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The Tortoise and the Hare
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Buddy Reads > The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins (April/May 2019)

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Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
Welcome to our buddy read of....


The Tortoise and the Hare


In affairs of the heart the race is not necessarily won by the swift or the fair.

Imogen, the beautiful and much younger wife of distinguished barrister Evelyn Gresham, is facing the greatest challenge of her married life. Their neighbour Blanche Silcox, competent, middle-aged and ungainly - the very opposite of Imogen - seems to be vying for Evelyn's attention. And to Imogen's increasing disbelief, she may be succeeding.

'A subtle and beautiful book ... Very few authors combine her acute psychological insight with her grace and style. There is plenty of life in the modern novel, plenty of authors who will shock and amaze you - but who will put on the page a beautiful sentence, a sentence you will want to read twice?' Hilary Mantel, Sunday Times



The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
The Tortoise and the Hare was the subject of a recent Backlisted Podcast....

Joining Andy and John in this episode is Carmen Callil, the legendary publisher and writer, who is best know for founding the Virago Press in 1972. Once described by the Guardian as ‘part-Lebanese, part-Irish and wholly Australian’, Carmen settled in London in 1964 advertising herself in The Times as ‘Australian, B.A. wants job in book publishing’. After changing a generation’s taste through her publishing at Virago, and in particular the Virago Modern Classics, which continues to bring back into print hundreds of neglected women writers, Carmen went on to run Chatto & Windus and became a global Editor-at-Large for Random House. In 2006 she published Bad Faith: A History of Family & Fatherland, which Hilary Spurling called ‘a work of phenomenally thorough, generous and humane scholarship’. Appointed DBE in 2017, she was also awarded the Benson Medal in the same year, awarded to mark ‘meritorious works in poetry, fiction, history and belles-lettres’. The book under discussion is one of her favourite novels, The Tortoise & the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins, first published by Gollancz in 1954 and triumphantly reissued by Virago Modern Classics in 1983.

https://www.backlisted.fm/episodes/80...




message 3: by Nigeyb (last edited Apr 11, 2019 11:26PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
I believe that, so far, we have signed up for this buddy read.... Karen, Liz, Storyheart, Tania, Susan and me

All are welcome though

I will be starting this book very soon and look forward to our discussion


The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
I have just started it, but am only a couple of chapters in.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4612 comments Mod
I read this a few years ago and enjoyed it a lot, although I don't remember it very well now. I have taken it out of the library and may well be tempted to read it again if time permits.


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
Shame there is no kindle version.


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
Yes indeed Susan. I picked up a bargain copy from eBay.


Tania | 1031 comments I picked up a bargain from a charity shop (50p) and have yet to read it. I will be starting soon.


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
What a wonderful opening paragraph 👌🏻


Karen Hello all, just started this one and really looking forward to discussing soon.


Tania | 1031 comments I've just started this one, too.


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
Yes, me too, though not making much headway with it as I've been too busy to read this weekend.


What I've read so far is splendid.


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
I haven't got far either - I am up to chapter 8.


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
I loved the contrast in sensibility between Evelyn and Leeper in their reaction to the local village pub The Fishermans Rest. Evelyn loves to have an occasional pint in there in convivial silence with members of the village community

Leeper, with his zeal for tearing down old buildings, shares his plans for a new public house with Evelyn, and it is predictably appalling.

A great example of Elizabeth's perceptive and clever writing.


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
Imogen is reminding me a little of Lotty in The Enchanted April. She is delighted in the smallest things, easily pleased and a little childlike.

The Leeper's are interesting, with Tim good friends with Gavin, and their benign neglect of their children grating on Evelyn.


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
I'd say Imogen is a product of her time: brought up to look attractive to Evelyn, and be doting, meek and compliant. She has nothing to counteract her determined and rational rival.

Susan wrote: "The Leeper's are interesting, with Tim good friends with Gavin, and their benign neglect of their children grating on Evelyn."

