I have been painfully making my way through Not Wisely, but too Well by Rhoda Broughton (there will be a review) and I needed something less joyless. I have read other Whipple novels – like this one or this one – and enjoyed them all plus as it has been a while since I had ordered any books from Persephone, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Here is the bit on the inside cover…
‘It is a preposterous play’ said Ambrose. ‘I am ashamed to be present at such a play with my wife.’
‘Oh, don’t worry about me,’ said Letty. ‘I know all of this and more.’
‘You know nothing,’ said Ambrose severely. ‘That’s the only redeeming feature of your appalling views. Ignorance. You’ve lived a sheltered life, thank goodness. But as a wife and a mother, you ought to uphold a strict moral standard whether you understand why or not.’
‘Not at a play! Not at a play!’ broke in Letty wildly.
She turned from him and pretended to be absorbed by watching the attendant with the tray of ices, but really she was saying to herself: ‘Oh, I’m tired of all you say. I’m tired even before you begin …’
Ambrose went on talking, but she did not listen. He gave her, more and more frequently, the same flat exhausted feeling she had when she tried to carry a mattress downstairs unaided.
This novel was beautifully written – it is about families, marriages, the choices we make (and living with those choices), the limited choices of a ‘good women’, parent/child relationships and our expectations. Louisa, the family matriarch, just wants everyone to be happy – from her son Charles – feckless, but charming. her unhappily married daughters (see it’s all about our choices), her companion Kate to her grand daughter Rachel – who might be the one to find happiness. It is a quite novel – lots of knitting and reading in the sitting room, but none the less full of desperation, despair. resentment, boredom and occasional moments of quite happiness.
It is worth reading for the beauty of the prose, the ordinary made extraordinary and for a portrayal of joyless unsuitable marriages (despite appearing to be successful from a worldly point of view).
More reviews …