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Someone at a Distance (Persephone Classics) [Paperback]

Nina Bawden , Dorothy Whipple
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Persephone Books Ltd; Revised edition edition (24 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906462003
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906462000
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13.9 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 74,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'A very good novel indeed about the fragility and also the tenacity of love' commented the "Spectator" about this 1953 novel by Dorothy Whipple, which was ignored fifty years ago because 'editors are going mad for action and passion' (as she was told by her publisher). But this last novel by a writer whose books had previously been bestsellers is outstandingly good by any standards. Apparently 'a fairly ordinary tale about the destruction of a happy marriage' (Nina Bawden in the Preface) yet 'it makes compulsive reading' in its description of an ordinary family ('Ellen was that unfashionable creature, a happy housewife') struck by disaster when the husband, in a moment of weak, mid-life vanity, runs off with a French girl.Dorothy Whipple is a superb stylist, with a calm intelligence in the tradition of Mrs Gaskell (both wrote in the "Midlands" and had similar preoccupations). 'The prose is simple, the psychology spot on' said the "Telegraph", and John Sandoe Books commented: 'We have all delighted in this unjustly forgotten novel; it is well written and compelling'.

From the Publisher

Someone at a Distance (1953) was the first novel by Dorothy Whipple Persephone Books published, although it was the last she wrote. We chose it because we think it is her best, an outstandingly good novel by any standards. Apparently a 'fairly ordinary tale about the destruction of a happy marriage,' Nina Bawden wrote in her Preface, yet 'it makes compulsive reading' in its description of an 'ordinary' family, husband commuting up to town, wife at home ('Ellen was that unfashionable creature, a happy housewife'). Disaster strikes when a young French woman visits (the scenes back in France are most beautifully described, with touches of Balzac or Maupassant) and calculatingly seduces the husband. He abandons everything for her; then there is no going back.

The effect on his wife and children, on his partner at work, the way his life is destroyed in an instant of mid-life madness, all combine to create a novel of exceptional insight. This is a strongly moral book, which shows Ellen as a fulfilled yet dangerous innocent, with a touch of smugness which blinds her to her husband's vanity. Yet neither of them are more smug, or more vain, than anyone else...which is why the novel has a universal quality lifting it out of the realm of the commonplace.
Dorothy Whipple is a superb stylist: not a 'fine' writer or a Modernist but a calm intelligence in the tradition of Mrs Gaskell and George Eliot. The first sentence, with its overtones about the tragecy to come, encapsulatges the novel's quality: 'Widowed, in the house her husband had built with day and night nurseries and a music-room, as if the children would stay there for ever, instead of marrying and going off at the earliest possible moment, old Mrs North yielded one day to a long-felt desire to provide herself with company. She answered an advertisement in the personal column of The Times.'
'The prose is simple, the psychology spot on' said the Daily Telegraph, while the Spectator called it 'a very good novel indeed about the fragility and also the tenacity of love.' Someone at a Distance was in the Evening Standard bestseller list, propelled there in part by the enthusiasm of John Sandoe's bookshop in Sloane Square, which commented in its booklist: 'We have all delighted in this unjustly forgotten novel; it is well written and compelling.' Someone at a Distance has now become one of Persephone Books' quiet bestsellers. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
72 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marriage turned upside down 21 April 2001
By Lynette Baines VINE VOICE
Dorothy Whipple is yet another unjustly forgotten woman writer of the 40s and 50s. Someone at a distance is the story of an ordinary marriage. Ellen is a little complacent, a little smug about the happiness of her life and the security of her relationship with her husband, Avery. Avery is just drifting along in his comfortable job and familiar home life. The catalyst for change and tragedy in the novel is a discontented Frenchwoman Louise, who arrives as a companion to Avery's mother and insinuates herself into the family. In one memorable scene, Avery feels he is being engulfed by Louise's strong perfume, a wonderful metaphor for her effect on his life. He is too weak to fight off the effects of the perfume, and ultimately, he is too weak to fight off the consequences of his dalliance with Louise. Ellen emerges as a much stronger, more sympathetic character as she deals with the aftermath of Avery's desertion- dealing with gossips, sympathetic yet shocked relatives, and discovering a new place for herself in the changed world she inhabits. This is a beautifully written book with a strong moral sense and the ending is full of hope. Persephone have also republished Dorothy Whipple's They knew Mr Knight. If you enjoy well-written, absorbing novels with believable characters, I can't recommend Whipple's work too highly.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read More Dorothy Whipple 8 Feb 2006
This has to be one of the most quietly brilliant novels I've read in a long time.
It tells the story of the most perfect happy family destroyed by one foolish mistake and the arts of a young French woman. It's simply heart-breaking and can make the reader, by turns, fume with anger and cry with sadness!
Dorothy Whipple's writing is without embellishments but is able to grip the reader until the very end. Louise releases a Pandora's Box full of evil and pain upon the happy North family...but at the bottom of the box was of course...hope. This is what Whipple leaves us with and it's perfect.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wife vs Young Temptress 26 Oct 2005
Continuing with my run of Persephone titles (following the delightful Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day), Someone at a Distance lives up to the high standard I have come to expect from Persephone. Dorothy Whipple puts a unique spin on the all too familiar tale of a husband going off with a younger woman - leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves. Vividly imagined, the characters' inner dialogues and outward behaviour as they react to the events unfolding around them are both realistic and insightful. The wife's response, as she struggles to cope and find new accomodation and work, is especially moving.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This is a book my bookgroup decided to read, following a fellow member's recommendation. I am so pleased I had the opportunity and pleasure to read this book and discover the writings of an excellent albeit underrated female novelist.
From the beginning, Whipple's writing is engaging, constructive and begs you not to put the book down.
The story is gripping without sensational twists but a real time version of a family disintegrating due to a foolish, vain and weak husband. I agree with other reviewers that say that the 'heroine' comes out very well at the end of the novel since she has 'grown'.
My only mistake is that I read the foreward which revealed a synopsis of the novel before I had read it. It rather spoilt some of the surprises, so don't read it until you've finished the novel!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read 16 Aug 2009
Although I wanted to slap nearly everybody, I read on breathlessly til the end. So much misguided thought, love and loyalty. So much psychology of disappointment and expectation. The period might be then, but the love story is now. It could all happen in 2010 with that slinky au pair... Read it. Really good.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Someone at a distance 29 Aug 2008
I came to this book with no expectations or previous knowledge of Dorothy Whipple and I was completely absorbed and moved by the telling of this subtle and very satisfying story. Amongst the seemingly gentle storyline are searing and sharply accurate observations about men and women that bring a timeless quality to the writing. Womderful. The bext book I have read in a very long time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just brilliant! 20 July 2012
I don't know how she does it! All of her books are so well written and yet so readable. Whenever I retell the story of any of her novels to anyone, they don't sound that gripping, but it is quite literally the way she tells them that makes them such page-turners!
She draws a vivid and convincing picture of her characters making them real from the first to the last page and beyond. I'm still cross with Avery to be honest. I don't think I can forgive him just yet.
A nice cup of tea, a slice of Victoria Sponge and a Whipple in hand - life doesn't get much better.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another gem from Persephone 25 April 2010
By Suzie
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I loved this book and was really sorry to finish it. The writing style is quite ordinary, but Dorothy Whipple's depiction of happy family life destroyed by momentary temptation is so perceptive that it is totally absorbing. The characters are well depicted so that I felt I really knew them, particularly Ellen, the complacently contented and ultimately wronged wife, and Louise, a predatory French girl who follows her own selfish ends without consideration for the feelings of others. The husband, Avery, may be attractive, but he's also weak and easily led to the point that you want to shake him until he comes to his senses. I couldn't imagine how the book would end, but you have to keep reading to find out.

