“When a Welsh person loves you, you’ll finally know how it feels to belong to poetry.” (Kamand Kojouri)

This is a contribution to Reading Wales 2022 aka the Dewithon, hosted by the lovely Paula over at Book Jotter. My VMC pile is reaching ridiculous proportions so I googled “Wales Virago” and was delighted to find that there were two authors I could take off the TBR for this year’s Dewithon.

Firstly, I chose Penelope Mortimer, as I’d enjoyed Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting and The Pumpkin Eater a great deal, finding her writing spiky and incisive. Mortimer was born in Rhyl, Flintshire and My Friend Says It’s Bullet-Proof (1967) was her sixth novel.

Muriel Rowbridge is a journalist on a trip to Canada, the only woman in a group of men, warned by her editor:

“Don’t go wandering off in one of your Virginia Woolf fits.”

She is very much the outsider, wanting to focus on her writing while the rest of her group view it as a bit of a jolly:

“they were pleased with themselves, thawing toward each other, throwing out remarks about wives, children, secretaries, which were immediately understood, as though they were giving a particular handshake or flicking back their lapels for identification.”

This is the working world of the 1960s, which we’re all familiar with from Mad Men at least. Her colleagues think it’s totally acceptable to comment on what she’s wearing and the attractiveness of her legs. Thankfully Muriel doesn’t spend much time with them, or indeed much time working. The trip is a time of reflection and recuperation for her, as she recovers from a mastectomy for breast cancer.

“How to deal with it, except with vague attempts at courage and acceptance, she had no idea.”

Although Penelope Mortimer did have lung cancer later in life, I’m not sure she had personal experience of breast cancer at this point. But I thought this was a sensitive exploration of a woman working out who she is after a life-changing experience. Muriel isn’t remotely self-pitying, but she does need to find self-compassion.

”the anger against herself raged brightly, a clear fire. She had never felt this anger before; she could never remember feeling it before. It was enlivening, making her very defined and sharp, as though she had become a weapon.”

She had left her married lover Ramsey when she was diagnosed, and he is back with his wife Flora, a situation neither Ramsey and Flora are sure they want. This led to some of the pithy observations on relationships between the sexes that I expect from Mortimer:

“Between us, he said, he was being eaten alive. If this was so, I don’t know why we were both starving.”

While in Canada, she meets Robert: “what had been an indeterminate distance between their hands, knees, faces, was now measured exactly: they were accessible to each other.”

While she feels ambivalent about their relationship, the sex does lead her towards a new acceptance of her changed body.

“She leant against the lift wall and slowly remembered the night; then realised that this was the first time she had woken, and dressed, without any sense of mourning.”

Amongst the sexist or paternalistic colleagues; the self-centred married lover; and the surgeon who possibly took an entire breast when a lumpectomy would suffice without considering what it would mean for Muriel, Robert is a reminder of what can be positive in male/female relationships. This doesn’t necessarily mean that its happily ever after either… Mortimer is determinedly realistic.  

I didn’t think My Friend Says Its Bullet-Proof was quite as strong as the other two Mortimers I’ve read, but it was an interesting examination of the choices available to women in the late 1960s. It questions how to navigate independence in a world that marginalises and objectifies you both professionally and personally.

Secondly, a new-to-me author despite the vast number of novels she wrote; Rhoda Broughton, who was born in Denbighshire. Belinda (1883) was written roughly in the middle of her career, and my edition tells me she was alongside Mary Braddon as ‘Queen of the Circulating Library’.

Belinda is a satire, but that double-edged royal appellation did make me wonder if it was always read as such. Maybe I’m doing the fare of circulating libraries down, but I would have thought a tale of simpering Victorian virgin lovers was more typical of their stock than a satire of such stories. Regardless, if you read it straightforwardly as a romance because that’s what you were looking for, or as a satire because you were sick of such stories, Belinda would deliver.

The titular heroine is in Germany with her feckless, charming sister Sarah at the start of the novel:

“Away they go to Moritzburg, when the noon sun is warm and high; away they go, handsome, gay, and chaperoneless. There is no reason why their grandmother, who is a perfectly able-bodied old lady, should not escort them; but as she is sixty-five years of age, has no expectation of meeting a lover, and is quite indifferent to spring tints and German Schlosses, she wisely chooses to stay at home.”

