Friday, 8 February 2013

The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay

Within ten minutes of landing on the High Street in Canterbury last October I was fishing a £1 coin out of my wallet.  A small charity shop had a tiny nook with packed shelves towards the back and the green Virago spine stood out like a beacon amongst the other paperbacks.  I had never read anything by Rose Macauley before but some names are a fairly safe bet and the synopsis too tempting to pass up.

The Second World War is over and seventeen year-old Barbary is being sent from her mother's home in France to live with her father in London.  The family dynamics of step-siblings, lovers, and second marriages was a bit confusing at first and by page forty I resorted to drawing a family tree.  Hang in there though and you will be richly rewarded, I promise you.
'Seeing his daughter Barbary standing before him, small and slight in her travelling coat and crumpled frock, her limp, hatless locks hanging around her pale, immature face, her slate-grey eyes staring darkly up at him beneath black brows, he did not see much change in her from the queer elf of seven years ago.  If he had supposed that the small slattern of ten years old would have grown into a neat, comely young creature of seventeen, who wore her clothes well and waved her hair, he now perceived his error; he saw before him the same little tramp...'
Sir Gulliver Deniston is a lawyer with traditional values married to his well-connected second wife, Pamela.  Rather than ingratiating herself into the fold, Barbary quickly seeks out the bombed out ruins of London's churchyards with her stepbrother, Raoul.  As members of the Maquis back in France during their formative years, a life of thievery, surveillance, and deception has become second nature, the ruins of London replacing the caves.  The draft dodgers and petty criminals also occupying the ruins around St. Paul's become fellow comrades seeking their share of the spoils from crime.  Barbary has inherited a talent for painting from her mother and does earn some money honestly with her painted postcards of London although she raises the price for American tourists.

When Sir Gulliver's brother-in-law, a consulting specialist in nerve ailments, takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of Barbary's past with the Resistance Party she becomes unsettled.
'Things would be told, would be guessed, that must never be told, never be guessed.  Things would be dragged up that must lie for ever in the deep, secret pools of the sea, till some tide at last washed them out into the ocean of oblivion, never to be captured more.  Until that should happen, Barbary was going back where she belonged, to the waste margins of civilisation that she knew, where other outcasts lurked, and questions were not asked.'
A tragic turn of events brings Barbary's family together and just when I thought the novel was winding its way to a conclusion two situations emerge that had me flipping pages full of suspense.  I deliberately chose this story to follow after Pied Piper by Nevil Shute with its backdrop of World War II and the German invasion of France.  The effect of war on children in these two books could not be further apart; in the case of The World My Wilderness it is heartbreaking although Barbary and Raoul's parenting, or lack of it, is every bit as much to blame.

The £1 coin spent on this book was the best value for money I have ever received and if this era appeals to you then I would highly encourage you to find a copy.  The perspective is different from any other that I have experienced.

Rose Macaulay lived through both World Wars and I am really looking forward to reading her biography if I can track one down.  Huge thanks to Danielle from A Work in Progress for this 2008 post about some short stories she had read.  I ran upstairs and pulled my copy of Wave Me Goodbye from the bookcase and now excitedly look forward to reading Macaulay's semi-biographic short story Miss Anstruther's Letters.


  'Cripplegate'  by William Menzies Coldstream
(1946)

18 comments:

  1. I always give extra points to a biography when it has a family tree in it, so I'm tickled that you drew one for this book. I've heard of Rose M. but haven't read her - will look forward to it now!

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    1. It was necessary, let me tell you! I was groaning with each addition to the extended family so it was time to start charting. Hope you've made the best of 'Storm Watch 2013' this weekend, Audrey!

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  2. Now that was a well spent pound. I have what looks like a very good biography, by Sarah LeFanu, that was published by Virago a few years ago, but I'm reading the fiction first. The Love-Charm of Bombs will give you some interesting background to this particular book, though it will break your heart too.

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    1. I can't tell you how excited I am to read The Love-Charm of Bombs, it sounds fascinating, Jane. Well, actually acquiring it first would be a grand thing. The biography looks like a must-find as well, you can see how this cascading attraction to different authors can be neverending. In a good way, of course!

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  3. I'm sure I've got Wave Me Goodbye somewhere about the house, I must look it out. That was about £1 in a charity shop too!

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    1. My copy appeared in my Princeton file one day. Someone rescued it from the discard bin and knew it would have a good home with me but despite asking around I still don't know who to thank. It's a stunning collection when you look at the list of authors, isn't it! Hope you found your copy, Mary.

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  4. This sounds marvelous. What a wonderful (and cheap) find! It's definitely going on my list; thank you!

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    1. Hope you find a copy at some point. Who knows, perhaps your library will have a copy and then your read will be ever cheaper! And you're welcome.

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  5. I have a lovely early edition of this with an interesting dustjacket that I bought years ago and have never opened because I felt confused by the plot. You've convinced me to give it a go, Darlene - you keep writing the most tempting reviews!

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    1. Oh phew...so this wasn't one of the books you culled from your collection a while back then? I would stake money on you really enjoying this, Rachel, and you have no idea just how much of the story I kept close to my vest. Read it! You're a very busy woman so no pressure but I look forward to finding out what you thought about it one of these days.

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  6. The good news is that, good as TWMW is, in my opinion Macaulay has written much better! I think you'd adore Crewe Train and Keeping Up Appearances. TWMW is great for its depictions of war-torn London, though.

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    1. Simon, I am kicking myself over a memory of pulling Crewe Train off of a shelf last year and putting it back *groan*. Don't ask me why?! It was those war-torn depictions of London that drew me to this book; apparently there can never be enough London porn for my liking.

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  7. So glad you enjoyed this and you definitely got a great bargain for your money! :) I think you'll like the short story, too, if you've not yet had a chance to read it already. And I agree with Simon that Crewe Train is indeed another excellent novel--not sure which is my favorite--they are both very different from each other. I want to read more of her work eventually as well!

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    1. I did like the short story and thanks to you I might add! Wave Me Goodbye is now hanging out on my bedside table so I can enjoy it more often. Oh Danielle, what you do if you arrived home to find your home torn apart and you weren't allowed in to dig for belongings?!

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  8. I read Crewe Train last year with the Slaves of Golconda group and followed up with The Towers of Trebizond, both were rather frustrating for me and I suspect I'll prefer her non-fiction. This sounds much more interesting in the setting though, I'll nab a copy if I spot it.

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    1. Oh Alex, I was thrilled to find a copy of The Towers of Trebizond in a second-hand shop last Saturday. Then I read the synopsis and put it back! Can't win them all as they say but do try this one if you can find it. Cheers!

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  9. That was a well spent pound! Macaulay is pretty high up my would like to read list I must look out for a copy

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    1. It sure was! Deals like that make up for the times when I groan and pay more than I'd care to for some tatty books I really want to read. Still, we have to support our bookshops, don't we!

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