Vriagoes and PersephonesWell, it looks like I’m going to do it. Here I am with the penultimate in my 20 Books of Summer pile and I’m already part way through the final one. And it’s two lovely Virago books to finish off the challenge, too! (Will I get one more in for All Virago/All August?) This one came in my LibraryThing Virago Group (Not so) Secret Santa gift from Cornishgirl and I’m very glad she sent it to me.

Margaret Kennedy – “The Ladies of Lyndon”

(25 December 2019)

A fascinating novel which starts with the joining of two families and the resulting couple’s establishment in Lyndon, a beautiful stately home crammed with lovely objects. But is it enough for our rather elusive heroine? We follow the lives of the various ladies who flit through the house, from the grandparent generation through some formidable mothers / stepmothers to a selection of the younger generation, from the last years or the Edwardian era to just post-war, allowing us to see the menfolk go off to war or profit from it in various ways, and the women to get some measure of independence of work or spirit.

Most interesting is the portrait of James, brother of our heroine’s husband and kept at Lyndon (if the new couple will have him) as someone who is described as “mentally defective”. However, unlike the poor cipher child of the Thirkell I just read, this is a fairly clear portrait of a man living (happily, once he gets going) on the autism spectrum, who is totally vindicated, with the help of various characters who are redeemed by being supportive of him, and leads the happiest life of all the characters in the book.

The daughters of the two houses marry various types of men for various reasons (the society chap, the capitalist …) and their mothers continue to run matters. Jumping forward a few years with each new section, we can observe in merciless details the scales falling from people’s eyes and the realisation of the life they have chosen – although the book is also notable for secrets and truths held back. It’s pretty cynical (or realistic) and the most startling scene is between Agatha, our heroine, and her mother, late on in the book:

‘Don’t make the mistake of supposing that you have a noble character because you would like to have one. It’s rank folly.’ (p. 288)

Ouch. An absorbing novel, written just after the end of the period it covers, making it even more immediate.

This was Book 19 in my 20 Books Of Summer project and as I mentioned above, I’m reading Book 20 at the moment so think I will get done – especially as Book 20 is essentially a book of children’s short stories.