"Falling" is not only a novel that delves into the anatomy of a seduction. It is also masterful in that it gives the reader access into both the inner"Falling" is not only a novel that delves into the anatomy of a seduction. It is also masterful in that it gives the reader access into both the inner and outer lives of the two people involved: Henry Kent and Daisy Langrish. Elizabeth Jane Howard fleshes them out with the skill that Vermeer, Goya, Manet, and John Singer Sargent showed to such fine effect on canvas.
Henry, the son of a gardener who never showed him love, learned to be resourceful early in life by trusting to his own wits. He developed a proficiency for discerning the emotional states of women --- preferably ones with wealth and status --- and exploiting them for his own benefit. He had this charm and savoir faire, which he was not abash to speak of, from time to time, with the reader. (The author has most chapters titled either "Henry" or "Daisy", so the reader always knows who is occupying center stage.)
Daisy, who grew up with an aunt ("Jess") who gave her unselfish and unconditional love, had 2 failed marriages, and had turned to playwriting (and scriptwriting) for solace and as a way of making a livelihood for her and her daughter. Eventually, Daisy's work became her life. She learned to be self-sufficient and to view trust as a weakness. So when Henry first approached her at her country cottage about doing some gardening work for her, she was wary. But from the bleakness of an English winter to the warmth of the following summer, he steadily (not minding a few missteps, which he quickly covered up) worked his way into Daisy's heart and affections.
What is remarkable about the development of Daisy's and Henry's relationship over time is how subtly and cleverly it unfolds. The reader can see both sides clearly and make up his/her mind about Henry and Daisy. Here's an example from what Daisy herself had to say after she has been all but won over to Henry:
"Am I in love? It is three weeks now since we went to bed; we have been lovers for twenty-one days and nights. He has continued to love me with the same wholehearted emotion and kindness and I have graduated from what I, somewhat defensively, described as some sort of old virgin to what he has described as a normal sensual woman for whom sex has become a joyous necessity. Indeed, I think I have become more sexual than he, but when I said this to him, he laughed and said it was because I had been starved for so long. ‘Not just of sex,’ he had added, ‘but of everything that goes with it. My greatest pleasure is giving you pleasure.’
“I am afraid that I do not give him enough back, but I have noticed that he often makes me want him and then withholds his favours --- teases me --- and that he certainly enjoys that. Sometimes he starts that game in the afternoon and then we go upstairs, but more often he deliberately excites me hours before he will take me to bed. I have begun to enjoy this game. It is wonderful to want him and to have no shame, no self-conscious reservations at all. ‘You trust me now, don’t you?’ he said yesterday. And I do. Even when he hurt me a little at the beginning, he was so aware of it and so tender… Those are the moments when I do feel love for him.” (pp. 300-301)
Henry, all through the novel, shows how calculating and cunning he can be, showing how attuned he can be to a woman's wants and needs once he knows that she has become susceptible to his shows of care, patience, and his apparently inexhaustible well of kindness and understanding:
"She was silent all the way back, and I was content to savour the salt of her tears from her mouth. I was light-headed with the exhilaration of that first kiss --- are not all first kisses unlike any others? --- and the ceertainty that I was on the brink of achieving all that I had schemed and dreamed about for so long.
"This was right. That night, she invited me into her bed." (p. 274)
Talk about a smooth operator!
To find out what happens between Henry and Daisy, I invite you now reading this review to take the plunge and see what ensues. So, hold on tight, because you're going to be in for quite a rocky ride.
All in all, this was a lightly entertaining story in which 2 friends of the monied class in early 1930s Britain (Noel Foster and Jasper Aspect, a glibAll in all, this was a lightly entertaining story in which 2 friends of the monied class in early 1930s Britain (Noel Foster and Jasper Aspect, a glib character and shameless sponger) conspired to marry 2 wealthy heiresses while taking a break from London one summer. ...more
Tonight I had the singular satisfaction of completing my reading of "GLAMOROUS POWERS." It has all the hallmarks of a well-crafted novel with a robustTonight I had the singular satisfaction of completing my reading of "GLAMOROUS POWERS." It has all the hallmarks of a well-crafted novel with a robust, engaging narrative and plot, and characters with whom the reader can easily relate.
