Posts Tagged ‘1968 Novel’

Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw ~ 1968. This edition: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. Hardcover. 311 pages.

This vintage “young adult” novel  is a gorgeous bildungsroman concerning the daughter of celebrities who is given a chance to temporarily reinvent herself as a nobody.

As a (once-upon-a-time) homeschooling parent I was already familiar with Eloise Jarvis McGraw from her often-recommended books for slightly younger readers such as The Golden Goblet and The Moorchild, and I generally liked her work.

But I’d never heard of her 1968 novel Greensleeves until bumping into my cyberfriend Jenny’s post, wherein she calls Greensleeves one of her favourite books ever, and goes on to review it in glowing terms.

I was immediately interested, as we share similar tastes in a number of genres, and set off on a quest for a long-out-of-print copy for myself. Rare indeed, this one was, with prices as expected, but I took a deep breath and went for it, and by golly, Jenny was right. This is a charmer.

So I’m going to cheat a bit here, and send you over to read what Jenny says, because she’s pretty convincing:

Jenny’s thoughts on Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Greensleeves

So if you’ve been and done what I said to do and have read Jenny’s post and then come back here to see what else I have to say, I’ll pad things out a bit.

Our heroine Shannon/Georgetta/Greensleeves is an utter mass of insecurities on the inside, though she presents exceedingly well on the outside, a state of affairs I am sure a lot of us can relate to, right? Even well beyond those brutal teenage years, when we’re trying to figure out who the heck we are, and how to find friends, and the complications of romantic love and the freight train of sexual feelings and how to be true to yourself when you don’t even know what that really means because life is so utterly complicated.

Yes? Of course. Yes.

So all of that aside, the story is absolutely entertaining, as Shannon reinvents herself and puts her new persona across with mixed results to a crowd of new acquaintances. She goes into her new world thinking one thing, finds herself rather mistaken, does a mental flip, and then despite her personal epiphany finds out that people are just going to do what they’re going to do regardless of well-intentioned meddling from outside forces. The only cage door you can open is your own, because the trickiest latch is on the inside, and sometimes the cage is where you need to be. And sometimes not.

Okay, that’s the message, which I seem to be stuck on this morning, despite my intentions of telling more about the actual story.

This is my third time reading this book, and it’s still pure pleasure. It belongs on the same shelf as I Capture the Castle, another of my cherished vintage “teen” reads which defies its ghettoization as a “young adult” book, whatever that is supposed to mean.

I mean, good is good, right? Whether “targetted” for a ten-year-old, sixteen-year-old or fifty-year-old. I don’t think we change all that much inside our heads, no matter what the externals do. Or so I am finding in my own case. Essentially I am the same person I was way-back-then, with of course layers of experience and what I like to think of as wisdom <insert smiley face here> tempering the highs and lows of my emotional range.

Greensleeves is sweet but not mawkish, thoughtful but not preachy, frequently very funny, and also a little bit heart-rending in places. It’s utterly relatable in its essentials, in a vintage sort of way. It is an absolute period piece, and I say that with an approving nod, because it captures elements of its era wonderfully well.

So, if this sort of thing appeals to you, you will be happy to hear that the novel has recently been republished (in 2015) and can now be found both new and used at exceeding reasonable prices. It’s part of the “Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush Rediscoveries” reprint series, with a foreword by the aforementioned Nancy Pearl, who I must confess I have zero familiarity with.

Obviously I’m way out of that loop, but here is what Wikipedia says about Nancy Pearl, and on the strength of that, and of her championship of Greensleeves (among other neglected books) I say “Hurray” for her!

Oh, yes. My rating. 9.5/10.

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The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor ~ 1968. This edition: Chatto and Windus, 1968. First Edition. Hardcover. 230 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10. I know that Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975) is something of a pet author among the book blogging crowd, but I find I sometimes have to try really hard to whole-heartedly like her style. I found the writing in this novel rather stilted and distant; I also found the story itself depressing, with the humour being on the subfusc side of the spectrum.

