Cecily's Reviews > The L-Shaped Room

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
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's review
Nov 23, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: miscellaneous-fiction, historical-fict-20th-cent

This was published before the sixties swung (1960) and is the story of Jane, an upper middle class girl of 27 who finds herself pregnant and single. She moves out of her father’s house, into an L-shaped room in a dodgy house in a dodgy area.

Her self-awareness and the way she analyses her feelings and those of people around make the novel transcend its period – although she dislikes Toby’s “useless fund of self-knowledge”. At times she wants to punish herself, and telling her father was like a bullfight, “I didn’t want to see the bull killed; I just wanted to know what it would do to me to see it.” There is warmth and humour too, including meeting someone “who wasn’t even the sort of person you could enjoy being rude to.”

It is primarily about different sorts of love, loyalty and friendship, coupled with guilt, fear and thoughts about different sorts of parents and substitute parents. Jane comes to realise she has done everything in the wrong order and is “going to have a baby without ever having understood what love really means”. Later, “I felt the emptiness of fear fill solidly with relief.”

From the first page, it is clear that Jane comes from a “good home” despite, or perhaps because of her detached description of her new and unpleasant surroundings, “It might be rather interesting to talk to one” (prostitute), curtainless windows that make the houses look “like open-eyed corpses” and a damp pavement that “had that sweaty look”.

The analogy of turning a corner in one’s life and the shape of the room could be banal, but is never laboured. I think the main flaw is that most of the major points in the plot are annoyingly easy to spot in advance and although Jane is intelligent and often quite perceptive about people, she doesn’t anticipate any of them. Nevertheless, it generally avoids moralising and sentimentality, even when talking about the “spiritual bleeding” when lovers have to separate too soon after making love.

It is of its time. There is casual homophobia (“disgusting” versus “normal”), anti-semitism, and racism that is sometimes nasty (“an enormous black paw”, inquisitive like a chimpanzee with “an animal smell”) but at other times bordering on the affectionate (the smell was also “oddly comforting and reassuring”). Her initial appointment with a doctor is pretty grim as well and I hope would be equally uncommon now - he even asks about her “acts of fornication”!

Overall, it’s historical fiction that explores universal themes. 1960 is well within living memory (albeit not mine), but this book demonstrates that in many ways, it is VERY long ago.

It's also worth comparing this with Margaret Drabble's The Millstone (a similar situation, written and set at roughly the same time - http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...) and perhaps Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach (written recently, set in the 60s, and featuring a woman struggling, in a very different way, with sexual intimacy, against the zeitgeist of the "swinging" 60s - http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...)
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Reading Progress

November 23, 2010 – Started Reading
November 23, 2010 – Shelved
December 2, 2010 – Shelved as: miscellaneous-fiction
December 2, 2010 – Finished Reading
July 14, 2015 – Shelved as: historical-fict-20th-cent

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Paul Bryant great review!

Cecily Thanks, Paul. I've got the sequel, but have yet to read it (I'm invariably nervous of follow-ups).

Paul Bryant I agree, but Aliens and Babe: Pig in the City were both better than the first films... can't think of many literary equivalents.

Cecily And The Empire Strikes Back?

But yes, there must be books, though I can't think what.

Paul Bryant got one example - Edward St Aubyn's trilogy - first one great, 2nd one better (third one v bad!)

Cecily Well done. I've not read any of them, though I think I have a copy of the first. Mind you, by the time I get to thinking of reading it, I expect this conversation will be long forgotten.

Paul Bryant they're short and bittersweet - yoo could scoff one in an evening - I recommend the first two. Unless you hate upper class types who fritter their lives away by doing drugs. In which case - avoid!

Cecily Ha ha. I have a mild and slightly perverse interest in such people.

message 9: by Sharyl (new)

Sharyl I remember, just vaguely, seeing the movie based on this novel when I was much too young. It is shocking, how things were. Good review!

Cecily I didn't know there was a film version, but yes, in 1962, directed by Bryan Forbes and starring... mostly people I've never heard of. Nevertheless, I'd be more like to watch a film made around the time it was written and set than a shiny new 21st century version:


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