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The Camomile Lawn

3.84  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,732 Ratings  ·  135 Reviews
Behind the large house, the fragrant camomile lawn stretches down to the Cornish cliffs. Here, in the dizzying heat of August 1939, five cousins have gathered at their aunt's house for their annual ritual of a holiday. For most of them it is the last summer of their youth, with the heady exhilarations and freedoms of lost innocence, as well as the fears of the coming war.

Paperback, 352 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1984)
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Rebecca by Daphne du MaurierJamaica Inn by Daphne du MaurierFrenchman's Creek by Daphne du MaurierRoss Poldark by Winston GrahamThe Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
Books set in Cornwall
11th out of 169 books — 51 voters
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann ShafferPattern of Shadows by Judith BarrowBegun by Time by Morgan O'NeillThe Shell Seekers by Rosamunde PilcherThe Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard
World War II England
14th out of 119 books — 150 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,866)
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Petra X
May 05, 2015 Petra X rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, reviewed
Sub-The Forsyte Saga frippery. This is not a compliment, it doesn't have the depth of characters or development of plot of Galsworthy's epic novel. Sub-Night and Day frippery. This is a compliment, it doesn't have the awful pretension and snobbery that Virginia Woolf could never avoid in her life or her work. So the book is essentially a quite well written saga of some not terribly interesting people who have a lot of sex and a lot of money just like in the two aforementioned novels.

The plot is
B the BookAddict
Nov 29, 2015 B the BookAddict rated it really liked it
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: Goodreads
Shelves: fiction

My appreciation of The Camomile Lawn was fed by three sources; one being the knowledge that this novel was written when Wesley was 72 and it was only her second novel for adults. The second was the novel's authentic immediacy; Wesley does not bother with many descriptive passages and she very quickly sheds the constraints of who said what. Thirdly, in 1984 at 72, Wesley has an amazingly sprite open-mindedness; an astonishingly frank outlook about sex. You might easily get the idea she may be spe
Paul Bryant
Oct 10, 2013 Paul Bryant rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
Here is a novel which is of a very particular type, it’s almost (but not) a self-parody of the clipped we-don’t-do-emotion (well, we do, but we don’t go on about it) British School of No Nonsense. It’s about a family of cousins and others surviving or not through World War Two. They’re all fairly posh. They know how to tell a good claret from a bad one. They’re the lower level of the upper crust.

The women in the story demonstrate in hectic abandon one of the untrumpeted taboos of history, that
Feb 06, 2014 Shovelmonkey1 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who grew out of the Famous Five but wonder what might have happened
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: hearsay (not the band)
I'd heard good things about this book and duly sought it out like a sort of bibliophilic blood hound. When I say I'd heard good things I didn't actually know anything about it; the title and the inclusion of the word Camomile immediately planted seeds of ideas including tameness, anodine blandness and a sort of natural flavour which isn't necessarily to everyone's taste.

Bam! Wrong!

This book is World War II with sexy edges and a sexual liberation that people rightly or wrongly do not ever associ
Aug 14, 2009 Wayne marked it as to-read
Recommended to Wayne by: a distant bell and a wee biography
Why did I bother to buy this book yesterday whose title rang a very faint bell and whose author rang absolutely none??!!??
Because I read this when I opened the cover:

The Camomile Lawn

Mary Wesley was born as Mary Farmar in 1912
to an upperclass family and grew up a rebel
who believed that she was her mother's least
favourite child.Like many girls of her back
ground, she married for escape and her first
marriage, to Lord Swinfen, was brief.In 1944
she met Eric Siepmann,an unsuccessful writer
This is a wartime story, largely set in Cornwall and London during the days immediately before WWII and the following six years, as we watch different generations deal with going to war, sending loved ones off, managing with privation and bombardment and lives turned up side down as well as changing behavioral codes. War changed lives in so many ways.

