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The Tortoise And The Hare (Virago Modern Classics) Paperback – 7 Feb 1983
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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)
* This exquisite novel tells a love story with a difference.
* 'One of my favourite classics' Carmen Callil
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The story describes how Evelyn, a successful man with a young and attractive - perhaps 'trophy' - wife, begins an affair with a woman who to the public eye is much less obviously appealing, but with whom he has, deep down, much more in common. While he feels distanced from his wife, he and Blanche are soul mates, and no doubt this is baffling to those outside their little bubble.
The psychology of his wife Imogen's dilemma is what makes the story so compelling: how does a young and beautiful woman compete with a rival who is neither? No wonder Imogen feels so helpless and frustrated with the situation. I feel this gives a reason for her inertia.
Evelyn's devotion to Blanche is the more convincing for its being so inexplicable to outsiders - a situation we often meet in real life!
Am I the only person to feel constantly reminded of the royal 'three in a marriage' with Diana in Imogen's role and Camilla as Blanche?
It takes a little time to get used to the idea of a man called 'Evelyn' which is now only ever used as a woman's name, but don't let this put you off. I'm sure other readers will be hooked as I was.
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. By this time she had written The Tortoise and the Hare, so she sent him a copy - and never heard from him again. Sadly, as far as I know, she never married and this was the great love of her life. So no wonder that Evelyn, for all his faults, comes across as a sympathetic character ... at least to those of us who fall for this kind of man!
One other interesting point was the parallel between this novel and De Beauvoir's "A Woman Destroyed" which also treats of a liberal minded woman finding the reality of infidelity impossibly hard to deal with.
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Don't read the forward by Hilary Mantel as she gives away the entire plot!