Reviewed by Claire
I first read the 1953 novel Five Windows back in 2013, when I was devouring several D.E. Stevenson books per month. It instantly became one of my favourites, classed alongside The English Air and the ‘Mrs. Tim’ books, and my fondness for it has only increased after another reading. It is one of the cosiest books I’ve ever read.
Five Windows is the story of David Kirke from his Scottish childhood to his early adulthood in London. It follows him through five different homes: the manse where he grew up as the only child of loving parents, the townhouse in Edinburgh where he lived with his uncle while attending school, the seedy London boarding house where he lives after first arriving in the city, the cosy flat above a bookshop which he has the pleasure of making his own, and the house just outside London where he begins his married life.
David grows from a quiet, gentle boy to a steady, thoughtful man. While the sections dealing with his youth in Scotland are lovely – particularly for the relationship between David and his mother – the book improves dramatically when David moves to London to train for a career in law. The Scottish scenes could be a bit cloyingly sweet; with the move to London, D.E.S. is able to deploy some of her (rather too rarely used) humour. At the squalid boarding house where he initially lives, he finds himself initially taken in by the tacky glamour of several fellow boarders. Initially drawn to them, even as he is uncomfortable with their careless approach to things he holds dear, David eventually comes to see the others for what they are and neatly, and quite wonderfully bluntly, cuts them out of his life. David is that rare creature: the kind-hearted and good but entirely sensible young man. He is also a delighted homemaker, taking real pleasure in doing up the flat he moves into after leaving the boarding house. It is very sweet and David’s pride in his home is familiar to anyone who has gone through the same experience.
While in London, David begins to write. As a child, writing had been a favourite pastime and in London he turns to it again, writing first a series of sketches about the city and then a novel. He takes his work seriously – Mr. Trollope would be proud of David’s work ethic, though perhaps a little disapproving when David chooses to leave his steady job after selling his first book – and his hard work is rewarded with success. What is more, his personal life also prospers: he falls in love with a girl he has known since childhood, recently arrived in London after escaping her rather awful family. Naturally, there is one more home to be done up – the one they will share as man and wife – and all ends as it always does in a D.E.S. novel: happily ever after.
Claire blogs at The Captive Reader, where a version of this review originally appeared.
D.E. Stevenson, Five Windows (Greyladies, 2016). 978-1907503504, 368pp., paperback.