This is an absolute gem from Persephone Classics. If you enjoy stories about relationships and how they develop and founder, and about the power of love, then do read this. You'll love it!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Twists and turns
A little out dated but nonetheless a thoroughly good read in all senses. Great English, which makes reading a joy and a wonderfully twisting plot to get the reader guessing!
Published 1 month ago by kittycat
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling read
This was a book club selection. My heart sank a bit when it was chosen, as a book written in the 1950s about the break down of a marriage didn't seem to promise the most exciting... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Title page
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging with wonderful characters
I enjoyed We were sisters which I read for book club, it was my first taste of Dorothy Whipple. I am now planning to read all of her work.
Published 4 months ago by Ms M McLaughlin
4.0 out of 5 stars Someone at a Distance
Brought this book as it was the chosen book at my book club. Enjoyed the story, a straight foreward tale, easy to read.
Published 6 months ago by Rosemary Figes
5.0 out of 5 stars A blast from the past
Read this on tandem with a contemporary novel about Relationships and found this book an unexpectedly great read.and so well written.
Published 7 months ago by Anne Amarilli
4.0 out of 5 stars A Page turner
This is the first book I read by Dorothy Whipple and I find it very appealing. I couldn't putit down, so absorbed I was by the North's story. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Teresa Ferreira
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing read
I had high hope for this book after the excellent reviews and having just finished In Pursuit of Love which was great. Sadly Someone At A Distance was not nearly as good. Read more
Published 11 months ago by London Girl
4.0 out of 5 stars A deserved re-publication
A convincing novel with some excellent portraits: Dorothy Whipple created a monster in Louise. It's a novel of its time and accordingly a window into another world that seems... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Janie P
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
Wow, what a portrait of an English woman and her marriage. It is a deliciously compelling, exciting story that features the most seductive French temptress ever! Read more
Published 16 months ago by K. Kerby
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful surprise
Our Book Club choice chosen by a 30 something German girl. Expected to find it a tough read. However, it is brilliant.
Published 17 months ago by MRS S ANGEL
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