Sarah is hugely popular with young men and is on her seventh fiancée. Belinda is unpopular, except with student David Rivers (aptly named, as he’s totally wet). The sisters wonder if Belinda’s nose is behind her lack of societal success:

“It is not case of measurement,’ says Sarah gravely; ‘I have seen noses several hands higher that were not nearly so alarming. It is a case of feeling; somehow yours makes them feel small. Take my word for it,’ with a shrewd look, ‘the one thing that they never can either forgive or forget is to feel small’”

It isn’t Belinda’s nose, unsurprisingly; it’s her fairly dull personality and her social awkwardness, matched only by that of her love interest:

“Is it her fault that all strong emotion with her translates itself into a cold, hard voice, and a chill set face? With other women it translates itself into dimples and pink blushes and lowered eyes. Ah!  but do they feel as she does? Sarah, for instance. When do men ever leave Sarah’s company with the down- faced, baffled, white look with which Rivers has more than once quitted hers? Preening themselves rather; with sleeked feathers and cosseted vanity.”

As you can see from the quote above, Broughton uses Belinda to poke fun at romantic mores, the silliness of them and the uselessness of them. She demonstrates how those who cannot master the light-hearted conventions end up tied in knots.

“‘And you were — and you were — one of the heavenly host up there!’  ends the young man, baldly and stammering.    But love is no brightener of the wits.

One of the heavenly host?’  repeats she, justly infuriated at this stale comparison.  ‘An angel, in short!  Must I always be an angel, or a goddess?  If anyone knew how sick I am of being a goddess!  I declare I should be thankful to be called a Fury or even a Ghoul, for a change!’

So saying, she turns her shoulder peevishly to him; and leaving the garden, begins to walk quickly along the road by the water, as if to make up for her late loitering.  He keeps pace with her, dumb in snubbed contrition, stupefied by love and, unhappily for himself, fully conscious of it; burningly aware of the hopeless flatness of his last simile, and rendered by his situation quite incapable of redeeming it by any brighter sally.”

The course of true love inevitably does not run smooth for the young lovers – ‘twas ever thus. However, Belinda’s understandable frustration with Victorian female conventions leads her to make some very questionable choices. For those of you who have read Middlemarch, these questionable choices will be most familiar. I don’t know what Oxford Rector Mark Pattison did to the women writers of late Victorian society but whatever it was, he really, really annoyed them. He provided the model for Casaubon in Middlemarch and here he is rendered as Professor Forth:

“She had known that she did not love him, but she had not known that he wore carpet slippers in the drawing-room.”

Belinda is well-paced and witty, but I think I would have like the satire to be slightly more explicitly evoked. At one point there seemed a never-ending round of cheeks blushing, lips whitening, words stumbling… and a pretty major suspension of my disbelief that Belinda and Rivers could really be in love, given they had barely spoken to each other but only mumbled vaguely while experiencing various body temperature changes.

I would have liked a slightly sharper authorial voice, or more scenes with witty, pragmatic Sarah and the frankly reprehensible grandmother, with whom I could only agree when she observed:

“Belinda is too everything, except amusing.”

I did enjoy Belinda though, and there was broad comedy too, including some nice scenes with pug dogs, and with social bull-in-a-china-shop Miss Watson:

“I shall certainly mention it to his mother. Lady Marion, when next I meet her,’ says Miss Watson resolutely; I do not think it would be acting a friend’s part not to do so.  I do not actually know her, but there is a sort of connection between us; I was at school for six months once at Brussels with a cousin of hers, and there is no doubt that there is something uncommonly louche about it.’”

To end, the BAFTAs earlier this month featured a performance from an 85 year-old Welsh singer/legend:

“Writing fiction is an act of almost unreasonable empathy.” (Donal Ryan)

This is my final contribution to Reading Ireland Month 2022 aka The Begorrathon, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. It’s always a fantastic event and I’m so pleased to have taken part despite my reading and blogging capacity being very poor these days.

I’ve chosen two short novels that feature pretty unsympathetic protagonists. In both instances the writing was so good it kept me right alongside them, and maybe it’s the after-effects of covid (it probably is) but they both made me cry.

 Night Boat to Tangier (2019) is only 214 pages in my edition, with lots of dialogue and spaces on the page, yet it still manages to be a fully realised portrait of two men in middle age, coming to terms with regret.

Charlie and Maurice sit in the port of Algeciras looking for a young woman they expect to turn up there at some point:

“Two Irishmen sombre in the dark light of the terminal make gestures of long sufferance and woe – they are born to such gestures, and offer them easily.”

