September 01 2020 TBRI reached the end of my 2019 birthday books with this one (and then I seem to hop to April and quickly to August – I can’t have bought many books in mid-2019, unlike this year!), another Dean Street Press book from their Furrowed Middlebrow and the other one my best friend Emma gave me (follow this link to see all my DSP reads so far). This wasn’t my favourite of Eliot’s novels but is still sharp, readable and engaging.

Elizabeth Eliot – “Mrs Martell”

(21 January 2019 – from Emma)

Mrs Martell looked at him inquiringly, reprovingly and seductively, all at the same time. She managed this by raising her eyebrows, opening her eyes very wide and by throwing her head just a fraction backwards, and on her beautiful mouth – partly opened to show her beautiful teeth – there was a suggestion of a smile. (p. 26)

This tells you all you need to know about the calculated nature of Mrs Martell and her beauty. It’s a fictional portrait of a truly dreadful woman  akin to Elizabeth Taylor’s “Angel” or Mrs Bankes in “Not at Home“, who we meet in her late 30s, a suburban daughter made slightly good but wanting more, a brittle woman who we meet as she speculates on a murder in the shop downstairs, then see in flashback as she grows from her teens then follow as she convinces her distant cousin Laura that she’s mentally ill (there’s a great bit of pacing here where we slowly build and then jump through time so we’re as confused as poor Laura for a moment) so that she can get her claws into Laura’s husband.

There’s great observation of her relationship with her equally disappointed mother, trying to get her attention as she lives out her years by the sea in an Elizabeth Fair-like boring town; it’s all very well-observed and slightly malicious, but doesn’t have that artless first-person voice I’ve loved in the author’s other novels. I did cheer when Laura fought back in her own way, while Mrs Martell is found out when she lets the facade slip and loses her temper (Laura seems without artifice, which is both her problem and her saving grace), and the ending is a triumph for the woman woh can gather herself up and start again.