To be quite fair, there were numerous passages of exceedingly enjoyable prose, and I did easily make it to the end of this slight novel without losing interest. And as this is my second time willingly reading this book,  it can’t be all that bad! Perhaps the fact that this time round it was hospital bed reading has coloured my review? I’ve just had an unplanned foray into the medical world, with prospects of more blood testing, scans and bed-time to come; this is certainly souring my current disposition. I’m thinking Elizabeth Taylor is not a good author to be reading in that venue. (Or perhaps she is the very best? Highlighting the cynical side of life, and all…)

*****

Nineteen-year-old Cressida (Cressy) has lived all of her life in the exclusive artists’ colony presided over by her patriarchal maternal grandfather, Harry Bretton. The only child of meek mother Rose, and ineffectual father Joe (an Irish would-be writer hand-picked by Harry as a suitably infuenceable husband for his daughter), Cressy yearns for a life outside of the earnestly dull extended-family enclave she is trapped in.

Harry Bretton was once a outré artist whose depictions of Biblical scenes incorporating contemporary settings caused a certain stir. The art world has moved on, and such non-conventional depictions are now the norm, but Harry clings to his old style, supplementing his decreasing artistic income by forays into religious lecturing, as well as taking in well-heeled “disciples” eager to study at the feet of the “Master”, as he has self-styled himself.

Cressy first announces her renunciation of religion, to her mother’s shock and, disappointingly, to her grandfather’s tolerant amusement – he casts an omniscient view over his subservient clan, and patronizingly assumes that this is merely a youthful rite of passage, though more suitable perhaps to a boyish temperament rather than that of a girl. (Harry Bretton has decided views regarding the proper subservient role of the female sex.)

Cressy then finds herself a job doing menial chores at the village antique store, and, in a small sequence of coincidences, meets a middle-aged journalist who is a friend of the antique shop owners, as well as having previously written a sarcastic article regarding Harry Bretton’s establishment. David Little is modestly successful in his field, and, living with his divorced mother, has a comfortable enough life, though he has noticed that of late romantic relationships are becoming more and more unsatisfactory, as all the “good ones” – desirable women with looks, charm and pleasant personalities – are leaving the singles scene for the securities and domestic pleasures of marriage.

David surprises himself by his attraction to childish Cressy’s innocent enjoyment of such worldly pleasures as television, hamburger bars and ready-made clothing, and soon the two are romantically involved, to the initial pleasure of David’s emotionally needy and manipulative mother Midge, who sees in Cressy an unthreatening solution to the long dreaded break-up of her mother-son domain.

Cressy and David marry, and Midge turns her full attention to preserving the status quo by erasing Cressy’s already feeble self-will and ensuring the continued attendance of David at the maternal beck and call. Cressy’s pregnancy and subsequent incompetent attempts at motherhood eventually bring about a shift in the balance of power as Midge becomes infatuated with her new grandson, and David realizes that the only hope for himself and his marriage is a breaking away from his mother’s insinuating grasp.

The ending is ambiguous and could be slanted either optimistically or the reverse; I chose to read into it a hopeful future for all involved, though this is in no way guaranteed by the author’s very hands-off approach.

I felt that the characters were nothing like as fully developed as they could have been; Midge seems to be the only fully rounded person in the story, and might indeed be the main protagonist. Cressy and David came across as mere sketches, though there are glimpses into the depths of each of them; just enough to keep us on their side and hope for an improvement in their relationship and their personal lives. Cressy’s parents and cousins are, in general, sympathetically handled, but one of the most potentially interesting characters,  Harry Bretton – the Master himself – is left as a mockable caricature.

Elizabeth Taylor was a decidedly clever writer with a wry and morbidly humorous viewpoint, but by concentrating on the darker side of human nature she walks the edge of being just a shade too cynical for my personal present reading comfort.

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