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  • Favourite Dorothy Whipple Novels

    Dorothy Whipple is fast becoming my favourite 'popular at the time but only recently revived inter-war female' author. The secret of her books is that just enough happens to propel the narrative along, but it's the effect small events have on the social balance and how these repercussions play out that makes them so engrossing. 

    Here are three of my favourite Dorothy Whipple novels, republished by Persephone Books...

    Greenbanks

    There was a time when the only reading I would have done on a “romantic” weekend in Brighton would have been the occasional menu and cocktail list.

    But the peace and quiet that comes with your children being 50 miles away (safely holed up with my mother-in-law, I should add) is too good an opportunity to miss, especially when you have a really engrossing book in your bag.

    I mentioned in an earlier post that I had spent most of a recent visit to the south coast with my head buried in a book – well, the book’s name was Greenbanks and I loved it so much that I would find any excuse to go back to our room so I could pick it up again.

    I even read it in the car, which says a lot because ordinarily even trying to read a map while in the passenger seat because it makes me sick. It’s one of those…

    Written by Dorothy Whipple and first published in 1932, Greenbanks is the story of a middle-class family around World War I, populated by wonderful female characters like the matriarch Louisa and males like the insufferably self-important Ambrose.

    It’s both funny – especially in puncturing Ambrose’s pretensions – and also at times unbearably sad; it’s a domestic drama but laced with social commentary; and the characterisation is perfect, with a cast that live with you even after you’ve finished the book.

    In fact, the only real shame is that (rather like our weekend in Brighton) it had to come to an end. However, even that wasn’t without its upside. On my return to London I emailed Persephone Books, the publishers who rescued after many years out of print and who had recommended it to me in the first place. And they kindly sent me some other recommendations!

    Someone at a Distance

    The best recommendation I can give this book is that I lent it to my mum recently when she was over from Australia and she loved it so much it (almost) took precedence over her grandchildren. Given that she absolutely dotes on her grandchildren and only gets to see them twice a year, that is very high praise indeed.

    But then publisher Persephone Books makes very few mistakes over which 10 books every year it rescues from obscurity – and author Dorothy Whipple is a firm favourite with them and with me.

    Someone At A Distance is a familiar story – a middle-aged man becomes entranced by a French girl and abandons a seemingly happy marriage to pursue his fancy with predictable consequences. The prose is simple, but what I love about Dorothy Whipple is that her characters are real people and their motivations believable. In fact, it is the author’s astute observation of both male and female characters that sets her apart and show that you don’t need outlandish plots, larger than life characters of 400 pages of poorly written soft porn to make a very readable book.

    Very highly recommended – by me and my mum... 

    The Priory

    I am a woman of few addictions. I hardly drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, I don’t like coffee or tea... But I’m not entirely without my vices – I’m rather partial to chocolate (okay, rather more than partial), I'm entirely addicted to stroking the hair on the back of my son's head...and I do really like a good book.

    So when I’m recommending The Priory, you can be sure that it’s not the south London haunt of "tired and emotional" celebrities but Saunby Priory, a large house "somewhere in England" which when we first come across it is in a state of equilibrium, inhabited by the recently-widowed Major Marwood, his two daughters and their aunt.

    It is the major's decision to remarry a woman much younger than him that upsets this status quo as his new bride (and the twins she subsequently bears him) set about implementing much-needed change in the household.

    Like Dorothy Whipple's other books that I have read and enjoyed before, the interplay between characters and the effect of change on the rigid pre-war social structures has a Jane Austen-like quality.

    And is every bit as enjoyable.