Sunday, 9 May 2010

Someone At A Distance by Dorothy Whipple

I had only intended to read two Persephones as part of the Persephone week run by Paperback Reader and the BFiles, but I enjoyed them so much that I picked up Someone At A Distance by Dorothy Whipple from the library.

I was wary of this writer because of Virago's vow to "never go beneath the Whipple line" but then I read a short story of hers "A Lovely Time " in the Autumn/Winter 2009/2010 Persephone biannually which broke my heart with it's unflinching honesty and vulnerable main protagonist and still makes me want to cry whenever I think of it.

I knew as soon as I started this book that I was going to enjoy it and so decided not to rush to finish it by the end of the week and instead to savour it. Impossible! The pages whirred between my hands like a flip-book.

For those who have read it (most Persephone converts), I shall not retread old ground and for those who haven't I do not want to give away too much of the plot. I actually skipped Nina Bawden's preface when I realised that she outlined the main plot points and read it last.

This is a very deeply felt, yet gentle book and is basically about the ephemeral nature of our life circumstances versus the enduring bonds of love. Some of the characters do things that are incredibly selfish, vindictive, craven even but Whipple presents each case in the same way, explaining the motives and feelings of each person in turn. She is a very moral writer, so these acts do not go unpunished, and this is perhaps why she lost her early popularity in the middle of the twentieth century.

It is perhaps also her readability, the 'easiness' of her novels, that began to make her less relevant in the era of angry young men and rebellious contraceptive-toting girls. I must admit that, although Someone At A Distance is very emotional and indeed desolating in parts, it is still a warm bath of a book with it's delightful descriptions of country gardens and quaint towns and the knowledge that all these characters with their inheritances, servants and people eager to help them out are going to be alright really.

This is a book which is a cosy 'cup of tea' read but is well-written enough to be more than just a guilty pleasure. Even the beautiful cover with a painting by Sir James Gunn is a joy. So, a perfect book really.


  1. I tend to always read prefaces and introductions as aftewords, to avoid spoiling the experience.

    A beautifully succinct review that has summed up the many and harmonising parts of this wonderful book.

    The short story in the last biannually remains with me too; it was so unbearably poignant.

  2. It is amazing how many spoilers are in prefaces! Like those trailers for films which remove the need to actually see it, they give away so much plot.

    As this was a library book, I forsee a visit to the Persephone website. Thank you for a great week of reading.

  3. Aaargh, note to self: do not watch telly whilst blogging, I have accidentally rejected two delightful comments from Katherine and ramblingfancy. But hooray for email!

    ramblingfancy said: I haven't read this one yet, but am now officially saving it for the day when something as perfect as a cosy 'cup of tea' read is just what is wanted! I loved that short story as well - thought it was nigh perfect!

    Katherine said:I absolutely loved this one! Dorothy Whipple is one of my favorite Persephone writers. She has such a wonderful way with language, and her characterizations are excellent.

    Thank you both for your comments and I am sorry that my fumbly fingers have prevented there being links here back to your blogs! ramblingfancy, it is a perfect book for a rainy afternoon. Katherine, I agree with you completely.

  4. What a great review! A "warm bath of a book" is such a delicious way to describe something!

    I'm a little jealous... I don't live in the UK and don't have easy access to Persephone books. I'll have to see what I can find at the library.

    Thanks for your thorough review.
    Lydia @ The Literary Lollipop

  5. Thanks Lydia, it is highly recommended.

    I was feeling all aggrieved about not being able to go to the Persephone London store but it must be very difficult to justify the overseas postage! Two pounds within the UK seems a bit much sometimes!