In this novel, Jon Darrow, a 60-year Anglican priest with unique psychic powers (whom we last saw in "Glittering Images" where he helped a young Anglican clergyman overcome a personal spiritual crisis in 1937) has a vision which compels him to question his own commitment and place within the Fordite Order, of which he had been a part for 17 years. In the process, Darrow embarks upon a long and difficult journey which re-connects him with his past, his 2 children from a previous marriage (his wife had died many years earlier), and his role in the wider world.
This is a very well-written novel, with hardly a word wasted. I recommend it highly. ...more
"Ultimate Prizes" offers the reader a rich and fascinating view into the life of a Church of England archdeacon (Neville Aysgarth), who, at the story'"Ultimate Prizes" offers the reader a rich and fascinating view into the life of a Church of England archdeacon (Neville Aysgarth), who, at the story's outset, appears to have it all. A position of high authority with the prospect of future advancement, a loving, supportive wife and 5 children. But, during the course of a dinner party given by his Bishop, Dr. Ottershaw, in the late spring of 1942, Aysgarth makes the acquaintance of a vivacious young woman (Diana Dorothea Tallent, otherwise known as "Dido"), with whom he strikes up a witty, bubbly, wide-ranging conversation --- both at the dinner table, in a nearby room among guests, and later during a short walk the two took afterwards on the grounds of the Bishop's residence. (Aysgarth's wife, Grace, who was not overly comfortable with some of the societal expectations of being the wife of a high Church official, had begged off from attending the dinner that evening with him.)
All the while, Aysgarth asked himself: "... Who exactly was this fantastic creature? I had heard of her but my knowledge was sketchy because I never read gossip columns unless the sexton accidentally left his Daily Express behind on the churchyard bench; like all good clergymen I confined my excursions into the world of secular journalism to The Times. However with the aid of the sexton's Express and the glossy magazines which nervous tension drove me to read in the dentist's waiting-room, I had learnt that Miss Tallent moved in the best society despite the fact that her father was a self-made Scottish millionaire. I had of course long since dismissed her as a frivolous creature I would never meet, and yet here she was, in a bishop's drawing room --- in my Bishop's drawing-room --- giving me impudent looks and talking about balls. I could hardly have felt more confused if I had been confronted by one of Orson Welles's invaders from Mars."
Dido expresses to Aysgarth a desire for religious instruction as a way of forging a firmer and greater sense of purpose with her life. This leads to a correspondence between them. (Dido is on active service with the Navy.) At the same time, the reader is given access to the relationship Aysgarth has with his wife and family, which is not as wholly harmonious as it appears at first sight. And as the story progresses, the reader is also made painfully aware that Aysgarth is driven to the point of collapse following a profound shift in his family life and from longstanding (hitherto suppressed) personal issues stemming from his past, which force themselves to the surface, threatening to undermine and destroy everything he has struggled to achieve for himself. Thus begins a long, painful, and hard journey for Aysgarth, which extends to 1946.
Simply put, "ULTIMATE PRIZES" is one of the most compelling novels examining the private life of a public figure that I've yet had the pleasure of reading, juxtaposing the sacred and the profane. What's more, it's gripping stuff and comes highly recommended.
"SCANDALOUS RISKS", the fourth novel in the Starbridge Series set in the English town of Starbridge, begins in 1988 with the reappearance there of Ven"SCANDALOUS RISKS", the fourth novel in the Starbridge Series set in the English town of Starbridge, begins in 1988 with the reappearance there of Venetia Flaxton, a woman of aristocratic background, who had abruptly left town 25 years earlier. Venetia goes on to share with the reader her experiences of that pivotal and decisive year in her life: 1963. Then, aged 26, unsure of what she wanted to make of herself and increasingly restless living with her parents in their palatial residence, Venetia --- who had always been headstrong, often locking horns in spirited debates with her atheistic, Victorian father, a member of the House of Lords -- had left home after leaving a job he had secured for her. It - a job working at Liberal Party headquarters - was a job that she absolutely loathed! Indeed, as Venetia boldly asserted to her father: 'I'm off to Starbridge to meditate on God and contemplate Eternity --- which is exactly what you ought to be doing at your age!'
