Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: At Mrs. Lippincote's

On the one hand, I agree with those who decry the need for literature to be relatable.  The argument--usually applied when discussing literature that is assigned to school children--is that selecting literature that you can relate to your own experience leads to laziness and narcissism.  Why should everything relate to YOU?  I understand that, I really do.  On the other hand, it can be so lovely to start a novel and realize that the author, or at least, the characters she creates, are your soul mates.

So it is with Elizabeth Taylor.  She understands, for example, the unbearably depressing nature of organized sports for children, and that sometimes you might as well just BE Jane Eyre for the day.  She's a master of describing the fanciful thoughts that invade your head as you navigate through everyday relationships.

Julia Davenant, her husband Roddy, their son Oliver, and Roddy's cousin Eleanor rent a house recently vacated by elderly Mrs. Lippincote, who moved to a residential hotel.  Roddy is an officer in the army and it is the middle of World War II.  The house is furnished with Mrs. Lippincote's old-fashioned things, and every drawer, cupboard and cranny is stuffed with Mrs. Lippincote's old photos, letters, and other personal items.  Her family photos observe the Davenants from the mantle and the dining room wall.  Julia is a whimsical person, and Roddy's treatment of her is based on what he read in advice books about marriage.  He doesn't understand his wife at all.  Eleanor, "unmarried and forty" is in love with Roddy.

This isn't the sort of book that you read to see what happens.  You read it to catch the delicate nuances in relationships.  Still, some things happen.  Eleanor, improbably, considering her stiff and conventional nature, becomes involved with a hive of communists.  Roddy's boss, the Wing Commander, becomes mildly infatuated with Julia, and Mrs. Lippincote's daughter comes and goes without warning and lets herself into the locked room at the top of the tower. Oliver, who achieves constant mild illness in order to stay out of school, has his own fantasy life guided by whatever he is reading at the moment.  I'm not finished with this book yet, but in paging ahead, I can see that some sort of marital crisis is coming.

If you like intelligent British fiction (think Barbara Pym) you will love Mrs. Lippincote.


  1. While it's lovely to find characters that are kindred spirits in a book, they are also wonderful escapes to other worlds.
    This book sounds interesting. I do like British fiction, both smart and the quick, fun stuff.

  2. I was beginning to despair, until I read about the Wingco...when does he strafe those dastardly commies?