This novel was a Christmas present from my wife. First published in the 1920s, it describes a couple in which the wife is sharp, business-minded, and going completely potty running a household and looking after three sickly children. The husband is genial, slightly dreamy, and completely unsuccessful as a businessman. The solution to a modern eye might seem obvious, but it takes at least 100 pages and a fall from the roof leaving the man in a wheelchair to effect the complete swap of roles. And, naturally, everything changes; the trivial ailments recede, the mother's waspish temper softens, and everyone begins to emerge from their separate prisons and engage with each other.
Some of the humour is dated; the reader is expected to find the very idea of a man darning socks or scrambling eggs hilarious. But as much of the humour is not, and the delight of the book is in its minute domestic detail. There is a wonderful scene, for instance, in which the father and his young daughter do not know how to break an egg - but by dint of patience, discussion, and good-humoured experimentation, they finally work it out together. It last about 3 pages. You may have guessed from this that gender roles do not swap altogether; it is the daughter who is expected (by everyone) to help her father in the kitchen. Nor indeed are gender roles even altered much; when they swap, they are swapped intact. Some consideration is given to the fact that the man is wheelchair-bound, but rather more to the wife who must sigh and learn to accept a certain degree of slovenliness around the house. Quite familiar, really, and I don't even have a wheelchair to use as excuse...
Towards the end of the book, as the man begins to regain the use of his legs, we realise with a dull ache that every single character in the book (the kids excepted) assume unquestioningly that this means he will have to go back to work, and his wife leave her job and return to scrubbing floors. I won't give away the ending, but I'm happy to say that it does avoid being too polemical an attack on a pre-Feminist world. The author has points to make, but she does them the right way, by getting you under the skin of the characters rather than by preaching.
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