Lorna and Matt meet on a bench in St, James's Park. It's 1935 and Matt is sketching birds as a commission for a book. Lorna stays away from her parents' white-terraced home in London's Brunswick Gardens to avoid talk of her future. She's always been attracted to the idea of a bohemian lifestyle and fills the walls of her bedroom with art. Her parents want what's best for her which means marriage to an Oxford-educated man. Matt couldn't be further from their ideal portrayal of a future son-in-law with his working class upbringing near the Welsh border. Lorna and Matt weigh their options and decide to elope. Setting out to find a tranquil space to nest and paint they discover the cottage...
'Square and squat, cob and thatch, dug solid into the red Somerset earth, the small building had seen out generations of farm laborers. People had been born here, died here, had heard rumors of wars, had achieved the vote, had sweated over the same patch of landscape and stared at the same sky. Now, the place stood empty, bar the mice and the black beetles and the spiders. Empty, and two pounds a month.'
The toilet is outdoors and there's no running water. I couldn't wait to find out how dedicated Lorna was to her dream of a bohemian life, but I have to hand it to her...she copes brilliantly. Matt paints frescoes on the walls that in my mind's eye looked a bit like art by Eric Ravilious. Soon, a baby girl comes along, and so does the war. Matt packs a bag, answering the call to duty. I was crushed when I turned to the front leaf and found out that Matt is killed. Sorry! but it's right there for all to see early on.
What follows is Lorna's wonderful spirit and ability to wade through adversity with the help of those who love her. She smiles at the independent nature of her daughter, Molly, and marvels at the changing times. Molly goes on to admire those same character traits in her own daughter, Ruth. Long gone are the days of little choice for women. This new order rings the changes in more tolerance of homosexuality, birth control, less concern about class structure, pregnancy outside of marriage, and divorce.
As a personal aside, there is a description of Molly's short career as a librarian's assistant from a 1960s persepctive that I am going to photocopy and hand to my branch manager. Discussing banned books is outrageous, Trustees look down very long noses, and the circulation area is referred to as the 'issue' desk.
Penelope Lively admirably takes the reader through through sixty years of history with crafty leaps of season and hormonal milestones. And while I initially chose to read Consequences for its World War II theme, the fact that the story veered off in another direction ended up being something quite wonderful.
Sussex Landscape by Eric Ravilious