To read a Mary Scott is to be immersed in a vanished world when every village has a post office which is not just the place to post letters but also where you pop along to when you need to make a phone call. In Scotland, there are still grocers, greengrocers and milk bars. Libraries still stamp the books and milkmen deliver bottles to the door. The lack of a pub can lead to a bit sly-grogging. Everyone smokes!
The language also seduces. Bad ‘uns are ‘rotten’ or, in extremis, ‘beastly swine’. Girls are very jolly and houses gay. Heroes apologise if they used strong language like damn and devil.
In many ways, these books are as light as soufflés; plots gossamer thin with the happily ever after guaranteed. Mary’s fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Yet to leave it there would be to do her a disservice. Her settings and characters are vibrantly portrayed and underneath the merry scenes runs a canny yet sympathetic understanding of the human condition with all its failings and foibles. It must be remembered that Mary was in her mid-sixties when she had her first best-seller and most of her novels were written in the following twenty years. Light they might be, but they are not foolish.
I’m an unabashed Scott fan and am delighted she found fame – and, I hope, fortune – writing humorous books about loveable characters in vivid settings. Her thirty-three novels form a valuable legacy, preserving a slice of New Zealand life forever. As Lydia Weaver rightly notes in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Mary “represents something rare in New Zealand literature: a highly successful, prolific, comic and realistic woman writer.”