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The Tortoise And The Hare (VMC) [Paperback]

Elizabeth Jenkins , Hilary Mantel
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

7 Feb 1983 VMC (Book 439)

In affairs of the heart the race is not necessarily won by the swift or the fair.

Imogen, the beautiful and much younger wife of distinguished barrister Evelyn Gresham, is facing the greatest challenge of her married life. Their neighbour Blanche Silcox, competent, middle-aged and ungainly - the very opposite of Imogen - seems to be vying for Evelyn's attention. And to Imogen's increasing disbelief, she may be succeeding.

'A subtle and beautiful book ... Very few authors combine her acute psychological insight with her grace and style. There is plenty of life in the modern novel, plenty of authors who will shock and amaze you - but who will put on the page a beautiful sentence, a sentence you will want to read twice?' Hilary Mantel, Sunday Times

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (7 Feb 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844084949
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844084944
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 12.5 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 55,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


My best book of almost all time is THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE by Elizabeth Jenkins ... wonderfully sinister, so enchantingly written and so sad. Everyone should read it (Jilly Cooper)

As smooth and seductive as a bowl of cream (Hilary Mantel)

One of my favourite classics. Elegant and ironic, its continuing charm lies in its quirky and enigmatic love story which becomes more beguiling with each re-reading (Carmen Callil)

Deliciously subtle...A lost world of tweeds and twin-sets...a classic novel of the fifties (DAILY MAIL)

Book Description

* This exquisite novel tells a love story with a difference.

* 'One of my favourite classics' Carmen Callil

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a masterpiece about adultery and betrayal 4 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Elizabeth Jenkins's The Tortoise and the Hare is one of the best novels I've ever read - a near-perfect work of art, like The Leopard and Emma. Yet its author is almost entirely unread, and has no presence on the Web. She should be feted as one of our most extraordinary authors simply on the basis of this one book.

Amazingly, Elizabeth Jenkins is still alive, at 105. She was made an OBE in 1995, and I was familiar with her only through her biography of Jane Austen, one of the few I feel sure JA herself would have approved of both for its elegance of expression and its insight.

But ...to describe The Tortoise and the Hare as a portrait of an agonising marriage is to do it an injustice. It is about Imogen, whose fading beauty and graceful self-effacement are insufficient to keep the interest of her husband, Evelyn. A 52 year old barrister - rich, successful, beautiful in an almost feminine way and selfish - he falls for the last person anyone would expect., a plain, dowdy middle-aged woman of wealth but no tact or taste. In a Bronte novel, our sympathies would perhaps be with Blanche, but it is Imogen in her passivity and silent agony who is the heroine. She can't even drive, she doesn't enjoy sex, she is bullied and derided by her own son... she is the kind of woman in a class which, according to Carmen Callil, has vanished since the early 19850s and yet I feel I know all too many Imogens. You want to scream at her to wake up, fight, do something more than suffer - like Nora in The Doll's House - and by the end of the novel it seems that she may yet make a life for herself, and the one person in the book who sees and loves her.

That makes it sound too grim, though, for the novel is shot through with dazzling wit.
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as Elizabeth Taylor 18 Jun 2009
Whoever is in charge of coverdesign at Virago should be shot. Please, please ignore this silly chick-litty cover - wrap the book in brown paper, if needs be - because it gives entirely the wrong impression of a subtle and perceptive novel.
Imogen is an upper-middle class 1950s wife; decorative, docile, dependent. The terrifying Blanche is a frumpish spinster (scary, how in the 1950s women are described as 'elderly' at 50), full of banked-up sexual energy and terrifying efficiency. The prize is Imogen's Alpha-male husband Evelyn ... now depending on the kind of man you find attractive, you'll either loathe Evelyn or find yourself drawn by his compelling masculinity. And yet, Evelyn - a man with a girl's name! - is magnetically drawn to the almost masculine Blanche.
As Princess Diana said, there are three in this marriage ... Jenkins made me sympathise with all of them. Frightful Blanche glows with this love that has come to her so late in life. Imogen's confidence is shattered - but heavens, you want to pick her up and shake her out of her passivity.
As well as this marital power struggle, Elizabeth Jenkins does a fine job describing the 1950s world that we have lost - its landscape, food, clothes, furnishings, its children and even the sound of its cars.
The longer I think about this novel, the better it seems ... elegantly written, often humorous, as good as Elizabeth Taylor. It was inspired by Jenkins's own relationship, as a very young woman, with a distinguished, married gynaecologist who didn't appear to her to be properly appreciated by his wife. When his wife died, he then married a neighbour - who became Blanche in the book - but soon resurfaced hoping that Jenkins would carry on their relationship as before.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I lost most of night's sleep reading this wonderful novel. After a succession of Barbara Pym's (and don't get me wrong, I love them too) this felt like steak after ice-cream. Whereas Pym explores her characters and their social milieu largely through dialogue Jenkins analyses the thought processes of her heroine from within.

