This bittersweet novel has a deceptively simple story which is brought to life through prose which is more like poetry at times; rich and full and evocative without ever being purple or pompous. It is charged with emotion, both amusing and heartbreaking, and I'm green with envy that Rebecca West wrote this when she was only twenty-four. It may be a quick read, but it's a very intense one.
It's not a word I use often, but the writing is just perfect. The snobbery with which Kitty and Jenny greet Margaret is sometimes cruel: 'She was repulsively furred with neglect and poverty, as even a good glove that has dropped down behind a bed in a hotel and has lain undisturbed for a day or two is repulsive when the chambermaid retrieves it from the dust and fluff.' (p. 25) However, it is also funny, reflecting on Kitty and Jenny rather than Margaret. I couldn't help but laugh when Jenny remarks on `her deplorable umbrella, her unpardonable raincoat` (p. 33). Her writing is equally insightful and direct when emotional matters are in focus: 'There was to be a finality about his happiness which usually belongs only to loss and calamity; he was to be as happy as a ring cast into the sea is lost, as a man whose coffin has lain for centuries beneath the sod is dead.' (p. 180)
Rebecca West's use of pronouns is masterful: before Chris returns home having lost all memory of the past fifteen years, Jenny always uses `we' to refer to Kitty and herself. Even though Kitty is his wife and Jenny his cousin, both women seem to occupy the same role in making life happy and comfortable and beautiful for Chris, as they are united in their love for him. After Chris returns, Jenny talks about herself separately from Kitty, so not only is the bond between Kitty and her husband severed but also that between Kitty and Jenny. This cleverly emphasises the loneliness and isolation of Chris' erstwhile wife as, without the narrator's `we', she almost disappears from the novel, leaving the reader feeling as guilty and compassionate as Margaret does when we see her standing mournfully outside the nursery clutching her little dog, looking in at the woman her husband loves. In fact, I started out wanting to see more of Kitty and wishing her character would develop, but I very quickly realised that I wasn't supposed to know her and her absence and immaturity were deliberate and perfectly calculated.