been off her feed because she had missed the teatime visit of the two young officers. War, for Valerie, who had been born and bred in Tunbridge Wells, was a catalytic event that had divided the male sex into officers and others. The outbreak of war had, seemingly miraculously, provided her with an opportunity to meet, ensnare, and marry an officer who originated from somewhere more promising than Kent. The news that two young men from regiments not usually accessible had passed through the house unmet by her seemed unnecessarily unfair. Especially since she was ready for them.

    Valerie prided herself on not having let herself go although she worked on a farm. She and Daisy were paid one pound a week and were entitled to a day off. Daisy saved a day each month and had accrued a few more when Valerie asked her to fill in for her in order to be able to attend some distant officer-heavy social engagement. Valerie was made of sterner stuff; every second day off was entirely spent in beauty preparations. Her hair was shampooed with Stablonde, a mask superimposed over her face, her hands encased in gloves filled with almond oil. Eyebrows were plucked and feet were pedicured. She would appear, those evenings for dinner, looking radiant; by the end of the evening when she went upstairs to bed her expression would have turned to one of vaguely confused disappointment.


Excerpted from THIS COLD COUNTRY by Annabel Davis-Goff. Copyright © 2002 by Annabel Davis-Goff. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Annabel Davis-Goff is the author of The Dower House and This Cold Country , both New York Times Notable books, and of Walled Gardens , a memoir. She was born and educated in Ireland and lives in New York City.

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This Cold Country 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure how you can take a novel about romance, mystery, war, intrigue, politics, affairs, and courruption, and make it absolutely boring and bland... but this book accomplished it. I was HOPING for a bang up ending to make up for the absolute desert-dryness of the story and was sorely disappointed. Some parts were slightly interesting or amusing, but so is hitting my head against the wall. Save your cash and head for the wall instead.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If I hadn't made a committment to myself to finish every book I began reading, I would have put this book down after the second chapter. The book started out slow and instead of improving after more reading, it just got slower. A very boring read....it is sad because there appears to be more potential with this author. Unfortunately I don't plan on reading any of her other works to find that hidden potential...if it is really there at all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading this book was like sipping a long, hot cup of Irish coffee. Evocative writing and beautiful descriptions made it easy to slip into World War II Ireland, and touches of romance and mystery kept the story going. I read this book on on my front porch swing as the weather got warmer and on some afternoons I got so wrapped up in it I didn't even notice it starting to get dark. A really great book.