Monday, March 27, 2017

Monica Dickens: Dear Dr. Lily

Monica Dickens' name keeps popping up among the book blogs that I read. The great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens, she wrote over forty books between 1939 and 1993.  I recently finished Dear Dr. Lily, which is one of the later books in Dickens' oeuvre. (1988)


The story starts out strong. It's the early 1960s, and Lily and Ida meet by chance on a flight from England to the United States. Eighteen year old Lily, who comes from an ordinary middle class family, is attending a friend's wedding. Ida, several years older and accustomed to a life of hardship is on her way to marry an American GI and live in Massachusetts. Their plane experiences technical difficulties and has to make an emergency stop in Iceland, where they are stranded for two days. This experience is the cement for a lifelong friendship.

The first several chapters, which change point of view between Lily and Ida, are really engrossing. Ida's marriage is not a success (not a spoiler, it's obvious to the reader, even before you are introduced to Buddy the GI). Lily, who feels compelled to help (interfere with, at times) people she perceives to be in need, wants to be a social worker.

The timespan of the story is several decades and I found it to be a bit wearisome at times. But isn't this how life really is - long stretches in which not much happens interspersed with brief periods of drama?  Ultimately, Lily's need to get deeply involved with people ends in disaster. This is not a comfortable book and several scenes are dark, disturbing, or creepy. There's also considerable focus on Lily's not-entirely sympathetic father and his sketchy career. I definitely want to read more of Monica Dickens though.  I think, like Elizabeth Jane Howard, Barbara Pym, and Angela Thirkell, she's another writer who I'll want all of. Have you read anything of hers?

5 comments:

  1. I'm currently reading "If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home" and it is FASCINATING! I think you might enjoy it as well.

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  2. I had not heard of this author (until now). Thank you for the suggestion. I love Barbara Pym and have convinced one of the book clubs I am in to read "No Fond Return of Love". The other book club I am in just finished "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead. I found it to be a tough read, not because of the writing but because of the subject matter. Very dark and unsettling, but how could it be otherwise?

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    1. I can never decide which of Barbara Pym's novels is my favorite, but "No Fond Return of Love" is one that I consider, along with Jane & Prudence, Excellent Women, and Some Tame Gazelle. I think these four are her best.

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  3. @Becky, that does sound really interesting. Adding it to my list...

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    1. I can drop it by your house when I'm done. I grabbed it from some free pile, which are where I find some of the best books!

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