TBR August 2015As promised on my review of “Jenny Wren” published yesterday, here’s my review of its sequel, which I started as soon as I’d finished the first novel, as I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to the characters. I have heard of a few people who’ve read the first but not yet the second, so I thought I’d better split the reviews across two posts to avoid spoilers!

E.H. YOUNG – “The Curate’s Wife” (Virago)

(25 December 2014, LibraryThing Virago Group (Not So) Secret Santa gift from Laura)

In this sequel to “Jenny Wren”, the emphasis switches to the older sister, Dahlia, the more relaxed, red-haired sister, who has married the curate, Mr Sproat, after knowing him for eight months. It tracks the rather painful and difficult process of their adjustment to one another in a very fair and even-handed way: the reader is made to see the faults on both sides, and so are all of the characters made to see their own faults in the end.

Their marriage is compared and contrasted with that of the Doubledays, Mr Sproat’s vicar and his wife, married for over 30 years and in a seeming pattern of dominance and subserviance which is gradually revealed to be more one of arrogance and quiet subversiveness. Everything in both marriages can turn on the expression of a word or a sentence not carefully thought about or said after due consideration, and there is much attention paid to the enormous amount of effort that goes into creating and maintaining a marriage. I particularly liked the perception in this:

He saw the parties to a marriage like two neighbouring armed states, protesting the desire and the necessity for peace and friendship, but brought, by their very proximity, to a sensitiveness which, at the slightest grievance, might see cause for a shot.

Jenny reappears part way through the novel, and two very different young men again come into their lives, showing a patterning with the first novel, although to my mind, this is a more even and successful one than the first. Jenny is the one who is clearer-headed now and sees the greater value of one man than the other, while Dahlia is in danger of having her head turned by a sort of glamorous shallowness that contrasts with the values of her husband. Clear sight, however, both of themselves and others, is eventually and gradually given to everyone in this subtle and devastating portrait of the early days of a marriage.

Now, I’m going to have to address this, and two people I’ve asked didn’t have this, but I can’t be the only one: since I got married, I’ve been horribly jangled and upset by books portraying affairs, widowhood and marital strife. It’s starting to annoy me a bit now, since most books about human relationships seem to have one or more of these. And I thought it might have died down by now. Has this happened to you, and when did it recede again?

This was Book 12 in my #20BooksOfSummer project (see, I am getting there!)

This book will suit … People who like reading Virago books and books that delve right into the depths of human and family relationships; people who don’t mind an untidy ending.

Funnily enough, I’m still reading Dr Thorne. I have a Persephone to review soon, and another couple to read, but I’m doing a bit of my Hard Book every morning, too …