Thursday, September 10, 2009
Good Behaviour - Molly Keane
Along with every other lover of vintage fiction I have a list of pet authors whose work has slipped out of print for no reason I can comprehend. I understand why Virago can’t keep every modern classic they once rescued from obscurity in print, but there is something particularly poignant about the ones that have fallen by the wayside again, the jaunty little sentence in the introduction brightly proclaiming that this book is about to reclaim its rightful position in the cannon leaves me mourning over lost hopes.
I am relieved that this fate hasn’t entirely overtaken Molly Keane who is definitely one of my pet causes, but she is still under read, and definitely under appreciated. (Molly is one of the authors by whom I judge the quality of a bookshop – if she’s on the shelf I consider it a good one.) I wonder if it’s because she writes from the point of view of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, and writes about a time that’s still remarkably sensitive? Sympathy for the landed classes is often problematical, no matter how evil the times they have fallen on.
‘Good Behaviour’ is from Molly’s later career, first published in 1981, and short listed for the booker, it is a black and bleak comedy of manners. Written with acid rather than ink, not a single character appears in a flattering light. The St Charles family living beyond their means behind the gates of Temple Alice utterly unwilling, and unable to conceive of a different way of life slip further into poverty and decay. Told by the unlovely and unloved daughter of the house Aroon, mistress of self deception, good behaviour – behaving according to the rules of caste - is a mask that slowly slips revealing the deficiencies and desires just under the surface.