Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon

This is about to be republished by Persephone and I think it will be the most modern of their novels. Published in the 1980’s, I just so happened to find a copy secondhand a while back, and picked it up after reading a story about a boy who disappeared in New York in the 80’s and was never found. It’s interesting that Persephone has chosen to reprint a book that is so recent in comparison to their others; they have become synonymous, for me, anyway, with mainly mid century novels by authors who were popular but have sunk into obscurity, and Still Missing doesn’t fit this mould at all. However, on opening it, I found it to be quintessentially ‘Persephone’ in its exploration of the marriage of Susan Selky, her role as a mother, her emotions, and her relationships with those around her, and with herself. It is a startlingly good novel; beautifully and realistically written, powerfully moving, and excellently characterised and plotted. I was so drawn into the story that I could hardly bear to put it down, and it moved me to tears in several places. Don’t be put off by its seeming incongruity amongst the usual fare of the Persephone catalogue; it fully deserves to be there, and I can’t understand why Beth Gutcheon hasn’t had more success or fame. A common lament amongst us Persephone readers about its authors, I fear!

Susan Selky is a Harvard English professor, living comfortably in Boston’s Back Bay neighbourhood with her almost seven year old son Alex. She is recently separated from her husband Graham, a fellow English professor, who has been consistently unfaithful. Despite this they are still close and Susan is far from moving on from him. It is a sunny summer’s morning when Susan, as usual, watches Alex walk to the corner of their street on his way to school; it is only two blocks away from their front door and Susan has allowed Alex to walk alone for quite some time. He is a sensible and reliable boy, and Susan has never had any concern for his safety. Returning home from work later that day, Susan becomes anxious when Alex doesn’t return home and calls her good friend Jocelyn, whose daughter is in Alex’s class, to check whether he is playing at her house. Susan’s blood runs cold when Jocelyn’s daughter tells her that Alex never showed up at school that day. Moments later the police have arrived, and Susan’s worst nightmare begins. Her beloved little boy is missing, and she has no idea where he is, or whether he is dead or alive.

The lead Detective on the case, Detective Menetti, assures Susan that children just do not disappear without a trace, and that Alex will undoubtedly be back with them by that evening. But as the hours go into days, and the days into weeks, and the weeks into months, with no sign of Alex, the only person with any hope that Alex is still alive is Susan. Her husband Graham moves back into the family home, but their relationship is pushed to breaking point by Susan’s inability to accept that Alex is not coming back. Graham has given up hope, and when a friend of the family is arrested for Alex’s murder, Susan’s refusal to believe that he did it and that Alex is dead infuriates Graham, as well as everyone else who knows her. Her friends stop calling; they can’t deal with Susan’s pain and her insistence that everyone is wrong about Alex. Even the loyal and conflicted Detective Menetti, one of the standout characters in the book, is becoming frustrated with Susan’s phone calls about what, as far as he and the rest of the police department is concerned, is a closed case. Susan is unable to go back to a ‘normal’ life; her perceptions of everyone around her and everything she does have been permanently changed. Friends she thought she could trust have turned their backs on her; Graham has given up on their son, something Susan can’t understand; and everyone who wants to get involved with the case seems to have their own agenda. Susan’s struggle to have her voice heard and to recover a sense of her life without her son in it is painful to read, but it’s also a powerful exploration of love, loss, and the devastation grief can bring to an otherwise ordinary life.

What I loved most about this book is how real, and how emotive, it was. Beth Gutcheon perfectly describes how suddenly a life can go from being normal and uneventful to being ripped apart from the core, with no way back to that previous normality. Susan is a wonderful character, whose strength throughout her ordeal lies in her hope and belief in her son, and in her firm conviction that she would know in her heart if he was dead. This mother love overpowers all sense and all other relationships in her life, pushing away her husband and her friends, who quickly tire of having to be around someone whose life is now defined by the pain of losing her son. The selfishness of her friends was difficult to read; at first they are all there with offers of help and support, but their own lives soon take over, and before long they start criticising Susan for her negative attitude. They resent her for not responding to their attempts at ‘helping’, and then drift off to live their own lives, bored of being associated with a woman who can’t deal with the fact that her son is, to them, anyway, clearly dead. This is all too easy to do; people can only bear so much of another person’s suffering, after all, but I found it so poignant that it was only in her time of desperate need that Susan realised how empty so many of the relationships in her life had always been, and how little she knew the people she thought she was closest to.

