I just knew it would be a Persephone book to the rescue, and that it might be a Dorothy Whipple that would end my fiction drought, and I wasn't wrong.
Greenbanks, published in 1932, and the Book of the Month for September of that year as chosen by the Book Society who reassured me with this...
'...This is a quiet book and it is a true book. It is also a beautiful book. There is nothing in it shocking or disturbing, it is full of natural humour of a quiet kind, but its great quality is that it is able, without making us ashamed of ourselves, to give us some new friends...'
I wasn't quite sure what was meant by that last sentence other than that I should feel faintly embarrassed if I felt a sense of attachment to the characters...do you think?
But I felt confident that this would be the right book for me at that very moment, and within a very few pages I was hooked.
I quickly peopled up the Ashton family tree. It is 1909 and parents Robert and Louisa are living in Greenbanks, the family home. It is Christmas and they are entertaining their six adult children and spouses and grandchildren various, but most prominently seven-year old Rachel who offers that uninhibited, untainted child's-eye view of this world controlled by men and in which women are firmly oppressed. And the control and the power is mostly about money of which the women have none unless the men give it to them, all of which Rachel will have to learn as she grows into an intelligent but constrained young woman.
The central relationship in Greenbanks is that between Rachel and her grandmother Louisa, and a brief look at Dorothy Whipple's autobiography The Other Day suggests that a few real-life plots find their way into Greenbanks, including that of the grandmother's live-in companion who has at some stage given birth to an illegitimate child. But true to the word of the book's publicity, nothing shocking happens (at least nothing that would shock in 2014) and there are no surprises. Everything seemed reassuringly telegraphed well in advance as I read and I knew exactly where the happy-ever-after would settle and who would be destined for a fall, and that knowing didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book one jot. I do think Dorothy Whipple might be one of the perfect reads for these moments in life.
I didn't take many notes, I just needed to read and see if I could get from one end to the other in a made-up story again, so please forgive the lack of reference to plot action, or setting, or anything remotely helpful for anyone trying to decide whether to read Greenbanks, or not. But if sufficient unto the day is the knowledge that I went into the book having not read any fiction for months and emerged knowing that I was back on the fiction track, then hopefully that is recommend enough. I loved the book for its gentleness and its astute observations about life, about homes and furnishings, about clothes, and for the dialogue which just happens as if for real (as Charles Lock agrees in his Afterword) and quite thought I might be on a Whipple roll so immediately picked up another...but it wasn't to be. I was Whippled out, one was enough and Because of the Lockwoods will be waiting for the next time I need rescuing perhaps.
But I leave you with grandmother Louisa, a sock-knitter after my own heart...
'I'm just going to turn this heel dear so I shan't be able to speak for a moment or two.'
Meanwhile I am sure there are plenty of Dorothy Whipple fans out there so please do add more in comments, either to plump out these thoughts about Greenbanks, or about any other favourites, and let's have ourselves a little WhippleFest.