7 September 2014

A Perfect Woman by L. P. Hartley

I remember standing in a bookshop last year and holding two L. P. Hartley novels in my hand.  They were reprints and hot off the press, beautifully crisp and pristine.  Reading the synopsis of both I decided to buy The Boat and leave A Perfect Woman behind.  I should have bought both titles as it seems there is no such thing as a bad novel by this author.  It was Harriet's recent enthusiastic review that made me rush this book to the top of my tbr list and her praise was well-placed.

Published in 1955, this is a story about the Eastwood family and how a chance meeting on a train with a bestselling author, Alec Goodrich, takes their pedestrian lives off course.  The fact that Alec is sitting in first-class with a third-class ticket says something about the man and his wallet.  When he finds out that Harold Eastwood is just the man to help him keep more of his earnings from the tax department, Alec is keen to foster a business deal.

Harold's wife, Isabel, was destined for a splendid marriage with a successful man.  At least that was the plan her parents had mapped out for her.  When she fell in love with a meek tax accountant and could not be persuaded to hold out for someone better the wedding went ahead.  It is also a safe assertion that Isabel enjoyed being able to trump her overbearing mother for the first time in her life.  Feeling quite certain that she can shape and mold Harold into a better sort of man, Isabel eventually realizes that over the years it is her husband and his mother who have changed her.  Instead of becoming a woman of influence and queen of her own domain, she is now beholden to her mother-in-law...even when it comes to the naming of her children, Jeremy and Janice.

Harold and Isabel's young offspring are beams of light in this novel and Hartley must have retained a perfectly pitched sense of childhood to portray them so brilliantly.  Jeremy is the eldest and hyper-alert to situations as eldest children so often are.  He's also practical to a fault whereas Janice is definitely the romantic...

'No, Janice, you mustn't!''But I will, I want to!''But I tell you he doesn't want to see her!  He knows how her eyes open and shut - it's the weight inside her head!  The weight is attached to the back of the eyeballs, and the eyes work on a pivot - ''I don't care how they work, and nor does he.  He wants to hold her in his arms because he loves her!''How can he love her, silly!  He's only seen her once!''That's why he want to see her again, so that he can go on loving her!  Why do you want to see the same old motorcar so many times?  Because you love it!''No, because it's real and a doll isn't!  It's only pretending to be real!  Grown-up people never pretend, except when they are talking to us.'

Jeremy is not quite right on that score as there is plenty of pretending going on between the adults.  When Harold introduces Alec to Isabel she is quite taken with this man of words.  Alec, on the other hand, is quite taken with Irma, the Austrian barmaid at Harold's local.  When Alec asks Harold to find out more about the dark-haired beauty, with an entertaining command of the English language, things don't quite go to plan.  A  relationship roundabout is soon established that is both entertaining and heartbreaking in turns.  The plot takes a slight turn towards the edgy side with an abundance of secrets, lies, dalliances, and mystery.  Once the dust settles the result leaves some unexpected changes in the wake of so many entanglements.  And may I say that sex scenes without every single detail being shared in technicolour can be every bit as titillating.

There is plenty of story left to tell so don't leave this book behind if you spot it on a shelf somewhere.  If you're still not convinced then click here to read the review that reeled me in!


5 comments:

  1. This (a new writer for me), Elizabeth Bowen (I keep meaning to!)... much reeling in going on today.

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    1. I wouldn't want you to be at a loss for something to read, Audrey!

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  2. I've loved everything I've ever read by him - must dig out some more.

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    1. Note to self: if ever on Charing Cross Rd with Mary...browse 'H' on my own....

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  3. Great review, particularly the bit about Hartley's portrayal of children. I read it after reading Harriet's review and discovering that Hartley's books were available in new editions. Can't wait to read more of his other books instead of having to reread the Go Between. I liked it very much and found it reminded me a little of one of my favorites, The Battle of the Villa Florita by Rumor Godden.

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