7 September 2021

Statues in a Garden by Isabel Colegate

It is the summer of 1914 but The Great War hasn't reached the Weston's home in Queen Anne's Gate, London just yet.  Sir Alymer and his wife, Cynthia have hired Miss Alice Benedict to act as chaperone for their daughter Kitty.  With their other daughter Violet recently engaged there will be plenty of distractions and appointments; too many occasions when the Suffragette cause could lure Kitty into unseemly behaviour.  With Sir Alymer as a Liberal politician and member of Asquith's cabinet, appearances and reputation are held in the highest esteem.

Imagine an episode of Downton Abbey, with family members gathering in the breakfast room, about to spoon out the kedgeree.  The atmosphere within the Weston's home has that sort of feel but on a modest scale.  Edward is reading for the Bar and takes after his father in his melancholy good looks and shows promise of turning into a fine young man. Sir Alymer and Cynthia have raised his nephew Philip as one of their own from the age of eight, when his parents died of cholera in India.  Although, Philip has always felt like the 'plus-one' son.  He watches the family through a lens of hatred but I suspect his feelings have more to do with envy.

Between London and Charleswood, their country home in Wiltshire, the Westons fill their day with the usual entertainment and Government meetings that are later debated during evening meals.  The plot begins to thicken when Philip, seeking to make a name for himself in the stock market, enters into dealings with a man named Horgan.  Anxious to get off to a rolling start, Philip approaches Sir Alymer about making a bold investment that is sure to result in a robust return.  Seeing this as an opportunity to show trust in their adopted son, Cynthia also releases an amount of money to be invested, as does Edward.

Away from family politics, the situation in Ireland over boundaries and Party policies are causing Cabinet members to wonder if civil war in on the horizon.  With Sir Alymer busy in the House of Commons, Cynthia is flattered by the attention she receives from Philip.  He seeks her out and grows bolder in his flirtation with the woman who has raised him as her son for over a decade.  He's not quite 30 years old, Cynthia is 41. 

We are born in a lucky age for people of our class.  We have such opportunities to be happy and to do good.  If we remember our responsibilities and can keep our self respect, what is there to spoil life?

What is there to spoil it, indeed.  Caught between etiquette, society, and what the heart desires, members of the Weston family will be treading through murky minefields in the days that follow.  Statues in the Garden is an enjoyable read and if you liked Colegate's The Shooting Party you will find the same satisfaction here.  My only quibble is that there are instances when punctuation is missing as in absent periods or what should be the start of a sentence without the presence of a capital on the first word.  I have no idea if this is as it appeared in Colegate's manuscript or something went wrong at Bloomsbury Publishing.  Either way, a bit strange but not a deal breaker for anyone interested in reading this book.

The Black Hat by Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell
(1914)

3 comments:

  1. Hello. I am a long time reader of your blog with very similar reading preferences. I just want to thank you for your thoughtful reviews as I almost always follow up with a reading of the titles you recommend and am never disappointed. Best wishes. Jennifer in Aus.

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    1. And thank you for taking the time to get in touch! I remember connecting with Simon from Stuck in a Book after discovering Diary of a Provincial Lady. It was the book that opened my eyes to twentieth century literature and I haven't looked back. Writing a few paragraphs about each book I read cements themes and characters so I don't go through them like a bag of Maltesers! It's nice to know some of my book choices have shone a light on titles for you.

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  2. I adored The Shooting Party - that stunning opening! - & am looking forward to this when the library finally gets it.

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