Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins

This is the very last library book I'm reviewing before I really get into my TBR dare -- I know, I was supposed to have finished all of them before January 1, but I did start it last year and I had to take a break and finish all of my book group selections last week.  And it was an Inter-Library Loan so I wouldn't be able to renew it.

Anyway.  This is exactly the sort of book I'm into at the moment, domestic fiction in the early 20th century.  But it wasn't AT ALL what I was expecting -- I thought it would be light and charming, sort of like Nightingale Wood or Miss Buncle.  It wasn't exactly light, and I wouldn't call it charming, though it was a good, thought-provoking book.  I'm not sure if I really liked it, but it's really sticking with me.  I guess that makes it a good book.

That probably makes no sense, so here is the synopsis:  Set in the early 1950s Imogen and her husband, Evelyn, have been married for about 15 years.  She's in her late 30s and he's older, in his early 50s, and he's a very successful lawyer with a London practice, though they're currently living in the country with their son Gavin, who's about ten.  Imogen is lovely and charming and not particularly deep, and her husband seems kind of overbearing.  Lately, Evelyn, the husband, has been spending a lot of time with their neighbor, Blanche Silcox, a wealthy, somewhat dowdy country spinster.  Evelyn seems to be increasingly under the influence of Blanche, though the idea that Evelyn could be cheating on his beautiful wife seems at first ridiculous.  Or is it?

The novel takes Imogen's point of view, and I can't say that I really liked her -- she needed to grow up and develop a backbone.  I ended up taking a break from this book due to my book discussion groups, and I wasn't sorry to leave it for a week or so -- I was so frustrated with Imogen's passivity that I wanted to shake her or at least throw the book across the room (which I would never do because I'm a librarian and it wasn't my book.  I don't want to annoy the ILL people!)   However, after finishing it and reading the afterword, I think this was the point of the book -- Evelyn married Imogen because she was passive and pretty, the perfect woman of the 1950s.

This book has some great writing, and Jenkins really does draw the characters well -- there are some bourgeois neighbors that are really hilarious, they're so awful.  This book made me really think about relationships and the role of women in the 1950s.  I suppose it was better than in the Victorian era, but really not that much!

If anyone else has reviewed or read this book, please let me know because I'd love to hear your thoughts.  The Tortoise and the Hare would be great for a discussion group but naturally my library doesn't have a single copy.  If you're looking for an interesting book for the upcoming Virago Reading Week, I highly recommend this book.

11 comments:

  1. I've already picked my books for the Virago Reading Week but I'd like to read this one sometime too. The title and cover do suggest that it would be light and charming, so it's interesting that it turned out not to be!

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  2. I don't think this is at all the sort of book I would like!!

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  3. Sigh. Why aren't women named Imogen any more, and men named Evelyn? Those names always sound to me very much stuck in the 1930s-1950s era. I wonder if there was a reason they were popular then...

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  4. Helen, I keep changing my book choices for Virago Reading Week -- I have so many I want to read! I'm glad you mentioned the cover, I think that might be why I thought it would be a lighter read.

    Amanda -- it's not a fluffy read but I have a feeling you would have hated Imogen. And Evelyn!! I wanted Imogen to smack him with a cricket bat or something. Not that I advocate violence, of course!

    Aarti -- I also wondered about the author naming the husband Evelyn. I realize it wasn't uncommon for a British man in that era but it was a little confusing. And the Blanche character made me think of Blanche DuBois, so I was prejudiced against her.

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  5. I read The Tortoise & the Hare, last year (review here) and liked the writing, even if the story was a bit frustrating.

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  6. This sounds pretty interesting and my library system actually has a copy - I'm shocked! Will put in a request when the tbr dare is over. Thanks.

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  7. Very intriguing review. My library actually has 4 copies - I might check it out.

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  8. Carolyn -- I loved your review. I completely agree, the story was so frustrating and yet the writing was so good. I never felt any sympathy for Evelyn, I just wanted to shout at him, he was so arrogant and self-centered.

    JoAnn -- it's very interesting, though a bit of a difficult read. And I'm glad your library has a copy.

    Motheretc -- four copies! What riches! I wonder if they have other Viragos.

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  9. I've heard such great things about this book and after reading your post about it, I know I have to get myself a copy of it ASAP. Sounds like it will be quite a good read. Thanks for the heads up!

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  10. I've seen a second hand copy of Jenkins' biography of Jane Austen which I'm going to get and then I may move on to her fiction. Thanks for your review.

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  11. I read this last summer and...for the writing, if not the characters!...it became one of my fsvorite books read last year.

    http://booksasfood.blogspot.com/2010/08/tortoise-and-hare.html

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