9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
The Power of a Compelling Story, 17 Oct 2007
'Someone at a Distance' is a novel I found utterly compelling from the very first line. Dorothy Whipple draws the reader in with such assurance yet the style of her prose is both understated and unpretentious. At the same time, one comes upon certain unexpectedly evocative passages which belie the straightforwardness of the novel as a whole. I was particularly struck by the following:
'If we could be seen thinking, we would show blown bright one moment, dark the next, like embers; subject to every passing word and thought of our own or other people's, mostly other people's.' (p.181)
How elegant and perceptive! I perceived some resemblances with another favourite novelist of that period, Elizabeth Bowen. Though these writers depart in style, they share a thematic preoccupation with the effect of environment on state of mind, the concept of home and the fragility of this idea. Similar existential concerns run through this novel, subdued at first though felt more palpably with the dispossession of Ellen and her children. The description of a home following the death or departure of the main resident as 'dead' chimes with Bowen's rendering of domestic space in her work.
The age-old art of story-telling is often underestimated these days when narrative high-jinks are the vogue. Whipple reminds one of the pleasure of complete immersion in a story and within an unfamiliar world which is simultaneously familiar in many ways. The Norths are, above all, an ordinary family and Ellen is an ordinary mother. Having finished the novel (within the space of a day and a half, I might add), I felt at such a loss that I immediately procured a copy of 'They Knew Mr. Knight'. This impulsiveness is testament to Whipple's skill as a storyteller and her power to move. This novel was, in all sincerity, a pleasure.