I know this is an author that several mid-century-writer-lovers enjoy, but I personally found this delicate study a little bit dated somehow; maybe it’s not considered one of her best, although my edition is an Oxford 20th Century Classics one. I’d be interested to know what others thought of it. I didn’t dislike it, but was just a bit meh. I found the portrayal of the ‘lower’ classes a bit patronising, too, although they were seen mainly through the eyes of the main character – but not always.
Joanna Cannan – “High Table”
(3 September 2016 – Astley Book Farm)
Theodore is a bookish, shy and somewhat severe mini-scholar, only child of unloving and unyielding parents, who is forced into (fake) companionship with the local gentry and hates it, so is drawn into friendship with the quiet daughter of the local innkeeper. Once mistake later and he’s buried himself deep into the life of an Oxford college, eschewing matters of the heart and most personal interaction for academic ambition (although he only produces one slim volume).
Slowly, though, his carapace is chipped away, first by disappointment, then by the infiltration of some ordinary, cheerful people into his life. As the First World War draws near and wears on, he searches his soul for his place, and that of Oxford, in the world of bravery and war in which he finds himself – as ever, at a remove. Will he find that place and/or happiness and family, or will it all be snatched away?
A slightly uneven book – with a fairly realistic trenches section I had to skim – but very delicate in its portrayal of the influence of upbringing on people’s later lives, and on a shy and damaged man who just cannot deal with robust life in all its uncertainty. He breaks out twice with some degree of violence or show, but apart from that is submerged beneath his self-created agonies. Written in 1931 and republished with a glowing introduction in 1987, it does seem of its time and is probably a little quiet for many tastes now, but without the detail and humanity of other quiet books I’ve read.
I’m currently alternating Deborah Devonshire’s charming memoirs, “Wait for Me” (another Astley find) with “Irresistable”, the somewhat irresistable book about behavioural addiction to online pursuits.