Along side that story is the more modern one of survivors of the earlier time, all on their way to a funeral of one of their own. Now the former "y
Nov 21, 2007 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorites. I loved it so much I named two of my children after characters in this book.
Aug 08, 2012 Jennifer rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
I'm not sure what the point of this book really was...the story of an extended family set in WWII London and Cornwall. The book jumps back and forth between the war experiences and the future when most of the characters are heading to a funeral and reminiscing about those times. These people need to expand their social circle because they all just sleep with each other throughout the book. Cousins with cousins, aunts & uncles with nephews & nieces, a few neighbors get into the mix and th ...more
Apr 04, 2013 Ditta rated it really liked it
For some time now I do carework for the elderly in the UK. People in their late 80's or even 90's, whose young years play out on the pages of this book. Often they relate to me their war-time experiences, in fact it seems, that - very understandibly - those years left the deepest marks on their lives. It struck me as strange, or weird even, that some of them spoke with quite some relish about the war years (just like Polly does in the novel). Reading this book (haven't finished yet) helps me to ...more
Jun 05, 2011 Lizzie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, read-in-2011
A novel about a group of English cousins at the eve of WWII and what happened to them in the war, with flash forwards to the present day. We see much of the action through the eyes of Sophy, the odd girl out because she's much younger than the others and because of her Anglo-Eurasian race. As in other England at war novels, the war gives these young people opportunities for adventures – sexual ones – that they wouldn't have had in conservative pre-war days. There are some interesting twists in t ...more
Mirren Jones
Feb 03, 2013 Mirren Jones rated it really liked it
Mary Wesley has been on my 'to read' list for a very long time. I had heard that she didn't have her first book published until she was in her 70's and that she'd had amazing success after this, her 'breakthrough' novel. So when I saw it on the library shelf last week I grabbed it.

Written in 1984 the language is obviously not quite contemporary, but see past that and you will find a beautifully crafted novel, full of surprises, twists and turns, which will keep you guessing until the end. The no
May 20, 2015 Meghan rated it really liked it

I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher through Net Galley in return for an honest review.

I requested this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Open Road Media to allow me to read the eBook version of this book.

In the beginning of this book, five cousins - Calypso, Walter, Polly, Oliver, Sophy and the twins - are spending their holiday in their aunt house in a town in Cornwall. Their favorite place during this last summer holiday before the beginning

David Manns
I saw the TV adaptation of this years ago and finally got round to reading the book. Strangely, I was disappointed. There's no discernible plot and some of the characters, particularly Aunt Helena are hard to like. The book follows a group of cousins and their families through the war years from their last summer together in Cornwall in August 1939. There are also flash-forwards to the funeral of one of the characters in the 1980's, where various story strands get resolved, sort of. The characte ...more
Aug 01, 2009 Kay rated it liked it
I found this book because I recently met the illegitimate son of Mary Wesley, who published her first novel at 70 (this was her second) and then wrote nine more that all did well and some of which were best-sellers. Set in England in 1939 and then up to the 1980s -- many intertwined, very upper class English characters. Great moments, and quite good overall, with some slower bits and an unfortunate name for the most beautiful of the young women: Calypso.
Apr 25, 2012 Fionnuala rated it liked it
I read several of Mary Wesley's books in the eighties so I must have found them appealing but I can't remember anything much about them now. Many other books read decades ago have remained vivid in my memory so I can only conclude that Wesley's characters and plots were not very memorable.
Laura Rittenhouse
Jun 23, 2010 Laura Rittenhouse rated it really liked it
This was an interesting story about a group of young people who grew up in a lovely environment and they how their lives changed in large because of WWII. It's in part a coming of age story, in part historical fiction but mainly it is a good character piece.
Jul 14, 2008 Darlene rated it it was ok
I read this book for a book discussion and just couldn't get through it. It wasn't bad, but neither the story or characters were very interesting-and it seemed very outdated.
Feb 01, 2008 Jan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Why did I waste the time to finish this book? A group of cousins exist in meaningless, selfish, immoral, wasted lives in England (and in the war, off page) during WWII.
Dec 30, 2013 Rikki rated it really liked it

I first came across The Camomile Lawn in the early 90s when it was a must-watch television series. From an author whose literary career had only started when she was in her seventies, it was rather racy and had a cast of well known celebrities. I was intrigued to find out how it came across as a book when I'd already seen it on television.
In fact, I think the enjoyment of the book was enhanced by having a picture of the characters in my mind as the story enfolded.
The camomile lawn was just a pro
Clare O'Beara
First published in 1984. Helena sits reading 'The Times' on THE CAMOMILE LAWN in Cornwall, while the news is all of impending war. Helena's first husband died in the Great War and her second husband lost a leg in the trenches. Her nephew Oliver has just returned from the Civil War in Spain, gloomy and grown-up, and she hopes the summer influx of young cousins will do them all good.

