by Rumer Godden
Middle-aged Englishwoman Fanny has always done the right things. She cares for her home and children, socializes with her friends, she is kind and patient, never improper. Her husband often travels for work, so she is alone and rather bored when the children go off to boarding school. A film company comes to their village to make a movie, and Fanny catches the director\’s eye. Rob takes her out to the theater, for drinks, to dinner. She thinks she is just keeping company and having a bit of fun, but it turns into an affair. Fanny finds herself happier than ever with Rob- sees a new life opening up with delights that she\’d never imagined- so she leaves with him for Italy, filing for divorce.
Her children are shocked. They have to leave their country home and live in a small London flat with their father. The youngest girl is forced to sell her beloved pony. The children are unhappy with all the changes- big and small- in their routine. Suddenly refusing to accept the situation, two of the kids run away to find their mother in Italy, intending to make her come back home. Things in Italy are not exactly what they expected, the situation is of course strained. Rob wants to send the children back to their father immediately but the boy falls ill and his mother won\’t allow him to travel. So Rob brings his own daughter (who has been raised by her grandmother) to stay with them as well. She is also opposed to the new relationship. Although not quite on friendly terms with each other, the children band together against their parents. Their presence makes Rob show another side of his personality, opinions about raising children quite different from Fanny\’s. They\’re all discontented in the end.
Sadly, this is not one of my favorite Rumer Goddens. I read through this book rather quickly, intrigued by the characters and their interactions, but in the end felt dissatisfied and don\’t think I will return to it. It is very slow going at first. Lots of description of time and place- which is enjoyable in its own way- but the details of Fanny\’s unfolding affair made me feel bored and impatient. I suppose it was to show how gradually it all happened- how she excused the little deviations of her behavior until they piled up into one big thing she couldn\’t extricate herself from, but I wasn\’t terribly sympathetic. The story got a lot more interesting once the children were in the picture. But the writing sometimes felt a bit awkward- it shifts back and forth between recollections and present events without clear indications. As the characters\’ spoken words and thoughts are both framed with quotation marks, sometimes I didn\’t know if someone had said a phrase aloud or not; I\’d have to read a sentence over again to make sure. It\’s a shame, because I really do like this author and her depiction of how kids think -in this case especially, how acutely they are affected by divorce- is very astute. I was glad the children decided to stand up for themselves, but when all was done, I wouldn\’t call it a happy ending.
Side note: the prim young Italian girl would absentmindedly sing while reading crime novels. That small detail baffled me. I do have a habit of fiddling with the pages while reading (my hands can\’t keep still), but I can\’t imagine singing. I often hum, whistle or sing while painting or doing chores- but reading? How do you divide your brain like that.
Rating: 2/5 254 pages, 1963