Once situated in Starbridge (sharing temporary residence with Marina Markhampton, a popular "society lady" whose beauty few men could resist), Venetia set about remaking herself. She reintroduced herself to an old childhood friend, Primrose Aysgarth, and Primrose's father Dean Aysgarth, a high-ranking figure in the Church of England in his early 60s. Aysgarth, a kindly, avuncular man with a taste for good whisky and modern art, was representative of the rising liberal wing of the Church of England at that time, which was challenging the traditional strictures and practices stoutly defended by the "old order" (represented by Bishop Charles Ashworth, a contemporary of Aysgarth, who previously made an appearance about 20 years earlier in the third novel in the Starbridge Series: Ultimate Prizes).
Starbridge, while on the surface an old town famed for its great medieval cathedral, is seething with religious, political, and sexual intrigues. Venetia herself becomes caught up in one of these intrigues when she falls deeply in love with Aysgarth (whom she referred to affectionally as "Mr Dean"), who gladly reciprocates. For Aysgarth is in an unhappy marriage with Dido, a neurotic yet canny woman. So both of them have to take considerable pains to keep their relationship discreet. For if even a hint of it became known in Starbridge, both of them would face utter ruin.
Aysgarth and Venetia found places a fair distance from the heart of Starbridge to meet once a week, where they shared their burning passion for each other. They also, when time and opportunity allowed, wrote love letters to each other, which I, as a person who grew up long before the advent of e-mail, enjoyed reading because they were so eloquent and heartfelt.
Yet the dream-like world in which both Aysgarth and Venetia sustained their love will find itself faced with challenges neither can ignore.
Any reader who loves a novel with vividly realized characters and a strong, compelling storyline, will savor "SCANDALOUS RISKS." So, sit back, relax with a juice or drink, and you'll soon be fully absorbed in this rich and dramatic tale of lives transformed amid crisis and controversy.
"MYSTICAL PATHS" --- the 5th novel (of 6) in the "Church of England Series" centered on the Church of England in the 20th century --- introduces the r"MYSTICAL PATHS" --- the 5th novel (of 6) in the "Church of England Series" centered on the Church of England in the 20th century --- introduces the reader to Nicholas Darrow, the son of teacher/healer, spiritual advisor, psychic and ex-Fordite monk Jon Darrow, who figures both prominently and peripherally in the series. Nicholas is given center stage here.
The novel begins in 1988, by which time Nicholas is a priest in the Church of England with a healing ministry. He receives a call from an old friend (Venetia Flaxton), who tried --- - without success, for Nicholas, who like his father, possesses psychic powers, can be persuasive when he wants to be --- to get out of her promise to visit him at the Healing Centre. Her call triggers an onrush of memories which carry him back to the year 1968. This was to prove the seminal year in Nicholas' life. At that time he was 25, a Cambridge graduate on the threshold of ordination, and a man sure of himself and his psychic gifts. Yet, beneath the veneer of sobriety and good sense which he liked to project, Nicholas led a licentious and somewhat dissolute personal life. He is set on following his elderly father (with whom he has a close, almost symbiotic, relationship) into the Church of England. Yet, as the novel progresses, the reader becomes witness to a near-tragedy in Nicholas' life. But only "by facing the truth about his relationship with his father" can Nicholas find a way out of the darkness that threatens to engulf him entire.
This is a finely crafted novel peopled by a rich variety of characters, each with their own interesting stories to tell. For the reader who is new to the "Church of England Series", he/she need not feel compelled to read each novel therefrom in sequential order. Indeed, the author states that "[e]ach book is designed to be read independently of the others, but the more books are read, the wider will be the view of the multi-sided reality which is being presented." And what a reality it is.
Grace Allingham, a young and unassuming Englishwoman from an affluent background, makes the acquaintance of Charles-Edouard de Valhubert, a French AirGrace Allingham, a young and unassuming Englishwoman from an affluent background, makes the acquaintance of Charles-Edouard de Valhubert, a French Air Force officer, during the early years of the Second World War. Charming, suave, and utterly self-assured, he sweeps Grace off her feet, they quickly marry and have a short honeymoon. Then Charles-Edouard goes back to the war. Grace leaves London and settles in the countryside. She finds herself with child and later gives birth to a boy, who is named Sigismond. Better known as "Sigi", we find him as a boy of seven (upon his father's return) with an angelic face and a puckish charm that leads him to do a little mischief every now and then.