As official edicts are issued, the young people plan on enlisting, except Calypso who is determined to be a socialit
Apr 14, 2011 Anne rated it it was amazing
I originally watched the BBC tele series of the novel and, because it was so dark and I felt certain transitions were "clunky" I had to read the novel. the novel EXPLAINED so much. Really helped me to get a handle on bomb shelters, incest, the apathy of people who believe what their governments tell them (what choice do they have!). Also a very focused portrayal of a family, socially appearing to be functional, but in reality normal by todays standards but "out there" (or were they?) for their c ...more
Nov 09, 2008 Ursula rated it it was amazing
I have read most, if not all of Mary Wesley s books. I am fascinated by the characters she creates and the world within which they live. I think she captures a very specific time in English history(post world war 2).

Her take on English society at that time is, i believe truly brilliant. If you read more than one of her books you will see how the characters from each book are all related in some way or another. The connections between each of the characters are so subtle. Just wonderful. Not ever
Mar 22, 2008 Blaire rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I've read quite a lot Mary Wesley's work, and I think this is one of her better efforts. Wesley does a masterful job of unfolding her story about an extended family in the years surrounding WWII. The book is very character-driven. As always, her characters are kind of quirky and surprising and in this book there are a lot of them. Shifting back and forth in time, and using multiple points of view, Wesley progressively develops her characters and reveals the relationships among them. It makes for ...more
Louise Beilby
Jun 29, 2015 Louise Beilby rated it liked it

Like the other Mary Wesley books I have read, this is mostly about posh people having posh person problems. However, the introduction of a war does have a somewhat levelling effect.

The Camomile Lawn follows the lives of a group of cousins as they make one last summer visit to their aunt and uncle in Cornwall, before they all go off to do various things in the second world war. Some of the characters are also seen in 1980s-set scenes as they travel to the funeral of one of the others, whose ident
Nov 21, 2008 Denis rated it really liked it
Nothing like those naughty, clever, hilarious and witty female British writers... This novel is one of the very best ever written about wartime London, not only because it rings very true, but also because, unlike so many tragic stories, it dares to show that some people -especially the women- still could have a jolly good time. That doesn't mean there's no emotions, no sadness, no losses. But Wesley's spirit puts this great story under a definitively unusual light, and it is irresistible.
Liz Fenwick
Mar 30, 2015 Liz Fenwick rated it it was amazing
A brilliantly woven tale of love and loss- growing up, growing old and war...
Kim Stallwood
Mar 10, 2014 Kim Stallwood rated it really liked it
Most likely I would never have read The Camomile Lawn if it were not for the excellent TV adaptation that I've enjoyed watching several times. Reading the novel--and knowing well the story and its characters from their faithful representation in the TV adaptation--was an enjoyable experience. (But you don't need to watch the telly series to enjoy the book as it clearly stands on its own merits.) The book essentially explores the impact World War Two had on a set of characters whose lives are int ...more
Oct 06, 2015 Catie rated it it was amazing
I really really liked this book.

There were a few things that niggled, but they really weren't big enough to stop me saying that this is one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year.

(Also I found it much easier to pretend that none of the characters were related, because major squick factor otherwise. Do people still say squick? I am not down with the kids)

Anyway, if you like early-mid 20th century set novels among privileged youth, character driven novels, and double-timelines where we
Jul 28, 2015 Cecile rated it it was ok
Contrary to many novels written about WWII England, this book does not explore the sacrifices, altruism or acts of heroism by the general populace, but instead creates a completely different picture of the monied elite. And it's not a particularly kind or generous profile.

The writing style is somewhat peculiar as the story is told primarily through reflection of the past and rather stilted dialogue among and between characters. Wesley also uses her characters' thoughts, sometimes thoughts of mu
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Mary Wesley, CBE (24 June 1912 – 30 December 2002) was a English novelist. She reportedly worked in MI5 during World War II.[citation needed]During her career, she became one of Britain's most successful novelists, selling three million copies of her books, including 10 best-sellers in the last 20 years of her life.

She wrote three children's books, Speaking Terms and The Sixth Seal (both 1969) and
More about Mary Wesley...

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