Quite quickly we realise that Charlie and Maurice are not to be messed with. They accost a young man named Benny and the threat they pose is both insidious and comic:

“The stories we could tell, Benny. Did you ever try and buy 350 goats off a fella in Marrakesh, did you?

On credit.

In a Cork accent.”

The narrative moves back and forth in time, and we learn how it is that these two men have ended up bound together, why one has a limp and the other a damaged eye, who the girl is they are looking for and how they made their money.

What I enjoyed was the affection the two men had for each other, as easily expressed as their violence.

“Is it me or was I something like a Matt Dillon-type in my younger days?

You were the bulb off him, Charlie. But come here.  Have you seen Mickey Rourke lately?

Think I saw him on the number eight going up MacCurtain Street. Top-right-hand seat, overhead the driver.

He’s after leaving himself go something shockin’.

He is, yeah. They nearly had to turf him off the number eight.”

That interaction reminded me of the easy, bordering surreal, dialogue in Roddy Doyle’s Two Pints novellas, but overall it was of Samuel Beckett that Night Boat put me in mind. The two males waiting for someone without knowing when they will arrive, the nihilism and humour, a sense of despair and endurance of hope…

But Night Boat is absolutely its own story. Barry brilliantly evokes the two men as they are in 2018 and as they were in the late 90s/early 00s, showing how their life choices caused such pressure that it took all their strength not to fracture irrevocably. Charlie and Maurice are not very commendable but neither are they one-dimensional baddies. They are deeply flawed and also deeply vulnerable.

Barry writes simply but also has some startling turns of phrase:

“Charlie’s smile is, of its own right, an enlivened thing. It travels the terminal as though disembodied from him. It leaves a woven lace of hysterical menace in its wake.”

To me Night Boat is ripe for adaptation, so I googled and apparently Michael Fassbender has acquired the rights. Intriguing…

“A troubled silence descends – the old times are shifting again; they are rearranging like faultlines.”

Secondly, All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan (2016). I only started reading Ryan a few years ago but he’s quickly become one of my favourite authors. He writes beautifully, but with a pared-back style, and he always demonstrates such compassionate understanding. I thought his quote about this quality was a suitable title for this post about questionable characters.

Melody Shee narrates the story, and she is not a sympathetic character, as she tells us from the off:

‘Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He’s seventeen, I’m thirty-three. I was his teacher. I’d have killed myself by now if I was brave enough.”

The novel follows Melody from twelve weeks of pregnancy through to giving birth, as she reflects on her adolescence and early marriage, her relationship with her parents and her history of appalling decision-making.

Her mother was probably depressed, although this is never said, and had a difficult relationship with Melody’s father, which Melody emulated to try and please her mother. She feels guilty about this now, as her father is possibly the nicest man ever:

“There’s no kindness in me. I can feel it, and think about it, but I can never act it, or be it, the way my father is, the way he’s selfless without effort, a man who has kindness in the marrow of his bones, a soul with barely a blemish.”

She married Pat, her childhood sweetheart, and they seem to have spent most of their time verbally destroying one another:

“The boy who’d grown to adulthood beside me, curled around me, stunting himself, stunting me, a twisted tangle of boughs, hunched and bowed and facing inwards.”

“We merged over time into one person, I think, and it’s easy to be cruel to oneself.”

The pregnancy due to another man is the final straw, and they break up, leaving Melody alone in the house, in a town where everyone knows each other’s business. She finds herself strongly drawn to Mary Crothery, a Traveller woman who, although she lives with her family, is somewhat ostracised from her community. As Melody teaches Mary to read, the two form a close bond, and it’s this that pushes the narrative forward as they both anticipate and cope with life-changing events.

Alongside the current day pregnancy and this relationship with Mary, Melody recalls the heart-breaking story of her childhood best friend, Breedie Flynn. While as a reader it is possible to see the cruelty of young adults who don’t comprehend the damage they are doing as unthinking, it is still an all too believable tragedy, and Melody’s intense guilt and grief don’t seem at all misplaced.

Ryan has made a brave choice in centring a woman who has wreaked so much damage on other people’s lives. But Melody isn’t remotely self-pitying or self-justifying, and in a wholly misguided way, she tries to do better. What I haven’t captured here is that she and Mary are both very funny. Melody literally screaming her frustrations at small town judgement and gossip, and Mary’s snarky asides lift the story and stop it being bleak. It’s not depressing, it’s human and messy and there’s sadness and cruelty and love.

