I am an impatient woman. Incredibly impatient. This is largely inherited from my father, as most of my personality traits appear to be, (rather than the more placid temperament of my mother, whose legs I got instead, which, frankly, is a blessing I am grateful for every day) and also a legacy of being a lifelong Londoner, who walks at the speed of light, talks incomprehensibly fast and doesn’t understand people who feel the need to stop and look at things. Dawdlers, beware! if you come across me on the streets of this fine city – I will mow you down without a second thought, tutting loudly in the process.
What do my negative personality traits have to do with Ivy Compton Burnett? Well, I have discovered that Ivy is a writer for someone more of my mother’s persuasion, who takes time over things and isn’t in a rush to get stuff done. Someone who enjoys puzzling over who said what and can remember who someone with two nicknames is when they don’t appear for several pages. I am not this person. My initial thoughts on picking Pastors and Masters up off the shelf were ‘Fantastic, I can get this done in a day’ and ‘This should be a really easy read’. Both of these turned out to be complete errors of judgement and in fact I found it a horridly complicated and time consuming read that required the patience I don’t possess and also an ability to follow a conversation with no indication of who is speaking for pages on end, which I don’t think anyone should be asked to do. Casting my mind back to the first year of secondary school, I distinctly remember being told by my English teacher NEVER to write reported speech without indicating who the speaker is. Sage advice, and something I feel Ivy should have followed. It would have made this novel far more enjoyable and comprehendable. Also, I thoroughly enjoy feasting on description in novels; the surroundings of the characters, their clothes, the food they eat, their thoughts and feelings, and facial expressions. Ivy gives nothing of this away except for what the characters say about these matters, which, in most cases, is very little, and so, while her style is very good at revealing people’s characters through their speech, you never get to see their inner lives, and so we can never be sure if what they say is a true indication of their real selves anyway.
In short, Ivy and I didn’t get along. This really did disappoint me, as I had hoped I would ‘get’ her style and find in her a new author to enjoy, especially as we share our obscure alma mater which no one has ever heard of and I always like having a bit of a personal connection with a novelist. Loosely the plot involves the staff of a boy’s school and the family of two of the pupils, but as the entire novel consists of dialogue, most of which has little or no indication of which character it belongs to, and considering that for the majority of the time I had absolutely no idea what was going on, I’ve probably missed most of the plot. Simon’s review is far better than mine in that respect. It doesn’t help that I do most of my reading on the train to work, so it’s quite hard to read books like this that require such intense concentration. I did find it funny in parts – Mr Merry, one of the schoolmasters, was hilarious and very endearing, but I still don’t think I’ll be trying another Ivy any time soon. However, I’m glad I’ve given her a go, and I am very thankful to Hesperus Press who sent me this book via the Librarything Early Reviewers Programme. Its one redeeming feature is the book design, I have to say – the front cover is gorgeous, and it’s a little like Persephone in that it’s a heavy card paperback with front and end flaps, and lovely satiny feeling paper. Do check out Hesperus Press (their website is currently being redeveloped, so that’s a link to their titles on Amazon), as they have reprinted some really interesting looking titles. I’m particularly coveting this one.