Tuesday, 22 July 2014
How I wish I had this lovely copy with its jacket intact but mine is an old green Virago, 1p from Amazon.
And how thrilled I was to discover the original of Chatterton Square and that it looks exactly as I hoped it would. (Click on street view to see the houses.) Shabby-genteel before the war .. and I wonder what EH Young would make of today's £1million house prices.
I've been eke-ing out my EH Youngs as there will heartbreak here when I've read everything she wrote. (Here's a couple that I read earlier.)
Chatterton Square was published in 1947 and what's fascinating about it is that it's a domestic novel set in 1938 against the background of the Munich crisis. A middle-aged generation bracketed by two wars.
On the home front, we have two families of neighbours living in the square. There's Mr Blackett who neatly wriggled out of WW1 and refuses to believe in another war. Pompous, self-centred, a domestic autocrat who micro-manages family life ... and is shocked when he discovers his wife - wait for it - buying her own newspaper.
How I hoped that his call-up papers would catch up with him this time. He's not too old.
Mrs Blackett - Bertha - is a brilliant character. On the surface the perfect submissive wife, she has been quietly loathing Mr Blackett since their disastrous honeymoon 20 years ago. She longs for a single bed.
Mr Blackett proved to be in a sentimental mood which she found much more disagreeable ... when after his usual spell of lying on his back, his beard like the ace of spades against the sheet, he turned on to his side and the gentle whistling through his nose had ceased .. How pleasant, she thought, gently moving nearer to her edge of the bed, to have a bedroom, even a bed, of one's own.
The Blacketts' neighbours are the delightful Fraser family. Rosamund Fraser appears to be a shockingly cheerful widow, with five children, until it emerges that she has been deserted by her husband and their seemingly carefree family life has been fractured by his experiences in WW1. The Frasers share their home with Rosamund's deliciously spiky spinster friend Miss Spanner whose greatest dread is that one day she'll find herself living alone.
And over all this hangs the threat of another war ... or the unbearable national shame of appeasement.
Munich is never specifically mentioned, but we experience the terrible tension of the 9pm news broadcasts through that September. (Mr Blackett, of course, won't have his complacency disturbed by having a wireless in the house.)
My only criticism of EH Young is that she can get ever so slightly repetitive, labouring her point about England's shame over too many pages. But her readers in 1947 would have remembered those weeks all too well. I'm racking my brain to think of any other novelist who has focused on 1938 rather than the outbreak of war? And I can't think why the utterly brilliant Emily Hilda Young isn't better known today.