I adore Donal Ryan’s writing and even if this story doesn’t appeal, I’d urge you to seek out his work. His writing is so sensitive and precise, and so readable.

“I’m frightened about what will reach my father’s ears, and how his heart will speed and slow in worry and fear, and how he’ll want to help but won’t know how, so will stand at the window, and watch the weather, and wait.”

To end, Cathy’s post about her favourite Irish films reminded me how much I love The Commitments and hadn’t watched it in years – something being stuck on the sofa with covid gave me a chance to remedy. Robert Arkins, who played Jimmy Rabbitte, sang a few songs on the soundtrack, but wasn’t shown singing in the film. I thought he did a great version of Slip Away, but I couldn’t find decent footage of that, so here he is singing Treat Her Right:

“Serious fiction is a dream which can become a nightmare.” (Brian Moore)

Thank you to everyone who left kind comments last week. Covid is dragging on with me but I do seem to be slowly improving – it’s not been great, despite my being tripled vaxxed (and very careful). I sincerely hope you all stay safe and well. Here is my second contribution to Reading Ireland Month 2022 aka The Begorrathon, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. Do join in with the event if you can!

My choice this week was inspired by the Brian Moore at 100 readalong which Cathy also hosted throughout last year. I really wanted to join in, but my reading was pitiful. It’s not massively improved now to be honest, but it has improved enough that I was finally able to pick up this lovely hardback edition out of the TBR pile:

The only other Brian Moore I’ve read was The Colour of Blood, which I didn’t massively get on with. I didn’t dislike it, and I could tell it was really well written, but I just didn’t connect with it. All the Brian Moore love during last year’s event persuaded me to give him another try and I’m so glad I did. I Am Mary Dunne (1968) was an expertly written, engaging read and a complex character portrait.

We spend a day with the titular 32-year-old narrator, and it’s a bad day she’s having. A receptionist at her hairdressers asks for her name and she finds it escapes her. This sends her into a spiral of anxiety and reminiscences.

“When people say they remember everything that happened in their lives, they’re deceiving themselves. I mean if I were to try and tell anyone the story of my life so far, wouldn’t it come out as fragmentary and faded as those old snapshot albums, scrapbooks, and bundles of letters everyone keeps in some bottom drawer or other?”

She has been married three times, changing her name each time. With each of her husbands, escape seems to be motivating factor driving the marriage. She marries Jimmy in order to leave Canada and escape her home; she marries Hat to escape Jimmy; and she marries Tee because she wants to escape Hat, although with her third husband she also finds love and sexual satisfaction.

The narrative is fragmented, flicking back and forth between her past and present. We gradually piece together her life but Mary remains somewhat unknowable. Her husbands and her friend Janice – with whom she rows in restaurant – are more fully realised.  It’s a really clever piece of writing by Moore, where as readers we don’t get to know Mary despite the first-person narrative, because she doesn’t know herself.

“ ‘You’re an ingenue type.’ It was my acting epitaph, although I did not know it at the time. And in real life it’s no different. I play an ingenue role, with special shadings demanded by each suitor.”

Mary is attractive and Moore demonstrates how her physicality means people project their fantasies on to her. Because Mary is so obscure to herself, she easily gets lost in other people’s versions of her. She believes her first husband when he calls her insatiable, and she believes her second husband when he says she is a cold virgin. She accepts an older woman with a crush calling her Maria and attempting a Pygmalion scenario, and a full obliteration of her name through her third marriage “I am introduced to everyone as Mrs Terence Lavery”.

But Mary is not wholly sympathetic. She doesn’t always behave well, or kindly. She uses derogatory terms that I’m pretty sure would have been outdated and offensive in 1968. She sheds friends like she sheds identities. She changes people’s names too: Jimmy, Hat, and Tee are her husbands’ abbreviated names; the older Miss MacIver becomes Mackie. A man with a long-standing crush is amazed she doesn’t remember a nickname she gave him.

Mary refers frequently to an evil twin throughout the day, the part of her that behaves badly which she attributes to PMS. She says things she doesn’t mean and shakes uncontrollably. Part of the ambiguity around Mary is that by the end of the novel, I didn’t know if she was having a really bad day compounded by PMS (or PMDD); or whether she was seriously unwell. I did enjoy this bitchy thought that popped into her head about the portraits in her husband’s study:

“When I think of it, the arrogance of a man who could do the trivial work he does under the scrutiny of the likes of Tolstoy and Yeats. Proust gave up a world for his work. Terence wouldn’t even give up a party.”