They are great characters.

I'm not so sure their neglect of thier children is particularly benign.


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
Well, perhaps not- it's hard to say at the moment, as 'grubby' and a lack of proper mealtimes possibly meant different things then. They are the typical bohemians of that period, aren't they? She floats around and he spouts. I much prefer Tim to Gavin, who is a little too in league with Evelyn for my liking! If I were Imogen, I would also have alarm bells going off at this part of the book and her unease is wonderfully portrayed.


message 18: by Nigeyb (last edited Apr 15, 2019 02:31AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
They are indeed typical Bohemians, and they add to the novel's period interest


Gavin is a very unappealing child, dismissive of his mother, and well on his way to becoming a carbon copy of his arrogant and self-important father.

Hard not to feel sorry for Imogen. Way out of her depth.

I am wondering who is the tortoise and who is the hare though? Is there a twist coming?


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
Yes, I feel sure it can't be as simple as it first appears, with Blanche as the hare. However, I do applaud the realistic approach to sexual attraction. There are men who have fallen for alluring, physically beautiful women, and have then realised they have nothing in common with them. Meanwhile, we have a less attractive woman, who offers Evelyn all that understanding and sympathy, which is so appealing. Even though Imogen seems happy enough to run around after him as well.


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
I am enjoying this novel more and more. We have lots of misunderstandings and difficult relationships. Imogen's with Gavin, and Evelyn. Also, there is the side relationship of Imogen and Paul Nugent - which perhaps Evelyn misunderstands?

Evelyn has a great way of turning back anything Imogen says, or does, and making it about her. He is full of righteous indignation and there is much about his work. I think he is used to people tiptoeing around him, both at work and at home. As such, it is difficult to see what more Blanche offers, other than more of the above. Is it her capability that attracts, if she attracts at all?


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I am enjoying this novel more and more."


Me too Susan. A very impressive, subtle and enigmatic tale of relationships.


Susan wrote: "...it is difficult to see what more Blanche offers, other than more of the above. Is it her capability that attracts, if she attracts at all? ..."

As Carmen Callil says, Imogen is a woman who can't do things: she can't drive, she can't control her son, she can't hunt, she knows nothing about country life, she is on no Boards or Committees, works for no Girl Guides or Women's Institutes....

...whilst Blanche is a doer.

By the by, Carmen has Imogen as the Tortoise as her defeat is also her victory. She emerges from the experience with more wisdom and insight and is, perhaps, poised to gain agency


message 22: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia | 5290 comments Mod
I'm not reading this but the discussion here is making it sound so good that maybe I should be!


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
I'd say it's right up your street RC


And, when both Hilary Mantel and Carmen Callil both sing its praises, it must have quite a bit going for it


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
Just finished this - what a wonderful novel. So glad you introduced this one, Nigeyb.


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
Wonderful news. I'm so pleased. I'm loving it too.


I can't help reflecting on how glad I am not to have had to live in the repressive world of 1950s Middle England


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
I don't know. I think I'd quite like it, to be honest!


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
What do you think you'd enjoy about it? And what downsides do you perceive?


Tania | 1031 comments Nigeyb wrote: "I'd say Imogen is a product of her time: brought up to look attractive to Evelyn, and be doting, meek and compliant. She has nothing to counteract her determined and rational rival.

Susan wrote: "..."


I'd agree with this. She comes across as a bit wet. Others have rather walked over her. I do feel sorry for her, and while I like her, I don't admire her.


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
I am sure there are downsides, Nigeyb - as there are to the present (LOTS of them...). I just like the idea of that period - 1920's, 1930's, etc.


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
I love the period too Susan, and indeed the 20s and 30s, however this book is reminding me of just how buttoned up it all was, and how constraining that must have been. That said....

...I've just been reading the section about the Leeper's party which is a somewhat louche affair. The description of the daughters coming down to grab some party food is truly shocking. Imogen and Paul's low key concern is in sharp contrast to their preoccupied parents. Gavin especially seems ill suited to such an environment.

