Published originally in 1946, this charming and funny novel by Stella Gibbons concerns the heartache of the 21-year-old Margaret Steggles, who idolises the preposterous playwright Gerard Challis. Packed with great characters and period atmosphere (it’s set in Highgate in 1943), it was Gibbons’s own favourite among her twenty-odd novels. I adapted it for radio in 2004 as a two-part Classic Serial (with Juliet Aubrey and Rosemary Leach), and was very pleased when BBC 4 Extra repeated it to coincide with publication of the new Vintage edition.
Set in wartime London, Westwood tells the story of Margaret Steggles, a plain bookish girl whose mother has told her that she is not the type that attracts men. Her schoolfriend Hilda has a sunny temperament and keeps her service boys ‘ever so cheery’. When Margaret finds a ration book on Hampstead Heath the pompous writer Gerard Challis enters both their lives. Margaret slavishly adores Challis and his artistic circle; Challis idolises Hilda for her hair and her eyes and Hilda finds Gerard’s romantic overtures a bit of a bind. This is a delightfully comic and wistful tale of love and longing.