Strengths: Clever characterisation and wry humour.
Weaknesses: Quite short and not a lot of action – this time, the focus is on the characters.
Why I read it: Love Persephone Books!
Published: 2007 (first published 1932)
Publisher: Persephone Books
Rating: 7 out of 10
I do love the Persephone Books series and who could resist this pretty Persephone Classic with the lady reading on the front? Contained with its pages is a charmingly witty little novella that you can read on a lazy afternoon.
The novella takes place over the course of just one afternoon that happens to be the day of Dolly’s wedding. She is having some last minute doubts in her bedroom as chaos reigns below. As she sits looking outside having a quiet drink, the family and friends are having quite a complex interplay of emotions downstairs. There’s Joseph, who loves Dolly – but does she really know? He hasn’t yet told her. Dolly’s mother, Mrs Thatcham, is overseeing the arrangement and rearrangement of the house to the weary servants. (Mrs Thatcham, hopefully unknowingly, has put all the guests in the same bedroom – oh if only the novel continued what confusion there would be!) Kitty, the loud sister, has opinions on everything, but is light-hearted and fun. The two younger boys, Robert and Tom, run in and out of the narrative wildly, arguing about whether is it suitable to wear green socks at a wedding.
It is the interaction between the characters that make this book fun. We move from Dolly and Joseph’s reflective musings to the humourous chaos that always happens before a big event. But behind the comedy, there are some sombre thoughts. Where is Mr Thatcham? What does Owen (Dolly’s new husband) make of this loud, busy family? Has Dolly made the right decision? Should Joseph reveal himself? Is Kitty being so loud to cover up that she’s the bridesmaid, not the bride? Why is Mrs Thatcham so contradictory – is she simply ruffled in the middle of the kerfuffle, or is there something more going on?
While you’re pondering all this, nothing really happens. The only real event is Mrs Thatcham insisting it’s such ‘cheerful weather’ when all the descriptions suggests it’s blowing an absolute gale. It’s really the theme of the story – everyone is pretending to be jovial and rambunctious, but there’s a lot of regret hidden underneath.
The prose is gorgeous in describing the characters to the point where I wanted to tell everyone downstairs to just be quiet! I really felt I was in the middle of the harem scarum. There are probably a lot of hidden meanings and themes in the way the characters acted, but I read for pleasure these days and I felt the novel worked just fine.