This a splendid read. Really well written, and very insightful and astute.


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
I finished this last night. I'm still mulling it over. Very fine book though which I really enjoyed.


message 32: by Nigeyb (last edited Apr 19, 2019 02:42PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
Here’s my review


Is anyone else thinking of reading this, or currently reading but not finished? Karen perhaps?

I'm keen to discuss the ending but only once everyone who is, or wants to read it, has finished.


Tania | 1031 comments Nigeyb, your link goes to Susan.s review. (Great review, Susan).

I have finished, and I'm ready when everyone has finished. I loved it and I'm glad I finally got to it.


message 34: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4612 comments Mod
This is the link to Nigeyb's review:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I have been meaning to reread, but haven't got around to it yet - however I've read it before and vaguely remember the ending, so no problems from my end. :)


message 35: by Nigeyb (last edited Apr 19, 2019 02:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
Ah sorry about that - and thanks Judy. I'll edit the original comment so it works properly

Here’s my review again - right link


message 36: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1238 comments I'm not reading it.


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
Thanks Jan.


Is anyone else thinking of reading this, or currently reading but not finished? Karen perhaps?

I'm keen to discuss the ending but only once everyone who is, or wants to read it, has finished.


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
It is a shame that so few of her books seem readily available now, as I loved this. Apparently, her own favourite was Dr. Gully, based on a true crime case. Only one other book seems to be in print Harriet


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
That is a shame Susan. This has certainly whetted my appetite for more EJ


message 40: by Nigeyb (last edited Apr 23, 2019 12:35AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
No one has said they are not OK to discuss the ending so I'll pose my questions and observations now but, just in case anyone is still reading, or intends to read this....


* Mild spoilers ahoy.... *

What do you make of Tim's appearance in London at the end of the book?

There always seemed to be a curious unspoken bond between Tim and Imogen.

Do you think Imogen ended up looking after Tim as a surrogate son?

Also, who do you think was the hare and who the tortoise?

Although Imogen appears to be the victim, the denouement is ambiguous. Throughout the book she lacks agency having been socialised to place the needs of others before her own and yet, at the book's end, is suddenly on the cusp of freedom and autonomy.

Given how relatively easily Evelyn was prised away from his first marriage, I'm left wondering if Blanche's "victory" will turn out to be pyrrhic. Will Evelyn tire of her? Will she have to lose her independence in order to keep Evelyn? Will Gavin turn out to be a hindrance? I find it hard to imagine that her new found happiness will last for too long. What about you?

I thought Cecil provides a good example of how a woman can live on her own terms and also find happiness. By the way, I loved Cecil. A great character.

All in all a brilliant read and one that I have been thinking about ever since. I may even upgrade my rating to five stars (from four). If GR did halves it would definitely be a 4.5.


message 41: by Susan (last edited Apr 23, 2019 12:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Susan | 10155 comments Mod
I had no doubt this was a five star read, personally.

In a way, both Blanche and Imogen were the tortoise. Imogen gained freedom from her feelings of insecurity and Blanche got what she wanted. If anything, I think Evelyn turns out to be the loser. Blanche, once she had won, would not be nearly as accommodating as Imogen was.

Imogen gained Tim as the child she longed for, but I feel she may also get Gavin. There is a suggestion that he was shocked when Evelyn informed him what happened and Gavin was extremely close to Tim and is bound to be influenced by him. If Tim is with Imogen, then I feel that Gavin will follow and she will gain his love and Evelyn will lose influence over him.


message 42: by Nigeyb (last edited Apr 23, 2019 01:48AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
Thanks Susan - very interesting


Susan wrote: "In a way, both Blanche and Imogen were the tortoise"

Interesting, and not something I'd previously considered. I really can't see Imogen ever being the hare, except perhaps in the period prior to the events described in the novel.


Susan wrote: "If anything, I think Evelyn turns out to be the loser. Blanche, once she had won, would not be nearly as accommodating as Imogen was. "

I agree. Did you read the afterword by Carmen Callil? This book is quite autobiographical and there's a great little story about what happened in real life when Elizabeth Jenkins sent her ex a small gift she thought he would appreciate it. Do you recall that? It certainly suggests that Blance would be far more formidable than the docile Imogen.


Susan wrote: "Imogen gained Tim as the child she longed for, but I feel she may also get Gavin. There is a suggestion that he was shocked when Evelyn informed him what happened and Gavin was extremely close to Tim and is bound to be influenced by him."

Yes, Gavin's shock was interesting. He'd clearly assumed his mother would be there permanently whilst he blithely ignored and disparaged her. I suspect that her departure would dramatically change the dynamic and probably give Gavin a new appreciation of her.

As you also say, Tim's influence might also come to bear on him given their closeness.


Susan wrote: "Evelyn will lose influence over him (Gavin)"

Now that really would be something. I'm not sure that is so likely but it would certainly be poetic justice.


Susan wrote: "I had no doubt this was a five star read, personally."

You're right. As usual. It was also the push I needed. I too now conclude it's a five star read and I have updated my rating.

Thanks Susan.


Susan | 10155 comments Mod
I did read the afterword and thought it was an interesting tale. I think divorce will totally change the dynamic and, after a while, Imogen might emerge something like Cyril. I do think she will re-marry, but on a more equal footing.

When Gavin spends time with Imogen and Tim, without Evelyn, he will get to know her more. Also, Blanche as an interested neighbour and Blanche as an interfering stepmother, may be two very different things.

I thought one of the best scenes in the novel was where Evelyn blithely told Imogen she should have asked Blanche to go to the school. It was uncomfortable reading, but I was cheering her on at that point!


Tania | 1031 comments I'm not sure that Evelyn and Blanche will last, they seem well suited, but Blanche certainly won't be as accommodating as Imogen. If you marry your mistress, you create a vacancy. as they say.
I hope Tim does get to stay with Imogen, I think they both need each other and it would be nice to see Gavin treat her with more respect.


message 45: by Nigeyb (last edited Apr 24, 2019 06:22AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
Thanks Tania. I agree with all of that.


Tania wrote: "If you marry your mistress, you create a vacancy, as they say."

I'd never heard that one before. Very good.


carissa I just finished and enjoyed it completely. I wish this was a series of books, as the characters are so engaging.
I agree with Tania...a cheater is usually a repeat offender.
Thanks for bringing this book to my attention!


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
Thanks carissa. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Actually everyone seems to have enjoyed it so far.


As you say, it is a shame there's not more books about these characters to enjoy.


Karen Nigeyb wrote: "Thanks Jan.


Is anyone else thinking of reading this, or currently reading but not finished? Karen perhaps?

I'm keen to discuss the ending but only once everyone who is, or wants to read it, has..."

Hello : )
Finished this one and very happy to discuss ; )
Although it's so very sad I wanted to scream at Imogen and get her to stand up to the horrid character Evelyn !
Was Imogen just a trophy wife that Evelyn had grown bored with?
Why didn't Imogen make an effort to save their marriage or did she believe it was already over? ( kissing Hunter in the woods herself)
My favourite character has got to be the adorable Tim Leeper who was more suited to being Imogen's son than Gavin was.


Karen Susan wrote: "I did read the afterword and thought it was an interesting tale. I think divorce will totally change the dynamic and, after a while, Imogen might emerge something like Cyril. I do think she will re..." Me too !! shame Imogen didn't stand up to Evelyn more and maybe things may of been different


Nigeyb | 9960 comments Mod
All good questions Karen.


I concluded Imogen was bought up to be passive and put the needs of others before her own.

By the book's end however she is finally on the cusp of freedom and autonomy. Cecil was a good friend and role model for this reinvention.


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