|The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London, TC Dugdale|
It was clear that, since I was last in, the little bookshop had received a massive donation of what I call Dead Old Ladies' Books ... hurrah! my absolute favourites for browsing, loads of old green Viragos for £1 and every Georgette Heyer you can imagine. Stern warning to self: you do not have to own everything that takes your fancy. If you're not likely to read it within a month, then you don't really want it.
I came home with Together and Apart, by Margaret Kennedy - and must have wanted it because two weeks later, I've not only finished it, but I pulled her first novel The Ladies of Lyndon (1923) from the shelf where it has been gathering dust unread for years and, hey, its moment had come and I've finished that, too. (I wasn't wild about The Ladies of the Lyndon - it was okay - so I think I've had my Margaret Kennedy moment and I'm not planning on going back for more.)
Together and Apart (1936) seemed rather more accomplished, I thought. It's about a successfully married couple who divorce for no particularly good reason. Betsy, the wife, is restless, waiting for a happiness that eludes her. (Today, she'd be reading other people's Instagram feeds and wondering why her own life doesn't shape up.) She fears that life is slipping away as she approaches 40. Her husband Alec's mild infidelities haven't bothered her over much.
She toys with the idea of divorce, as there's a chinless aristocratic cousin in the wings who would be delighted to marry her. (God forbid that a Betsy would manage for a week without a man to pay the bills.) But then Alec is caught trivially snogging the temp summer holiday governess - and the mothers-in-law interfere ... and everything hurtles out of control. I was reminded of Dorothy Whipple's Someone at a Distance - the weak husband who dabbles in half-hearted infidelity, then discovers there's no way back. MK is very good on the subtle damage to adolescent children.
The Ladies of Lyndon has all the same ingredients and maybe, read in quick succession, it was just too much of the same thing. Agatha is the beautiful 18-year-old bride who marries the wrong man (but acquires a beautiful house). There's another obliging cousin, who's a cherished romantic memory from the past. (All these lovelorn cousins in novels, but do they ever exist in real life?) And two more comic but dangerously meddling mothers-in-law. Nicola Beauman, in her introduction, sees Lyndon, the beautiful house, as the villain of the book ... a stranglehold of pre-war luxury and stifling trappings. I'm wondering what I'd have thought if I'd read this novel in 1923? Or even in 1981, when Nicola wrote her introduction? But after 40 years of soaring property prices ... heck, I'd put up with the limp husband and hang onto the house.