THERE IS a special kind of English writer who writes deceptively simple evocations of English rural life. It is an easy temptation to dismiss such books as pretty pablum for those incapable of digesting the unpalatable realities of contemporary life. But such writers, no matter how lyrical, are aware that the countryside is no sanctuary. That is true even of writers like Beatrix Potter, for, as appealing as Jemima Puddleduck and Peter Rabbit were, their lives were lived amidst the constant threat of danger. One is aware of the same undercurrent in Gossip From Thrush Green, in which Miss Read describes a year in a Cotswold village.

The change of seasons is noted with loving care, but the village itself changes, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. The ugly Victorian rectory burns to the ground. The tenants of a house belong to a drug-taking rock band. Three miserly sisters are robbed. A young woman raised in an orphanage is energetically courted by a prosperous widower, and an elderly animal lover is forced by illness to limit her much-loved menagerie. It is not earth-shattering, but it reveals the fragility of even the most ordinary lives, the courage and stoicism with which people respond to adversity, their generosity in friendship and their gratitude for small pleasures.

In less skillful hands such a book could easily become woolly-minded moral uplift, but Miss Read is aware that, though most people could lead lives of quiet desperation, they can choose not to do so.