I Am Mary Dunne sees the narrator having an existential crisis, fearing obliteration without any idea of who is being obliterated.

“I am beginning to die because some future me cannot keep me in mind.”

Yet I didn’t feel particularly hopeful by the end that the assertion in the novel’s title was any further realised than at the start of the story. It wasn’t a depressing tale, but Mary still seemed to have no idea of who she was. It was one of those stories that left me wondering what happened the next day, after the novel finished…

“I am no longer Mary Dunne, or Mary Phelan, or Mary Bell, or even Mary Lavery. I am a changeling who has changed too often and there are moments when I cannot find my way back.”

To end, a song about shifting identities by a master of reinvention:

“Idleness is an appendix to nobility.” (Robert Burton)

A little while ago I saw an epidemiologist on tv saying that eventually everyone will have had covid. And I thought, ‘no thank you all the same’, and carried on distancing as far as I could and wearing a mask. You can guess what’s happened, Reader. This post is brought to you from my covid-addled brain, apologies in advance if it’s even more waffly and incoherent than usual…

This is a contribution to Reading Ireland Month 2022 aka The Begorrathon, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. It’s a great event so do join in if you can!

I’ve chosen two late novels by Molly Keane for this post and I really enjoyed revisiting this author who isn’t like anyone else. Her evocation of moneyed families in early twentieth-century Ireland is so deeply strange and disturbing, I always feel a sense of trepidation opening one of her stories…

Good Behaviour was published in 1981, when Keane had not published a novel for 29 years and nothing at all since the play Dazzling Prospect 20 years earlier. It was a huge success and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It is a blistering, dark comedy of manners, perfectly paced and sharply observed.

It begins:

“Rose smelt the air, considering what she smelt; a miasma of unspoken criticism and disparagement fogged the air between us.”

I knew from that line that I’d love Good Behaviour, and now having finished the novel I can say it sets up the story and themes brilliantly: the domestic setting, sense of things rotting, the odd power dynamics, the uneasy roles, the undercurrents of anger.

Someone dies early on, in a way that leaves the reader uncertain as to how far they were nudged towards it, and this sense of not quite trusting that we are being given the full story continues as we are taken back in time by Aroon St Charles, daughter of an aristocratic family living in Temple Alice, a decaying pile, with her indifferent mother and philandering father.

“Behind him the green luminous gloom of glass within glass retreated inside the doors of a breakfront cabinet that filled one end of the dining room. Mummie had lined it with grey linen, so that all the glass objects floated and were lost in its spaces. It was like water or air at his back, as though the end wall were open to air or water. The austere outdoor look I knew had melted from him into the air, like the glass in the cupboard. Sitting there, he seemed extraordinarily dulled, dulled and happy.”

The novel is Aroon describing her childhood and early adulthood amongst the trappings of her class in 1920s Ireland. This being Keane, of course there is hunting and horses, but aside from a few pages where I thought the litany of dead animals was never going to end, it wasn’t too bad for squeamish readers such as myself.

Aroon does not fit in: she is not her adored brother Hubert; she is not physically adept; she is not charming and witty; and she is not beautiful. She enjoys food and is tall, in a time where women were expected to be flat-chested and dainty. She is not rich and so no men are interested in her. Her father likes her but is absent in various different ways throughout her life; her mother is at best indifferent to her but often mentally abusive.

“I turned away, my loneliness walking with me, taller than my own height as a shadow is tall – and irremediable as my height was.”

Aroon is a complex creation. At times I felt she couldn’t possibly be as naïve as her narration would have us believe. Did she really think the housekeeper was rubbing her father’s missing leg under the bedclothes to relieve phantom pain? Does she really not realise her brother is gay and his best friend is his lover? Does she really think she is concussed rather than completely sloshed? This isn’t me viewing it with twenty-first century eyes; other characters are perfectly aware of her father’s behaviour, the full extent of the housekeeper’s role, and her brother’s sexuality. They try to tell her but she doesn’t hear it and blunders on regardless.

Whether or not Aroon is an unreliable narrator or just hopelessly naïve, this characterisation is a master-stroke by Keane in balancing out the pitch black comedy of Good Behaviour. Aroon’s voice is so credulous, the novel written with such a light touch, that it means you whizz through the story without becoming hopelessly depressed at how grim Aroon’s situation is or how deeply unpleasant many of the people are. Good Behaviour is both eminently readable and deeply disturbing.

