The Tortoise and the Hare – Elizabeth Jenkins

I was keen to read this book because it was mentioned on Dovegreyreader and I do like a good 1950s domestic drama.

The blurb …

In affairs of the heart the race is not necessarily won by the swift and fair.

Imogen, the beautiful wife of a distinguished barrister Evelyn Gresham, is facing the greatest challenge of her married life. Their neighbour Blanche Silcox, competent, middle aged and ungainly – the very opposite of Imogen – seems to be vying for Evelyn’s attention. And to Imogen’s increasing distress, she may be succeeding.

The story is set just after World War Two. Imogen and Evelyn have a house in the country and a flat in London. Evelyn spends the week in London (working as a Barrister) and weekends in the country. They have one son, Gavin. Evelyn is a disciplined, hard-working man who wants his domestic life to run smoothly. Imogen is, however, forgetful and needs to be reminded about certain arrangements.

Then their is Blanche – a wealthy, middle aged neighbour. She is everything Imogen is not – organised, practical etc. She is definitely not the person one pictures as the mistress of a successful barrister. However, as Imogen’s friend Paul says

‘Are you sure you know what men fall in love with?’

Blanche insinuates herself into their lives – driving Evelyn to London, organising everything at both houses (things like gravel for the drive), joining Evelyn on his holiday with his colleagues (Imogen has never been invited). Imogen is terrified of upsetting Evelyn of annoying him. As her self confidence plummets, she becomes more and more withdrawn and Evelyn chooses to spend more time with Blanche. He chooses to become a paid border in Blanche’s London flat.

A crisis occurs at Gavin’s school. Evelyn’s presence is demanded by the head master, but he is in court and Imogen can’t bear the thought of interrupting him – she sends Paul instead. The crisis is averted.

At a later date Imogen tells Evelyn she didn’t know what to do or who to send. Evelyn suggests Blanche and Imogen has, what can only be called, a meltdown and all at once the marriage is over. Imogen has lost everything – including Gavin. Although we are made aware that the break up will affect Gavin in later years.

This is a beautifully written understated story that turns convention upside down. Women are encouraged to be like Imogen – beautiful, gentle compliant and helpful and yet it is the masculine, plain Blanche who wins the man’s affection.

I’m very keen to read more by Elizabeth Jenkins.

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