This is an emotional, and at times frustrating read, but it is, overall, a magnificently written novel about the unravelling of one ordinary woman’s life, that you definitely don’t need to be a parent to relate to and empathise with. It is so much more than just the story of a missing boy, and Gutcheon’s insights into relationships and grief and the true nature of people’s hearts is what made this such a gripping and excellent read for me, and reminded me very much of that other Persephone favourite, Dorothy Whipple. A must read; and, according to the website, it’s out tomorrow in lovely Persephone grey livery!

FINALLY: The winner of Foreclosed is A Bookish Space! Congratulations! Email me your address and I’ll send it out asap.

The Victorian Chaise Longue by Marghanita Laski

What a bizarre little book this was! I’ve had it on the teetering TBR pile for almost a year…I bought it in a charity shop in Richmond when visiting Ham House last Spring, but came across mixed reviews that put me off reading it straight away. However, sometimes books just jump out at me and this week The Victorian Chaise Longue managed to leap the highest and gained my immediate attention. I feel a bit ambivalent about it, a couple of days after finishing. It wasn’t spectacular, but then it wasn’t bad, either; I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. After reading and adoring Little Boy Lost last year, I was expecting it to pack a bit more of a punch, if I’m honest.

The book is about Melanie, a recovering TB sufferer, who lives in a nice house in London with her handsome husband and baby son in the early 20th century. She is pampered, surrounded by prettiness and luxury and adoration and she is almost ready to resume normal life again after being in bed for quite some time. On the day the book opens, Melanie is allowed to leave her bed at last, and is carefully placed on a beast of a piece of furniture; a heavy, rose-embroidered Victorian chaise longue, to enjoy the sun streaming through the windows of her pretty living room and feel part of the goings on of the house. As she drifts off to sleep on the chaise longue, some sort of odd time shift appears to happen, and Melanie wakes up in a completely different body in the past, still lying on the chaise longue. Terrifyingly, Melanie is now considered to be Milly, a dying TB sufferer, who is too weak to even raise her head.

Melanie, as Milly, finds herself passive and helpless, in a body that can no longer function properly. She is cloistered in a hot, smelly room and closely monitored by her sister, Adelaide, who seems to hold some sort of grudge against Milly for something she has done wrong. At first Melanie is horribly confused and at a loss to understand anything; she doesn’t recognise her surroundings or the people around her, and she is convinced she must be dreaming. However, as time goes on, she realises that this is no dream, and most frightening of all, she starts to notice her thoughts and words begin to echo those of Milly and become less and less like hers. She recognises things, knows things, and feels instinctively emotional towards people, all of which, if she were Melanie in someone else’s body, she shouldn’t know or recognise or feel at all. This leaves Melanie, and the reader, wondering; where does Melanie end and Milly begin? Has Melanie been absorbed into Milly? Will Melanie ever be herself again? Or was she ever real in the first place?

It is a very clever exploration of the woman’s role in Victorian society, of her restrictions and reliance on the world of men, and how this role changed  so rapidly from the turn of the century onwards. The chaise longue is a metaphor for the perceived notion of female as weak, passive, idle; needing a ‘lie down’ in the afternoons on her special sofa. Milly embodies the entrapment women in Victorian times experienced, and this is also physically manifested in the hot, airless room she is forced to lie in, too weak to even lift her own head, and at the mercy of those around her. What, for Melanie, is insufferable and stifling is normality for Milly, who has no free will and no ability to make choices for herself. When she manages to muster the strength to speak to the men who could have power to help her, they dismiss her as a silly girl who must submit herself to their superior knowledge. Melanie, on the other hand, cosseted and pampered in her modern day world, has been given all the freedoms entitled to women, and Milly’s situation terrifies her in its helplessness. However, what Melanie fails to see is how similar they are; they are both lying on the chaise longue, both of their lives revolving around men. While Milly cannot help but have her life controlled by men and the social standards men have created, Melanie has had the choice to be an independent woman, and yet she denies it, preferring to be treated as a delicate, decorative object rather than a person with a mind and will of her own. She is a coquette, a flirt, an ultra feminine wide eyed delicate thing, who seeks men’s attention and protection, and has no real role outside of it, rendering her, in a way, equally as powerless as Milly.