Queen Lear (also known as Loving and Giving, which I tell you so you don’t make the same mistake as me and end up blissfully unaware that you own two copies of the same novel) was published in 1988. Like Good Behaviour it features a female protagonist, Nicandra (named after her father’s favourite horse “the first Nicandra”), daughter of gentry, lonely and unhappy.

The story opens with eight-year-old Nicandra doing a round of the enormous home she lives in, visiting her parents and servants, barely tolerated by all. Again, the opening is lovely piece of scene-setting, telling the reader all we need to know about the characters and setting.

Nicandra’s mother is glamorous and engaging, and entirely uninterested in her daughter:

“When she was absent, the shadow of her presence was the assurance of a world of love. To earn her displeasure was to forgo all delight; through the days Nicandra devised love tokens, as much to stimulate interest towards herself as to express her deep affection.”

In one particularly unpleasant scene, Maman ties Nicandra to a chair, not to be released until she eats the cold spinach she hates. Her Aunt Tossie rescues her, much to Nicandra’s dismay, who was trying to psych herself up to eating the spinach and making this sacrifice for her mother.

In a novel full of selfish, unpleasant people, Aunt Tossie was the nearest I got to actually liking someone:

“She enjoyed nearly everything, even widow’s weeds, as her married life had not been as exciting as she might have wished”

That day, her mother runs off with one of the servants. She doesn’t say goodbye to her child, and no-one explains to Nicandra what has happened.

“Whatever it was that had come over her family today, Nicandra could not guess at. She had done her utmost to excite, please, soothe, serve; yet everything had gone awry. Pigeons, butterfly, bantams, Maman, Aunt Tossie – she had given her all to each, only Dada was left.”

From these inauspicious beginnings, the novel jumps forward to Nicandra as a young woman in the interwar years. Unsurprisingly, she has grown up naïve and desperate for love. She remains almost wilfully blind to everyone else’s relentless self-focus, to the extent where it’s hard to feel for her. She seems so determinedly oblivious as to be as self-obsessed as everyone else.  

There are also repeated references to her childhood bullying of Silly-Willie, a child on the estate who initially seems to have learning difficulties, expressed in the derogatory terms of the 1920s/1930s. Despite these prejudices, he grows up to essentially run the entire estate – albeit in a dilapidated condition due to Dada racing through money. Nicandra struggles with this arrangement as “a little incident” between them, buried in the past, is something she feels extremely uncomfortable about.

Nicandra of course falls for the first charming bounder to show her any interest, desperately seeking his love as she once did her mother’s, with about the same level of reciprocity.

“Although in manners bound, he held and played with her hand for the rest of the drive home, he felt he could have done instead with a nice talk about hunting.”

With very little else to occupy her, Nicandra marries Andrew. He enjoys her beauty and money, as well as an affair with her best friend Lal (this isn’t really a spoiler as the prospect is introduced almost simultaneously with the awful characters).

There are some very nasty elements for a novel titled Loving and Giving:  the bullying, and Andrew’s crass and cruel suggestion of how Nicandra should procure money from her family for an abortion (that she doesn’t want) “say it’s to drain the West Bog”. Repulsive.

What stops Loving and Giving from being absolutely relentlessly bleak in its portrayal of “cheap and amusing” lives where “tragedy gets tidied away” is the humour. We aren’t supposed to take these characters particularly seriously, or think that they are admirable or lead remotely useful lives. I particularly liked this pithy comment on the butler’s behaviour:

“the slight upwards twist he gave to the bottle took the place of the wry smile he would never allow himself to give”

And this observation on family politics:

“Properly speaking, Aunt Tossie should have presented Nicandra at court, which she would have greatly enjoyed doing. Dada, however, raised every obstacle and objection he could think of to baulk this plan because, as he put it, (only to himself), the dear old girl might feel her oats and something unfortunate could happen.”

Molly Keane is pretty blistering in her characterisation of the upper classes and in portraying the lives they live. Her novels are almost Gothic – certainly there are ruined buildings, hauntings from the past, almost ghoulish characters – but no supernatural elements. I enjoy her original phrasing and sharp observation, I even enjoy her awful characters (some of them anyway) when I’m in the right mood. I do find I need a palate cleanser afterwards though!

To end, a song about a family house, albeit a very different one to the those which Keane’s characters live in, and which provided the title of last week’s post: