My rating: 5/10. This one had its moments, but the confusing set-up, generally unlikable characters, hasty and improbable resolutions to various conflicts and romances, and jaw-dropping (in the most offensive way) final few lines kept me from enjoying it to the full. I would not recommend it.
I am very ready to move on with this novel, so this will be the briefest of reviews. (Coming back to add that it got rather long after all. But it was fast to write, so that counts for soomething.) For more, visit the Goodreads page. I am in the minority with my distaste for this book, but it really left me quite cold. I might re-read it at some point far in the future, but right now all I want to do is return it to the library and wipe it from my brain.
Opinionated, critical, near-death Aunt Becky has called a clan meeting – a “levee” – to discuss who of her vast extended family will inherit a prized hand painted jug, brought from Holland as a marital gift several generations before. She proceeds to read her own obituary and lay out some cutting critiques of everyone present as one last demonstration of her emotional hold over the intertwined Dark and Penhallow families.
She dies soon after, and the reading of her will is attended in full family force. But Aunt Becky has one last trick up her sleeve. There will be a waiting period of a year before the heir to the jug is revealed, and in the meantime, everyone had better be on their best behaviour, or risk losing their chance to inherit.
Something like sixty family intermarriages between the two clans have created a complicated network of relatives and in-laws, and the author tosses us in head first. It took quite a few chapters before I had any sense of who was who, and, it was more work than it was ultimately worth – lay this one down at your peril! I did that and had to start all over again to reacquaint myself with the vast cast of characters.
- Joscelyn Dark has been estranged from her husband Hugh since their marriage night; only Aunt Becky has been privy to the reason why. What happened that night?
- Sweet Gay Penhallow is engaged to Noel Gibson, but her vampish flapper cousin Nan has decided to steal Noel away. Roger Penhallow has been secretly in love with Gay for years – should he seize this chance to step in?
- Orphaned, illegitimate youngster Brian Dark is the abused chore boy on his strict uncle’s farm; even his pet kitten does not escape his uncle’s wrath. Will justice prevail?
- Peter Penhallow has been off roaming the world, but he surprises everyone, including himself, by falling head over heels in love with his childhood enemy Donna Dark, who has been married and widowed in the meantime. Does Donna return his passion?
- Margaret Penhallow is a mild, plain-featured, un-sought-after old maid who has one great wish. Will she ever achieve it?
- The two Sam Darks, Big and Little, are cousins who have lived together in harmony for thirty years. Why have they parted ways over a silly little statue and a ginger cat?
There are more situations brewing and boiling over, but those are the main threads, and the resolutions are a long time in coming in this ambitiously-plotted story.
My impression of the whole thing was that it was a mile wide and an inch deep; there was very little chance to get to know any of the characters, and I found myself annoyed at all of them, except perhaps wee innocent Brian, and quietly good Roger.
The final few sentences of the story were what sealed this novel’s fate with me; the author includes a completely gratuitous and blatantly racist and misogynist exchange between the newly reconciled Sam Darks. I will include it here for you to read for yourself. I’ve whited it out just below; highlight it to read it if you feel the desire. They are speaking of Little Sam’s nude statue of Aurora, “Goddess of the Dawn”, which was the original reason for their quarrel.
“What you bin doing to that old heathen immidge of yours?” demanded Big Sam, setting down half drunk his cup of militant tea with a thud.
“Give her a coat of bronze paint,” said Little Sam proudly. “Looks real tasty, don’t it? Knew you’d be sneaking home some of these long-come-shorts and thought I’d show you I could be consid’rate of your principles.”
“Then you can scrape it off again,” said Big Sam firmly. “Think I’m going to have an unclothed nigger sitting up there? If I’ve gotter be looking at a naked woman day in and day out, I want a white one for decency’s sake.”
Yeah. The end for me, too. This is Lucy Maud at her very worst. I won’t dismiss her many other works, because some of them are beautifully written and deeply moving, but this one bothered me in more ways than one, and the ending passage disgusted me, “consider the times” or not.