It’s a small book with a powerful message and a very interesting plot that has no simple conclusions or satisfactory, neat ending, but it did come across as a little bit too much of an attempt to make a point about female subordination to me. While something along the lines of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper tackles the same themes of male domination over women and female madness, it manages to somehow be different, more menacing, more immediate, than The Victorian Chaise Longue. Perhaps, because Gilman was writing from the point of view of being in a society that devalued women and marked those who dared to be different with the label of ‘insane’, there is more of an urgency and terror about her words, which is something Laski, from her modern perspective, doesn’t quite manage to create. Ultimately, while I was fascinated by this very different and clever story, I was left cold and uncaring towards the characters; Melanie’s lack of spine made me not care less whether she remained trapped in the past or not, which I suspect was not the reaction Laski was aiming for. However, she has done an excellent job of creating a claustrophic and cloying atmopshere throughout the book, which did make me physically feel the real sense of entrapment that Melanie and Milly were suffering. Despite my reservations, it is a good book and I do recommend it, but don’t expect the same brilliance and emotion that you’ll find in the superb Little Boy Lost.

Finally, the winner of The Diary of Miss Idilia is…Heather! Email me your address (my email’s on the About Me page) and I’ll get it sent out to you!

They Knew Mr Knight by Dorothy Whipple…and giveaway winners!

Everyone knows that I love Dorothy Whipple. I wish she was still alive so that she could write more books and I could meet her in person and tell her how wonderful I think she is. But sadly she is not, and I am swiftly running out of new books of hers to read. I don’t want to ever lose the sense of excitement I get when I pick up a new novel of hers, so I am rationing myself. That’s also why I have never read my volume of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan and The Watsons…I can’t bear to have read everything and never be surprised and delighted by new characters again.

But I digress. I chose They Knew Mr Knight for the V&A’s Staff Book Group’s January read. Many of the group members had never heard of Persephone books and none had heard of Dorothy Whipple (apart from Bloomsbury Bell, of course). As Winston Churchill said, With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility; very wise, I think, and applicable to my situation; with the power of choosing what other people are reading, comes the responsibility of ensuring it is something people will enjoy reading, or at least enjoy discussing. Therefore I began reading with anticipation, but also slight worry, in case They Knew Mr Knight wasn’t as good as her previous books, and all of the Book Group rounded on me with angry stares and shaking fists because I made them waste a week of their reading lives on a book they thought was awful. I needn’t have worried, because Dorothy has well and truly delivered the goods, yet again, with this wonderful novel.

They Knew Mr Knight opens on the peaceful world of Celia and Thomas Blake, who live in a northern manufacturing town with their three teenage children. Thomas is a kind, quiet man; he takes pride in providing for his family and has dreams of becoming prosperous enough to give them all the things they dream of, like holidays and a car. Celia is gentle, loving, and delights in the simple things of life. She cares for her children and husband deeply, and always tries to do kindnesses to others.The family have a fairly comfortable lifestyle, but as with all of us, money is frequently tight, especially as Thomas is responsible for looking after his elderly mother, spinster sister, unwisely married sister, and feckless brother on top of his wife and children. Thomas works at Blake’s, an ironworks that used to belong to his father and grandfather, but was sold off when he was 17 to pay his father’s debts. This is something that has long bothered Thomas; he hates to work as a mere employee, when in his mind, he should be the owner of the works. When he is given the opportunity to buy the works, he starts thinking of ways in which he can cobble together the money to do so. As luck would have it, Thomas makes a chance encounter with a local billionaire (in our modern money) financier, Mr Knight. Thomas saves him from slipping down the stairs at the station one morning, and he is then invited to take the train with him up to town. During this journey the two strike up a friendship, and it isn’t long before Mr Knight has come up with a scheme to provide Thomas with the money to buy the works.

Now the owner of Blake’s, Thomas is finding his financial situation a lot easier. And Mr Knight has taken him under his wing, passing more and more opportunities for Thomas to make easy money in various schemes. Celia is uneasy with Thomas’ ways of making money, but she loves him, and trusts him, and so the family soon begin to bask in the comfort of having more money than they could ever have imagined. Thomas loves being able to provide all of the material things he wanted to give his family, and no matter how much money he is making, he is always thinking of more he could gain. Celia enjoys being able to treat herself without worrying, and do simple things like have fancier evening meals. Before they know it, they have moved to a new, bigger house, and they are part of the town’s highest society. Mr Knight’s wife, Maudie, is a frequent visitor, and she takes a special interest in the Blake’s eldest daughter, Freda, bringing her along to society parties and encouraging her to mix with wealthy and titled people her age. The pinnacle comes when Mr Knight decides to leave town, and he invites Thomas to buy his beautiful house, Field Place, that Celia has coveted ever since she first cast her eyes on it. From the outside, their lives could not be more perfect.

