Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Witch of Exmoor – Margaret Drabble

As you know, I read Patterns in the Carpet  and really enjoyed it, so decided to read more Drabble.

I really struggled with this one. I had to renew my library copy (which is extremely unusual). I’m not sure if it was me or the book – I have been really busy…

Here is the blurb …

Freda Haxby is as famous for her writing as she is for her eccentricities. But for Daniel Palmer, Rosemary, Grace and their families, she is a monster mother. This is the story of an end-of-the-century family whose comfortable lives are disrupted by a succession of sinister events.

In this novel there is a lot of authorial intrusion. For example,

We are nearing the end. Soon we can go for the kill. Indeed, for the overkill. Frieda has killed Hilda, and we have killed Freida, and Benjamin has tried to kill himself. There will be one or two more deaths, but not many, some will survive.

I found this a bit annoying and distracting. The characters are very well-written, particularly Frieda, Benjamin and Emily. I can well imagine people having conversations about the ‘veil of ignorance’, earnestly trying to help people, but running out of patience and motivation. I want to say this is a novel for baby boomers or second wave feminists (you know the Germaine Greer generation), but that seems a bit flippant – maybe I should just say it doesn’t appeal to me.

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Because of the Lockwoods – Dorothy Whipple

This is my favourite Whipple to date.  I found this novel compelling reading when and how would Mr Lockwood’s fraud be discovered? What would happen to all of the Hunters? Whipple’s ability to write about ordinary people in an interesting manner is amazing. I find it difficult to understand why she is not more wildly known.

Here is the blurb …

Dorothy Whipple excels in her portrayal of family life and in her wise and humourous understanding of the many elements of character and personality that clash to make up a family. Her new book, while not a family chronicle in the accepted sense, is a subtle and convincing portrayal of character in a family setting and shows with delightful perception how the grown person can still be influenced by the events of childhood. In Thea, denied the easy way by the lack of financial security, readers will recognize one of Mrs Whipple’s best characters. In her mother and her brother and her sister; in the Lockwoods against whose patronage Thea so determinedly rebelled; in the frank forthright Oliver Reade, symbol of a new order of things, and in the vivid portrayal of English North Country and French Provincial life, readers of Mrs Whipple’s earlier novels, Greenbanks, They Knew Mr Knight and They Were Sisters to name a few, will immediately recognize that once again her charm and her humourous but acute acceptance of the strange twists of life and people have produced a story as enjoyable as any of its predecessors.

I do reveal a bit about the plot, so be warned. Mrs Hunter is hopeless completely incapable of organising her family and their affairs after the unexpected death of her husband. In step the Lockwoods. Mr Lockwood would rather not help and certainly helps with an ill-grace. The Hunters are made very aware of their reduced social standing (Mrs Hunter gets Mrs Lockwood’s cast off clothing and they are invited to look at the gifts the Lockwoods are giving other people). Molly is sent of to be a nursery maid – despite being obviously unsuited to the the position and Martin becomes a clerk at a bank (despite wanting to be a doctor). Thea is the only one who doesn’t think the Lockwoods are kind or generous. She hates their patronising  interference, but is at a loss as to how to resurrect her family’s fortune and respect. Ultimately Oliver is the one to provide the help and guidance the family need and Thea finds and opportunity for revenge and then regrets the impulse.

The best part of this novel are the wonderful characters – they are all complicated. Mr Lockwood could easily descend to a Mr Brocklehurst type villain, but we do ultimately feel sympathy for him. Thea is young and excitable, but she matures over the course of the novel and finally recognizes Oliver’s true worth.

This is definitely worth reading if you like domestic fiction or character driven fiction.

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The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

This was a book club selection – we occasionally like to try the Booker winner (2011).

Here is the blurb …

The story of a man coming to terms with the mutable past, Julian Barnes’s new novel is laced with his trademark precision, dexterity and insight. It is the work of one of the world’s most distinguished writers.

Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they swore to stay friends forever. Until Adrian’s life took a turn into tragedy, and all of them, especially Tony, moved on and did their best to forget.

Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a marriage, a calm divorce. He gets along nicely, he thinks, with his one child, a daughter, and even with his ex-wife. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove. The unexpected bequest conveyed by that letter leads Tony on a dogged search through a past suddenly turned murky. And how do you carry on, contentedly, when events conspire to upset all your vaunted truths?

This is a short novel and quite easy to read. I started to wonder about the nature of memory – is it reliable or faulty, but also about conflicting points of view and whose memory is the ‘correct’ memory. Early on Adrian says

“History is the certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

and that is what this novel is about. The writing is beautiful – I wish other authors could be as economical with their prose.

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