Top positive review
14 people found this helpful
on 7 October 2012
One of the best books I've ever read, focussing on the shabby genteel Aubrey family, living in Edwardian London. Father is adored: he builds exquisite dolls' houses and tells the children of his own youth. But as narrator Rose observes
'Because I was his daughter I could not have known all of him, there was that continent in which I could not travel, the waste of time before I was born and he already existed. I could not have been a child with him, I could not have been with him and his brother when they knelt on the dry red beech-leaves, with their laughing faces pressed against the pulsing silken necks of their crouched and panting ponies, the tree trunks rising sharp silver above them to the blue October haze.'
Yet despite his intelligence as a newspaper editor, Father constantly speculates and keeps his family in penury.
It is Mother- a former concert pianist- who keeps the family together. Music forms a major part of the book, with Mary and Rose devoted to their piano practice. Elder sister Cordelia gives violin recitals but cannot see that she lacks true musical talent.
I was struck by West's ability to explain so clearly the difference between an 'eccentric' family (all but one of whom love their life) and the 'ordinary' folk around them.
'Constance lived among the kind of people which in those days were called 'common'. More fortunate children than ourselves might have called them poor, but we knew better, for most of them were no poorer than we were. They were people who live in ugly houses in ugly streets among neighbours who got drunk on Saturday nights, and did not read books or play music or go to picture galleries and who were unnecessarily rude to each other...We did not despise these people, we simply felt that they did not have as amusing a time as we did.'
Also of the difficulties the eccentric have in integrating:
'They were incapable of getting on terms with their fellow creatures on the plane where most of us find that easy. My mother could not dress herself to go out of her house tidily enough to avoid attracting hostile stares, she could not speak to strangers except with such naivete that they thought her a simpleton, or with such subtlety that they thought her mad. She was never much more negotiable than William Blake. My father was unable to abandon to the slightest degree his addiction to unpunctuality, swarthy and muttering scorn, and insolvency.'
Wonderful, wonderful book- do read it!