Lovely, undemanding reading for a Sunday afternoon when you can't be bothered going out for a walk. As a previous reviewer has pointed out, this is a King Lear story about a mother with three daughters, set in the early 1950s. Louise has been left penniless after the death of her overbearing husband, which leaves her dependent on these daughters for everything, a roof over her head, a busfare into town, a new dress. She is passed from one to another like an unwanted parcel, spending two months a year with each of them, only to be billeted for the winter months on a friend who runs a chaotic seaside hotel. One daughter is socially ambitious, a brittle, unsympathetic woman with disappointments of her own; the middle daughter is an aspiring actress, in love with a married man; the youngest is a slattern, married to a man who is socially beneath her (but he is the only one who shows any understanding to her mother). None of the daughters is exactly unkind; but they make Louise feel like the burden that she undoubtedly is. (In the early 1950s, when being 50 was most certainly not the new 30, it is taken for granted that a middle-aged, middle-class woman is too old and useless to get a job or be self-supporting.) Louise's only friend is a fat man who sells beds in a department store on Oxford Street; she knows that her daughters would dismiss him as 'common.' I wallowed in this book for a whole weekend, though the melodramatic ending is a disappointment. See that it's soon to be republished by Persephone Books and it's definitely one of those old-fashioned titles they describe as 'hot water bottle' novels. Much better reading, I thought, than their other Monica Dickens title, Mariana. Although perhaps it's an age thing; Mariana is a girls' book, The Winds of Heaven is middle-aged escapism.
There is much in Monica Dickens' "Winds of Heaven" to enjoy. The overall story of whether fragile Louise - left nearly penniless after the death of her profoundly unsatisfactory husband - will escape from the unwilling charity of her ill assorted daughters and find belatedly some happiness of her own is compelling and touching. So too are the wittily drawn pictures of the daughters' own very different lives - suburban yummy mummy, edgy London actress and unwilling farmer's wife, each is conjured up with clarity and perception. Each we see has a life full of a jumble of good things (often unregarded) and unhappinesses (which seem to the reader more fully to define their lives than the good things). But for me the most telling aspect is the constant evocation of that most difficult and binding web between mother and children. Dickens unsparingly shows us how the one thing the daughters have in common is their retention of their childish egoism vis a vis their mother, their failure to treat her with the consideration they would probably offer to their friends and their perception of her more as problem than person. A thought likely to make many daughters wince uncomfortably. And from the other side the sad helplessness of the mother's realisation that however much she has cared and hoped for her children their lives will not turn out to be perfect, as she had wished them to be, and that there is so very little she can now do ... So, a good and perceptive read - and far happier in tone than I have made it sound!
Perceptive, funny, tragic, puzzling... it is full of detail culled from a lifetime of observing people (very like her forebear Charles). It's time to reappraise Monica Dickens. She's not just a posh bird who wrote about cooking and nursing (how nice for you, dear). She was a sharp novelist with a warm social conscience. Must run in the family. No one has mentioned the role of department stores in the plot, or beds, or a writer of pulp fiction, or the younger generation... read on.
I bought this for the wife - who'd seen it reviewed in a sunday paper. She said that she thoroughly enjoyed it, but as I haven't read it myself, I'll just have to take her word for it (though she has usually impeccable taste!).
I have not read this book as it was bought as a present but my mother tells me it was super, and she enjoyed it very much. I am a firm fan of the Persephone Press, and feel that is probably recomendation enough!