But, throughout all of this upward mobilisation, the heart of the family seems to have shifted. Thomas’ attention is no longer directed towards Celia and their children; it is focussed only on the stock market and the next step up the ladder of prosperity. The children have all had their heads turned and their hearts destroyed in some way by the trappings of wealth. Celia, despite being surrounded by all the material wealth she has ever desired, and the house of her dreams, is desperately unhappy, bored and fearful that the man she fell in love with has gone from her forever. The endless, grasping pursuit of wealth and position has brought the family nothing but unhappiness and heartache, and when the sand they have built their new lives upon starts to shift beneath them, they realise just how far removed they have become from the people they once were.

They Knew Mr Knight is, in short, terrific. There is an undercurrent of menace the whole way through, as Thomas’ financial speculations become riskier and riskier; it is clear that at some point, the bubble has got to burst. This tension kept me on the edge of my seat, and I was desperately worried for the family, knowing that something awful had to be coming. It is powerful in showing how much value people put on material things, without realising the truly important treasures in life. Celia’s deep unhappiness as she becomes richer demonstrates how the soul needs love, friendship, laughter and security to flourish; these are all the gifts Celia had before Thomas even met Mr Knight, but it took her nearly losing them all to realise just how much they meant to her. By the end, the family have been broken, but they are beginning the process of being put back together again; they have learnt that money is not the answer to their problems, and that only in loving and supporting one another can they grow to achieve their potential and true happiness. This message is illustrated by the journey of Edward, Thomas’s pain of a younger brother, as he goes from being a depressed, aimless waste of space at the beginning of the novel to a devoted husband and father and a prosperous businessman by the end; all it took for him to become fulfilled and successful was feeling valued and loved for the first time, when he met the woman who would become his wife. Whipple makes it clear that the security of a loving family is all that is important in life, and the unhappiness and superficiality in the lives of the rich characters only serves to highlight this even more.

This is just the sort of novel I adore; it is about ordinary life, and nothing particularly exciting happens, but in its simplicity of plot, there is a characterisation that is second to none, and a profundity and beauty in its descriptions of the human soul that I have rarely found elsewhere. I can’t recommend it highly enough; Dorothy Whipple really saw people, and she had the tremendous gift of being able to transfer what she saw into the written word. Read as much of her as you can; she will inspire you to take joy in the simple, beautiful things of life, and that is why I always close her books feeling a happier and more hopeful person.

FINALLY, the winners of the Richard Yates giveaway, generated from a random number generator, are as follows:

Disturbing the Peace: Claire of Kiss a Cloud
Revolutionary Road: Miss M who posted as Anonymous

Congratulations! Please email me to let me know your addresses and I’ll send them off to you as soon as I can!

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

Well what can be said? What can be said about a book that makes you want to reach in and scoop up the characters and cuddle them and tell them everything is going to be alright in a few pages, they just need to hold on a little bit longer? What can be said about a book that has you longing for a conclusion that you are afraid is never going to come? What can be said about a book that makes you emotional and maternal and weepy and a little bit shaky? What can be said?!

I am tearing up a little bit just remembering the conclusion of this marvellous, unputdownable read. I was sitting on the train and staring out of the window, blinking back my over emotional delicate lady tears and thinking why did it take me so long to discover this remarkable book? I’ve known about it for ages and ages and I have heard great things about it from many people whose opinions I trust. What prevented me from reading it was that I had read a bit of The Victorian Chaise Longue, thought it was alright but it didn’t grip me, and then decided that all her books were going to be like that so I wouldn’t bother with her others unless someone bought me a copy. What a bad judgement I made! I have learned my lesson well and truly, because Marghanita Laski just rocketed up my favourite authors list and The Village is going to be my next read after a couple of others that I am supposed to be reading first (yes, yes, one of them is The Children’s Book, I said I’d read it and I will…next week…).

So I have Jane over at FleurFisher Reads to thank for picking me as the winner of her Persephone Week Prize Draw and sending me Little Boy Lost as my prize (picture shows the lovely card she sent too), because if she hadn’t have done so, I probably wouldn’t have read it for years and what a world of emotional torment I would have been missing out on if I had have waited that long! I gasp at the thought!