A few years pass before Charles-Edouard receives his discharge and returns to Britain from the Far East. He returns to Grace and son like a force of nature, full of bonhomie. They relocate to France and what a life! Mitford gives the reader some interesting views into French culture and mores and offers some sparkling contrasts with the British mindset and contradictory/ambivalent views of the French.
In turns, "The Blessing" reads like a zany comedy of errors and a tender love story. I recommend it to any reader who is keen to read an entertaining and engaging novel. ...more
Of the 3 Nancy Mitford novels I’ve read thus far, this one was a little less satisfying. Fanny Wincham’s life gets into the fast lane when her belovedOf the 3 Nancy Mitford novels I’ve read thus far, this one was a little less satisfying. Fanny Wincham’s life gets into the fast lane when her beloved husband Alfred, an Oxford professor of theology, is appointed the British Ambassador in Paris. The wife of the previous Ambassador (Lady Leone) is none too pleased at having to vacate the kind of life to which she had become accustomed and enjoyed for the previous 5 years. She stages a sit/lay-in at the official residence, where her numerous friends pay her homage for several weeks. In desperation, Fanny enlists the help of a family relation, who devises an ingenious way of inducing Lady Leone to take her leave of France in a face-saving, dignified way.
There are other colorful characters in this novel (2 of whom, Charles-Edouard de Valhubert and his English wife Grace, we last saw occupy center stage in “The Blessing”) who provide its rich and comedic flavor. I think the reader will be entertained reading about the antics and idiosyncrasies of Fanny’s social secretary Northey, and 2 of her sons, Basil and David. And there is also her Uncle Matthew, a very entertaining eccentric. Notwithstanding all that, I didn’t enjoy reading “Don’t Tell Alfred” as much as I did “The Blessing.” This review is not to suggest that the former is not a good book. I’m glad I read it and feel that, perhaps, upon a second reading, I may upgrade my present appraisal. ...more
Some time ago, I read the 4 novels of the Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard about 2 upper middle-class families in Britain (mainly the LondoSome time ago, I read the 4 novels of the Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard about 2 upper middle-class families in Britain (mainly the London area) between 1937 and 1947.
By contrast, this novel is set in Northern England during the summer of 1946 and is centered around 3 young women in their late teens who, through competitive examinations, have won scholarships to elite universities (Cambridge and the University of London). Two of them - Hetty Fellowes and Una Vane - were childhood friends. The third --- Lieselotte Klein --- is a German Jew from Hamburg who was fortunate enough to escape to Britain via the Kindertransport shortly before the outbreak of war in 1939. She was brought to the town where Hetty and Una lived, attended school with them, and lived with a Quaker family. However, after a prolonged search to see if any of her family survived the Holocaust, Lieselotte moves to London, where she is placed with an Austrian Jewish couple, the Feldmans. The novel gives the reader a view into the lives of Hetty, Una, and Lieselotte, who each embark upon a voyage of self-discovery as the summer melts into autumn. Each experiences a rite of passage that tests their resolve to forge a future largely of their own making in a chaotic world struggling to learn anew the ways of peace. ...more
Several months ago, I purchased this novel. But it was only 3 weeks ago that I began to read it. From the moment I read the initial chapter which featSeveral months ago, I purchased this novel. But it was only 3 weeks ago that I began to read it. From the moment I read the initial chapter which features the bedroom scene with Dexter ("Dex") and Emma ("Em") on the night after they both had graduated from university (July 15th, 1988), I WAS HOOKED. I developed such a deep empathy for both of them, though I was especially partial to Emma, who came from a humbler background compared to Dex.
Nicholls' plot device of focussing on the lives of both Dex and Em through the prism of July 15th from 1988 was very clever. I liked being able to see how both their lives developed over time.
As someone who graduated from college in 1986, I strongly identified with Dex and Em, because they are roughly of the same generation as myself. (There was one song that played itself in my mind like a refrain as I read deeply into this novel --- and it was, "SOMEWHERE IN THE WORLD (Someone's Thinking of You)" by the UK band Swing Out Sister.)
"One Day" is representative of the best novels that evoke a welter of emotions that will make the reader hearken back to his/her salad days and smile.