Imogen does allow herself to be defeated but it is a lucky person who has never experienced the kind of subtle manipulation she is subjected to, and her whole life and particularly her relationship with her husband, has trained her to this vulnerability. Neither her temperament nor her experience has given her any chance to learn how to defend herself but it is clear at the end of the novel that she has a chance to begin to grow into independence and is likely to be set off on that path by a small boy who has experienced and faced the emotional isolation that she has endured without recognising it and is making his own bid for freedom and fufilment.

Although it is is a profoundly satisfying novel in itself it sets up a wonderful set of possibilities for a sequel and, not having one, the reader is sent off on a trail of "what ifs" in the subsequent lives of the characters, perhaps most strongly the inevitable come-upance lurking in the future of the awful Evelyn when the gilt wears off the gingerbread of his second marriage and he finds himself more deeply entapped than he can ever imagine. It's not without perception that one of his friends remarks that the second Mrs Gresham will have a very different view of the sanctity of marriage, particularly her own, than her husband has shown in his easy betrayal of his first wife.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars other people's worlds
Like the other reviewers, I found this painful reading, but was astonished at how we were invited by the author to empathise with the Other Woman, who is behaving with abominable... Read more
Published 2 months ago by CC
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writing
For me one of the most enviable skills of good writing is economy and the ability to paint a picture so well the reader will know the people, the places, can feel the atmosphere -... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. C. M. Greaves
5.0 out of 5 stars Tortoise and Hare
Book arrived promptly.
Hard to read as language is out dated but worth persevering with. Binding/cover of this series very attractive.
Published 6 months ago by Mr. Sj Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars gift purchase
purchased as a gift , beautiful covers , friend was happy with her christmas present . would buy for myself ...bought other titles in this range (VMC Designer Collection)
Published 19 months ago by sjp40-2009
2.0 out of 5 stars Yuk
Characterisation poor, elements of the storyline just not believable. A book of its time, very stereotypical, very bitter. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Stays in the mind
This is a novel that keeps working long after reading the final page. I keep going back to it. Who is the tortoise and who the hare? Read more
Published on 11 Aug 2012 by KAW
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting read
Re the cover, I believe Virago may have thought the rather whimsical design might attract floating readers - I too find it inappropriately frivolous. Read more
Published on 10 May 2012 by Karen
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, perceptive - a novel without a hero(ine)
One of the fascinating things which emerges from these reviews, and from the foreword and afterword to the book (Hilary Mantel and Carmen Calill respectively) is that it is... Read more
Published on 19 Sep 2011 by bookelephant
3.0 out of 5 stars DO something!
This novel is set in a social class (the upper-middle) that I, thankfully, have no experience of, and a time - the 1950s - where stiff upper lips were generally worn. Read more
Published on 12 Feb 2011 by Eileen Shaw
5.0 out of 5 stars A Time of emotional discovery
Unlike others, I have no objection to the cover illustration; I fear the title is off-putting. However, readers would certainly miss out on one of the most outstanding novels of... Read more
Published on 18 Jan 2011 by Isola
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