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This review is from: Good Behaviour (VMC) (Paperback)
Molly Keane wrote for years under a pseudonym before deciding in 1981, when she was in her late 70s, to publish this delightful tale of the fading Irish Protestant ascendancy in her own name. The novel fits comfortably into the long established Anglo-Irish `Big House' tradition. Like Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent and J.G Farrell's Troubles it is both poignant and highly comic.
The once powerful St. Charles family are, by the 1920s, in dire financial straits. Our narrator and daughter of the house, the wonderfully monikered Aroon, grows up in blissful ignorance and instead devotes all of her energies into appearing elegant and alluring to her brother's friend Hubert. Hubert is, unfortunately far more interested in the allures of Aroon's brother and Aroon is anything but elegant, but again, Aroon, having been brought up in a world of privileged isolation heavily controlled by her harridan of a mother, knows nothing of men, let alone homosexual men and so entirely fails to understand what is going on. It is this concept, the idea that the narrator, even while she is relating the story, understands far less about what is really going on than the reader, that is the triumph of the novel. Keane manages to litter her heroine's tale with hints and clues as to what is really going on about to which Aroon remains entirely ignorant. In his dotage, her indulgent but incompetent father is clearly receiving regular sexual `relief' from his nurse but Aroon hilariously unfailingly misinterprets the situation every time she stumbles upon it. Her desire, or at least her mother's desire, that her behaviour should be `good' at all times dominates her life entirely. For `good' of course we must substitute `proper' and this is defined by her mother and the narrow sense of manners and etiquette in early-twentieth century Britain and more specifically protestant Ireland. In this world, it does not matter what happens, how impoverished you become or how frightfully your spouse behaves as long as you are seen to be behaving with decorum and that you never, ever make a show of yourself.
Ultimately Aroon achieves some kind of victory over her mother and yet you fear it comes far too late. The ceaseless desire for Good Behaviour has become for Aroon, as it was for her mother and countless others like her, utterly consuming.