Tuesday, 6 May 2014
I've spent the bank holiday weekend completely engrossed in this 1925 novel by EH Young. (Out of print but an excellent buy for 1p from Amazon.) I have seen this so many times in charity shops and yet never felt quite attracted enough to pick it up ...
And even when I did buy a copy from Oxfam, after discovering that wonderful spinster Miss Mole, I let poor William languish unread on my book pile for months.
What was I thinking of? As I was reading, I kept thinking that, as a family novel, this was as enjoyable as a Dorothy Whipple (and you can't say fairer than that) but with more depth of character.
William is a hugely attractive character, a retired sailor now the successful owner of a small shipping company, happily married to a wife with whom he has little in common - he is as droll as Mr Bennet - and the father of four grown-up daughters and a rather uninteresting son. There is penny-pinching, perversely frumpy Mabel, the eldest, least favourite child and nobody's favourite sister; Dora, whose marriage to an overbearing husband isn't quite as perfect as she makes it seem; Janet, the youngest, still at home, fancying herself in love with her other sister's husband, and struggling to forge an independent life for herself; and Lydia, so heartbreakingly lovely that her father's deep affection for her - and to a modern reader, this is mildly discomfiting - is almost that of a proxy lover.
But when Lydia runs away from her nice, but unsatisfactory husband - I did wonder if 40 years on, Oliver might have been happier with another good-looking man - the emotional fall-out from her scandalous behaviour rocks the family and her parents' marriage in particular.
EH Young's own unconventional life would have been material enough for a novel.
William was apparently one of the first ten titles published by Penguin and now that I've read it, I completely understand why. It's hard to imagine a reader who wouldn't love it. Seems like lots of people, though, have discovered this before me.