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4.7 out of 5 stars45
4.7 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 21 April 2001
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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on 8 February 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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on 26 October 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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on 1 January 2010
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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on 25 April 2010
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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on 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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on 29 August 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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on 16 August 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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on 8 April 2015
Dorothy Whipple born in Blackburn Lancashire wrote this and other books. I bought the book as a present and as it arrived at my home I naturally inspected it for any defects before wrapping it up in fancy gift paper ready to pass on. I'm pleased to say the book arrived timeously and in excellent condition.
I gave a passing glance at a sentence or two written by a reviewer. One said, 'A deceptively simple plot.' The reviewer then elaborated by explaining that a young French girl, who was bored with her existence, whilst living in a tiny French village, answers an advertisement placed in a newspaper by an elderly lady. The lady was living alone in a large house in England and wanted some company.
It happened that the lady also spoke rusty French and thought it would be a good idea to employ a French speaking person. Once the young mademoiselle establishes herself within the English lady's household, the pace of events quickens.
Having read this introduction, I suddenly found that I had become enchanted by some literary spell that had been cast by the authoress. There was only one way that I could break the spell and that was to read the book to it's end.
Dorothy Whipple writes in a captivating style. One example of her work is when she describes the French girl's family eating bowls of soup. The girl's father breaks his piece of bread into small pieces and then drops them into his soup. She writes, 'They bobbed and floated like ducks on a pond.' I really liked that expression and there are many more of a similar vein within the pages of the book.
The French girl goes on to make a conquest of the married son of her elderly employer but in so doing opens up a Pandora's box. Anyone who reads this story will not be disappointed with the result. I highly recommend Dorothy Whipple's 'Someone at a Distance' and am now hoping to acquire more of her work.
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on 17 October 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.
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