I’m sure you all know the basic plot of this but I’ll rehash it anyway just in case. Hilary is an English intellectual, battered emotionally by the fallout of World War II; his beautiful and much beloved Polish wife, Lisa, was killed by the Gestapo in Paris and his son, whom he only saw briefly just after he was born, is missing, lost somewhere in France. Hilary is afraid of emotion and of love; he doesn’t want to give anything of himself to anyone, or dwell on the past, because he doesn’t want to risk being hurt again. This makes him come across as cold and unfeeling, but he’s not, not at all; he has just built barriers around his heart to protect himself from feeling the pain of losing someone he loves all over again. This would be enough to make most women’s hands go to their hearts and sigh but…there is yet more to come. On Christmas Day after the war has ended, a mysterious Frenchman by the name of Pierre comes to Hilary’s door and asks to speak to him privately. He has news of where his son might be, and is willing to help him find the little boy he only saw once, at a few days old, and who will now be five.

Hilary’s last letter from Lisa contained a promise from her that she would make sure their little boy John was safe; for her sake, she says, Hilary must do everything he can to find their son again and bring him home. As much as Hilary is afraid of loving, and of any intrusion into his now safely ordered life, he agrees to go with Pierre to track down the boy that could be his son, out of love for his wife.

The essential dilemma for Hilary is that he has no idea whether this boy is his son or not. He doesn’t have a photograph of him, only saw him when he was a newborn, red, crying little thing and has no idea of how his wife spoke to him or played with him. There are no points of reference he can use to identify the child unless he sees a clear resemblance either to himself or Lisa, and it is this anguish of not knowing, and not wanting to take the wrong child, but at the same time feeling himself falling in love with this gorgeous little imp of a boy who tugs at his coat and wants to see the trains (oh, I am getting teary again just thinking of the little thing!) and who shows him his broken and battered toys as if they were the finest jewels in the world, that makes this novel so heartrending.

Hilary stays in the little town where the boy lives in an orphanage for a week, and he visits him every day with a view to making a decision about whether he thinks he is his son or not by the end of that week. Hilary wavers, he struggles, he fights against the new feelings of love he desperately doesn’t want to feel again, or allow to influence his decision. He is frightened of having his life turned upside down, frightened of making the wrong decision, frightened of abandoning this little boy, but also frightened of abandoning his real son if he takes this child without being certain and stops the search for his own boy, who might still be out there somewhere. Hilary’s determination to be quite clinical and factual and make the ‘right’ decision without getting emotionally involved becomes more and more difficult as he finds the little Jean working his way into his heart. As his mind becomes more and more confused he allows himself to be infatuated by a local woman, but as his lustful desire for her that has nothing to do with love becomes more and more pronounced, Hilary starts to realise that, after all, his life is empty, and love might be just the thing he needs.

A vulnerable man, afraid of his emotions! A lonely and abandoned little boy, desperate to be loved! How much more can Marghanita Laski tug on a woman’s heartstrings?! I felt like I had well and truly been through the wringer after reading Little Boy Lost, but every tear was worth it; this is a stunningly beautiful portrait of post war Europe, of the damage loss can do to a heart, and of the redeeming power of love that we all have within us. The final sentence is one of, if not the most, powerful and beautiful and wonderful I have ever read, and if you haven’t read Little Boy Lost, you need to get hold of it NOW and read it instantly. It is perfect.

Dorothy, London, and a very good Brownie

I am currently lying on the sofa feeling excessively exhausted after a long day in London. I stayed at my friend Emma’s in Hackney last night, and we went to a wonderful independent cinema called the Rio in trendy Dalston to watch Penelope Cruz’s new film Broken Embraces. It was interesting and absorbing and very funny in places; if you don’t mind reading subtitles do go and see it.

Today we decided to go to St Paul’s as neither of us had ever been, and it was, while a bit overpriced (£11!!), an absolute delight. Stunning workmanship all round, with the most terrific mosaics on the ceilings and imposing marble sculptures on the monuments to long forgotten dead soldiers. We went up to the Whispering Gallery which was nearly 300 steps and my poor calves are certainly feeling it now, but it was well worth it for the view down into the cathedral floor; it was just magnificent. And it’s true that you can hear a whisper travelling round the walls – I don’t know how it works but it does, and Emma and I had far too much fun than 23 year olds should have whispering our names to each other across the dome! Then we went even further up to the outside observatory which has beautiful panoramic views across London. It’s such a higgledy-piggledy city from the sky, with old buildings jostling for space with huge new glass skyscrapers that are appearing as if from nowhere all over the place, but it has a beauty all of its own and I felt quite proud of my majestic city when I was up there, looking down over it.

