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There Were No Windows Paperback – 22 Sep 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Persephone Books Ltd (22 Sept. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1903155495
  • ISBN-13: 978-1903155493
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 2.9 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,031,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'A quite extraordinary book...unflinchingly, blackly funny, brilliantly observed and terrifying' -- Cressida Connolly in The Spectator 24 September 2005

From the Publisher

There Were No Windows (1944) is based on the last months in the life of the writer Violet Hunt ; with insight, humour and startling originality Norah Hoult shows the effect on the once-glamorous ‘Claire Temple’ of the inexorable deterioration of her memory
The book is constructed in three acts: in ‘Inside the House’ we see Claire at home in her house, ‘South Lodge’ at what was 80 Campden Hill Road in Kensington, looked after by her cook and daily help; Norah Hoult recreates her vision of the world through very, very funny and most subtly-observed stream of consciousness, and through the reactions of the two other women. In ‘Outside the House’ Claire has visitors, including her old friend Edith Barlow (carefully explaining to her that her ‘oldest friend, Edith Barlow, comes every second Sunday to lunch’), her former secretary Mrs Berkeley, and another friend, Francis Maitland. It is their admirable determination to be kind, mixed with their all-too human exasperation at the way Claire, so polite and ‘normal’ in so many ways but so maddening in others, makes them want to scream, that is the funniest part of the book. Finally, in ‘The Dark Night of the Imagination’, Miss Jones accepts the post of companion. ‘Mrs Temple is a rather difficult person to deal with,’ she is told. ‘She has been a brilliant woman. In her day.  She wrote, entertained a good deal, and so on. However, she says the same things over and over again. Many people find it tiresome'

Throughout all this Claire wanders, lost and lonely, round her house, surrounded by momentoes of the past, trying to behave as though she were still the Claire Temple, but all the time only too horribly aware that she is losing her memory. Occasionally she goes out into Kensington High Street in her bedroom slippers or up to the police station in Ladbroke Grove or encounters an air-raid warden; he is initially kind to her – but, in the end, exasperated. This is the nub of the book and why it is so unusual: we empathise with every character in the book (except perhaps the cook, whose behaviour is sometimes close to cruelty). People try to be good to Claire. She makes it difficult for them through no fault of her own. And even though it is no fault of her own they find her maddening: we feel for them, and we feel for her.
As Julia Briggs observes in her Preface, There Were No Windows takes its title from ‘the ultimate terror of old age – to be left alone in the dark, and to be shut in upon yourself.’ She also reveals that Norah Hoult based her novel on truth: she was a friend of Violet Hunt and used to walk over from her flat in Bayswater to the house on Campden Hill. Many of the details about Violet’s last months came from a book by Douglas Goldring that he wrote about her just after she died. In this he confirms that Violet/ Claire had indeed been proposed to by Oscar Wilde and that her liaison with Ford Madox Ford (Wallace in the novel) was one of the great scandals of the time. Violet and Ford were well-known figures in the London literary world during the first two decades of the C20th, but were notoriously prevented from marrying by Ford’s first wife (some have surmised that Violet was the original for Florence in his greatest book, The Good Soldier). Violet’s most successful novel was White Rose of Weary Leaf (1908), Weary Leaf in There Were No Windows, and twice she asks Francis Maitland: ‘"Are you publishing anything? I do wish you could get me into one of those sixpenny paper editions. Don’t you think Weary Leaf might be suitable?" Mr Maitland, feeling irritation surge up, checked it by taking another sip of wine.’
This is the only book we know, apart from Iris about Iris Murdoch (and arguably this book is more humorous and more profound) that is so true and perceptive about memory loss and about the relationship between those who are in poor mental health and those who are in a good state (after all, Norah Hoult is asking, who is the Fool and who is the King? Who is sane and who is insane?) It is also an incredibly funny book, indeed we are tempted to call it a black comedy. The reader is often reminded that Norah Hoult, an Irish writer living in England, was a kinswoman of Joyce and Beckett. However, There Were No Windows is not in any sense difficult. And, as Julia Briggs comments: ‘Much of this novel’s power derives from its unflinching representation of old age. [But] its clear-sightedness is redeemed by its generosity, understanding and insight. Norah Hoult transforms her dark materials into a powerful, rich and evocative fiction.’ Her novel is profound and witty; it is a unique tour de force.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mrs Bennett on 3 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a novel about an elderly woman who loses her mind. It's impossible to describe how good it is and most people would not want to read a book about the onset of Alzheimer's. Yet There Were No Windows is laugh-out-loud funny although at the same time being extremely sad and painful. Claire Temple is fully alive in some ways, in others only half alive, and she is full of fears, memories, incomprehension, anger, understanding and mis-understanding (because she knows she is losing her memory and can do nothing to help herself). One of the saddest things about the book is the way the people looking after her are so horrible; and yet one understands why she is so annoying and why she would try anyone's patience; then, halfway through the book someone is lovely to her, and that is uplifting. For anyone looking after, or having any contact with, someone with memory loss and incipient dementia, this is a must-read; it's disturbing but unforgettable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Merryn Williams on 28 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback
I found it hard at first to get into this book (whereas I loved the other Blitz novel, 'Doreen'), because I feared being imprisoned in the consciousness of a crazy old woman, and of course didn't know the real woman on whom she was based. But I picked it up again, and found it to be excellent. Claire Temple is seen from the outside, too, by several different characters, and this relieves the tension. We note her different moods - charming to her callers, horrible to her carers, and still, at eighty, craving the attention of men. As Julia Briggs says, there aren't many books about people with Alzheimer's. But it is a subject we should all be thinking about.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Mayne on 28 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback
I was bought this as a Christmas gift, and am slowly working my way through. The main character is incredibly well observed, but having an aged relative with dementia I find it a little too close to home. There is nothing entertaining to me in observing the fear the main character shows in her lucid moments when she realises reality is slipping away. To be subjected to this once a week at visiting time is enough for me.
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