The book blog has been sluggish lately because my world is utterly crowded with all sorts of crucially time-voracious real-life stuff, but a wicked virus has knocked me around enough this past week to give me some enforced down time and I have happily read my way through a number of okayish novels. Norah Lofts et al., suitably light but reasonably intelligent amusement for someone under the weather.
And then this one.
Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple. Written in 1932, this was Whipple’s second published novel, and the third I’ve now read.
They Knew Mr. Knight (1934) and Because of the Lockwoods (1949) were highly enjoyable, if slightly melodramatic, but Greenbanks was something on a different level.
Ostensibly a sedate family saga, it evolves into a deeply convincing manifesto on the rights of women to self-determination and social, educational, financial and sexual equality. Set in the decades before, during, and immediately after the Great War, centre stage is shared between a family matron and her granddaughter, representatives of the old world and the new, with sporadic but telling secondary roles played by the adult children of the household, their various spouses, lovers, friends and acquaintances.
The ending was unexpected, and deeply satisfying in its blunt refusal to neaten things up in a conventional way; it shocked me because I’d rather expected Whipple to manufacture an eleventh-hour cluster of pleasantly innocuous solutions to its most pressing dilemmas, and she didn’t go there at all. And it worked.
I am starting to see why Persephone Press is so dead keen on this writer; those first two books piqued my interest but this third one has given rise to real enthusiasm.
If you’re already a Dorothy Whipple person – and I know many of you are – I’d be most pleased to hear your personal opinions on Greenbanks as it stands in her body of work. Is this as good as she gets? Or am I in for some more unexpected readerly surprises?
Someone at a Distance is here on the shelf; it came in the package with Greenbanks just the other day and I am torn between diving right in, and, alternatively, allowing myself some cooling off time, because I’m still processing the deeper nuances of the book I’ve just devoured with such paradoxically reluctant speed.
It’s time to choose my evening’s reading-in-bed book, and I am at a loss at what to attempt, not wanting to diminish the mood. I’m thinking Elizabeth Cambridge, or maybe Rose Macaulay, or perhaps even a return to one of the previously-read Whipples, sure to be well sauced with the piquancy of this fresh appreciation.
The “Whipple Line”, indeed! Virago, hang your metaphorical head in shame!