After St Paul’s we went to see the ruins of Christ Church Greyfriars, which was bombed in the Blitz. Now only bits of the external walls, the tower and the empty windows remain, and it really is incredible to see this relic of wartime London nestling amongst modern office buildings. It was quite moving to stand there and look at the blank windows and think of the terror that must have been felt by ordinary Londoners as they watched their homes and buildings they loved destroyed in seconds around them by bombs that fell indiscriminantly from the sky.

After this and a spot of lunch we went to the Courtauld and saw the wonderful Beyond Bloomsbury exhibition, all about the Omega workshops. They had some gorgeous textiles on display, and I spotted a couple of Persephone endpapers – those for The Wise Virgins and William – An Englishman. The creativity and daring of these artists, among them Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, was really quite breathtaking, considering they were working in a pre war England that was still very Victorian in its design tastes. The fluid lines, geometric patterns, bright colours and plenty of nubile female forms were really so beautiful, and I wished I could bring some of the fabrics home with me. Of course at the time the Omega Workshop was very expensive to buy from – the accompanying leaflet notes that a small rug would have set its owner back £600, which would have put their products out of most people’s price ranges. This illustrates the contradiction in the Bloomsbury Group’s values, I suppose; they wanted to break away from the world of their wealthy, class conscious, Victorian parents, and enjoyed living in almost socialist communes, but they still could not do without maids and their work was not accessible to the lower orders of society; their novels and art might have been groundbreaking, but they were also designed for an implied audience of an educated, privileged, wealthy and cultured elite. Since reading Alison Light’s excellent Mrs Woolf and the Servants, I have seen the Bloomsbury Group in a new light; their snobbery towards those less educated and wealthy as themselves has made me look at their work in a new way. They might have wanted to shake things up a bit, but their desire for change and reform was never, it seems to me anyway, designed to help anyone else but themselves have more fulfilling and, certainly in many of the group’s member’s cases, more sexually free lives.

After the Courtauld I was inspired by Claire’s post about being invited for tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury by Nicola Beauman to go to there myself for tea and cake, and so Emma and I trotted off down Kingsway to get ourselves something tasty. I had a chai latte and a delicious brownie, and Emma had tea and a strawberry vanilla cupcake, which was equally scrumptious. It is highly recommended, though if you go do reserve a seat first – we were ousted onto the pavement as there were no tables!

And, as we ended up very near to the Persephone shop (though we didn’t go to it today), now is the perfect time to make the seamless transition into a book review. For Persephone Reading Week, which is now literally last week’s news, I read Dorothy Whipple’s The Closed Door and Other Stories, and my goodness, was it a marvellous read. I knew I would love these stories as Dorothy can do no wrong in my eyes, and I actually want to be Dorothy Whipple (but an alive version) whenever I read one of her novels, because I want to be able to write in such a wry, well observed, compassionate and engrossing way myself. I simply can’t believe that her books have been left to languish out of print and forgotten for so long. It is sacrilege. But anyway, back to the stories. Each one is a magnificent, perfectly constructed gem. A couple are fairly long, about sixty pages, but the others are only a few pages each, yet within those pages, a whole world is unfolded before you. They are each about family relationships and most of them featured a suffocated child living with selfish parents, trapped within the walls of home and desperate to get out. Another, Wednesday, was about a woman separated from her children through divorce and the pain she feels at only getting to see them on a Wednesday, and the distance growing between her and the children who seem to care a little less each time that she is no longer a part of their everyday lives. The Closed Door, the opening story, was probably my favourite, but they are all so remarkably powerful and touching stories of the suffering ordinary human beings can cause others through their selfishness that I had to just sit back after reading some of them and goodness…this woman is a genius. It is easy for some to cast her off as a woman writing about mundane everyday things, but while she does write about the everday she also writes about the everyman; the secret selfish thoughts we all have, our desires, our despairs, our capacity to love deeply and selflessly when the spirit moves us…she saw people, the good and the bad, did Dorothy Whipple, and she wrote about life in a way that makes the ordinary extraordinary, and that is why I love her so. I am on tenterhooks waiting for Persephone to print High Wages…it can’t be long to wait now!

Photo accompanying is of my copy ofThe Closed Door and Other Stories, as well as a leaflet and postcard from the Bloomsbury exhibition.

*The photos of London are not mine – I forgot my camera today so they are substitutes from online. Just thought I should make that clear!