Saturday, 15 February 2014

I slipped this book into my bag to bring to Paris last weekend, for no other reason than its being a very slim volume to carry. I bought it ages ago in the Oxfam shop and it was gathering dust on a pile and I really do want to conquer the piles, read them, shelve or recycle them.
What a very strange book ... Is there such a thing as Battersea Gothic? It is beautifully written; you can smell those brown, damp, cabbagey, lino-floored rooms.
The vet's daughter lives with her brutal father and timid, gentle mother who is dying of cancer, her end eventually hastened by her husband who puts her down like a sick animal. The vet is a monster, with a terrible waxed moustache ... Just one sentence redeems him, when a locum describes him as the most brilliant vet he has worked with. For a moment you see him expand into the man he could have been had he not been so crushed by a life of disappointment.
After her mother's death, there is no-one to shield the vet's daughter but this gentle locum who fixes her up with a job as lady's companion to his depressive mother. For a while, it seems that she has escaped from her abusive father who has very quickly shacked up with a blowsy barmaid.
And then ... well, then it gets very strange but it would spoil it to say much more. I'll only say that the shocking ending on Wimbledon Common reminded me of Shirley Jackson. It made me slightly cross, though. Magical realism always seems a bit of a cop-out. But I won't be recycling it. It's a keeper and I'm sure I'll read it again.

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