I’ve been terribly lax with the 1947 Club, run by Simon at Stuckinabook and Karen at Kaggsysbookishramblings (see my post linked above for details). I knew the week of reading books published in 1947 was running from 10-16 October, I bought a copy of “Chatterton Square” to start reading when we got back from our holiday, I had enough time to read and review it and … everything went wrong. I had work stuff, I had running stuff, I was too tired after a bad half marathon to finish it on Saturday … and so it goes on. So here’s my very late entry to the 1947 Club – I know the next one will be centred around 1951 already, and I will try to Do Better!
E. H. Young – “Chatterton Square”
(Bought 15 September 2016)
Young’s final novel shows her mastery of both perceiving and writing about the ebbs and currents that flow within families and between them. In this novel, set in her favourite setting of the Clifton area of Bristol, two families live in a run-down square. The Blacketts consist of an arrogant and vain husband who has basically suffered from not being ‘squashed’ early on, and his wife, Bertha, who secretly loathes in and has drawn her only pleasure from her concealment of this fact – which will surely burst forth at some stage. The description of the little annoyances and physical revulsions of this marriage are delicately done, and Blackett’s dawning horrified realisation that his wife is almost totally unknown to him – with her laughter and her own newspaper – is horrific for the reader, in a way, too, although we have no sympathy for him. However, he is a monster whose origin story we can believe, not a cardboard cut-out cipher. Flora is like her father, and Bertha criticises him through her, and Rhoda is like her mother – again, Young excels at portraying their relationship.
Round the corner, the Frasers are dangerous because they have no visible man at the helm. Rosamund, who is claimed to be the central character of the novel (I don’t know that Bertha isn’t) is delighted that her children’s internal lives are almost totally unknown to her: she’s a self-confessed neglectful mother who sorts out the material but does not pay attention to the spiritual and emotional development of her children. Unlike the controlling parent next door, she does not interfere; interestingly, they grow up like her absent husband or like her all the same. Rosamund’s main sustaining relationship is with her childhood friend, the unmarried Miss Spanner, who now lives with the family, and most of the stories and emotions are played out in their respective bedrooms as everyone visits each other late at night.
The Fraser family is attractive to the Blacketts and a more free association is formed, especially when the Frasers install a wireless on which to listen to news of the impending war. Because it’s not just a light read about families in opposition (I wouldn’t call any of Young’s books light: they explore very hard lessons to learn and the minutiae of marriages and families), overshadowed by two wars as it is. World War 1 casts a long shadow from the past, with Bertha’s attractive but horribly wounded cousin Piers a reminder of the war duty Herbert Blackett somehow avoided; and World War 2 is coming. Although no actual events are referred to, the physical (checking for safe places, Miss Spanner getting her gas mask) and especially psychological effects of the shadow of war are powerfully drawn.
There are no easy answers as to what becomes of the characters even though this was written after the end of the war. A deeply absorbing book and highly recommended.
Well, that one took a long time to read. I’m still working on Woolf’s “Common Reader” (Vol 1) and I also have a review book to read for Shiny New Books and a rare NetGalley acquisition – how could I resist when I was emailed with an offer of Grayson Perry’s “The Descent of Man”, which I managed to nab. Then there’s the next Dorothy Richardson, too. Better get reading …