This new Persephone reprint is such a good read that it felt personal. Diana Tutton’s book is full of the small details of a life restricted by a strong willed parent, aided and abetted by a loving father. This review copy, for which many thanks to Persephone, was not always easy to read because of its strength as the story of girls growing up in a sort of loving captivity. Not that money, affection or stability are in short supply as even those things that are rationed can be acquired and enjoyed; it is just that all visitors are discouraged, all trips away from the home are limited, and only one of the five daughters has been allowed to escape into marriage.
There are four daughters living in the family house, and in many ways it is an idyllic existence of playing the piano, writing poetry and doing the bare minimum of lessons. The novel is narrated by Morgan, named for the Arthurian tales, and her sisters rejoice in the names of Cressida, Thisbe and Pandora, with the ordinary sounding Theresa the youngest. It would be a peaceful existence with Father writing successful novels except that three of the sisters are adults, and becoming restless with the expectation that they will remain at home indefinitely. When the married Pandora tackles her mother about Theresa going away to school, let alone Morgan visiting London, there is a great upset. Indeed, whenever there is a visitor, however harmless, Mother behaves oddly and Father lays down the law about the girls not seeing men and fulfilling their roles in the home. There are some lovely scenes despite this unreasonable parental behaviour, with the girls sneaking off to the cinema and a small café. There is a cocktail party and subtle insults, fields and trees described in loving detail, a play and other events that show how everything is suited to Mother’s wellbeing and comfort. A crisis occurs and drama ensues, a desperate situation arises and resolution is reached.
This book succeeds because it feels so real. The reader becomes involved in this tale of family life to the extent of intensely disliking Mother, whose reign of repression through her invalid lifestyle restricts her clever otherwise lively daughters. Father’s slavish devotion to her wants becomes particularly wearing, as her whims must be obeyed. She only listens to the elderly Gregory, who, confusingly muddled with one of Morgan’s visitors, lays down the law. This is a family drama but not saga; the ending is a surprise and left me speeding through the last few pages to find out what would happen. This is an amusing book, with a great sense of young women eager for life outside their home on their terms, thwarted by loving yet restrictive parents. I found the rhythm and feeling of this book enjoyable as the narrator, Morgan draws the reader in with her observations and hopes for life. It is beautifully written, engaging and an enjoyable addition to the Persephone collection.
The picture of the Persephone bag is because I treated myself to a third one on my recent visit to the shop, which I greatly enjoyed. My original bag of this type is so strong and virtually indestructible as I use it every day to transport books and so many other things up and downstairs. They will also sell them by post, which I would strongly recommend to anyone who has given up trying to find a suitable present for a bookish friend!