This is the Molly Keane book I was so obsessed about not having on the shelf. A nice well cared for copy arrived from amazon late last week, and I spent yesterday reading it. The first thing that I thought of was Verity’s post in The B Files because the book has a neat little address sticker in the front complete with a rather old looking phone number. Clearly this book started off as a keeper, well read, well treated, returnable if lost and tagged against unauthorised borrowing, so what train of events led it to me I wonder?
Having read the introduction - by Russell Harty (which seems slightly incongruous somehow) the book sounded desperately unfamiliar. When I started reading the book proper it placed my rereading/book hoarding dilemma in a new light. I discovered and read Molly Keane in my very early 20’s and the best part of 15 years have passed since she first came my way, the only thing from this book that had stuck with me was one very specific description of a window, but it was enough to make me sure I had read it before. That said it might as well have been an entirely new book to me, I realise it’s certainly a different person reading and judging it. Doubts about taking the time to reread have been significantly diminished.
A sense of familiarity was compounded by similarities with Noel Cowards ‘Easy Virtue’, I only know the play from last years film, but the plot of Loving without tears is roughly the same. Most of the action is crammed into a single day, the final few chapters play out in an hour or two on a quayside 3 weeks later, the whole thing reads like a play complete with stage instructions, the dialogue is very slangy and dramatic, with an embarrassment of snappy one liners. Spoken it would work as a drawing room farce, written it strikes a false note.
Molly had a successful career in the 1950’s as a playwright, so I’m guessing that this 1951 novel is probably an adaptation of something originally done for the stage. I can’t say that I feel it’s her greatest work; it lacks the corrosively acidic element that makes her best comedies so black, or the pitiless insight that make many of her novels so compelling, but on the other hand a definitely happy ending is no bad thing. Angel, the villain of the piece is a wonderful portrait of selfish motherhood, and a lot of the one liners are very funny. There is a sense of Elizabethan romp about plot and subplot, Angel herself is a sort of virgin queen, Finn her half tamed butler definitely has a puckish quality, neither can be trusted an inch - even the house of Owlbeg seems an unlikely place, a sort of fairy tale castle perched on a cliff and wreathed in enchantments.
All in all a fun read which has made me want to re-explore Keane, and now I’m more than happy to spend the time on it, unread Trollope be damned.