Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Old Lace without the Arsenic

As I posted earlier in relation to my second favourite Persephone, Miss Pettigrew Lived for a Day, I thought I would share with you the Persephone title that supplanted it in my affections.

"It is like an old-fashioned lace," is how one of the members of the LibraryThing Persephone Readers group described Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson, and I think that is a beautiful summation of a beautiful book. A bittersweet romance, this Persephone is enchanting and makes lovely reading for a quiet, weekend afternoon, or as a superb choice for this week's challenge as you will easily while away the hours.

Romance is a key-word when it comes to Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary as it is set in the lush landscape of aristocratic, Victorian Scotland with references to Jacobite Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary, Queen of Scots, that evoke images of Romanticism as much as they do thistles and heather. Candida Williams, in her preface, declares it "a love story and a love letter - to Scotland" and it certainly is; Lady Rose Targenet, the novel's protagonist, is fiercely and passionately patriotic. Being a Scot myself may count for some of my love for this wonderful story but I defy anyone not to become caught up in its magic, tartan-blooded or not.

It is wonderfully charming and delightful and, like Miss Pettigrew, is "a fairy tale for grown ups". I was captivated and spell-bound by the story of Lady Rose Targenet, who grew up and became the Countess of Lochlule. Although romantic, with fairy tale elements, Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary, is also a social commentary of the time and is poignant and heartbreaking. The novel gives an insight into the uncompromising and unforgiving nature of Victorian society, which is bitterly evoked in its treatment of Lady Rose.

The tale of Lady Rose is framed by the tour of Lochlule House of three American tourists, given by the house's caretaker, Mrs Memmary. Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary are both central to the plot as are their love for the house and for Scotland. This Persephone is undoubtedly my favourite and it was also a favourite of the late Queen Mother.

A favourite passage:

Somewhere hidden away in the dusty portfolio of Time was a picture that fitted here. It was as though the Old Man with the forelock and the scythe was watching, with folded arms, that arrested moment when three tourists and an old caretaker stood in the silent and almost empty shell of Lochlule House, in the blue nursery which had belonged to Lady Rose as a child. So old Time seized his book and began to turn back the pages, ten, twenty at a time -- more than seventy years of yellow leaves. Through them all the great white house gleamed whiter, and soon the Greek girl at the fountain was laughing as the waters of a bygone day gushed over her reaching fingers.

17 comments:

savidgereads said...

Calling it a "fairytale for grown ups" has completely and utterly sold it for me, sounds delightful!

Steph said...

This sounds great! It sounds like it's very evocative of the time and place... Another one added to my list!

Darlene said...

Oh, this sounds like such a beautiful story and yes, being a Scot yourself, I can imagine it has a special place in your heart. My list of Persephone titles to read has just grown by one more.

hjelliot said...

This one has been on my maybe list for awhile now, but you've just moved it to the definite persephone autumn order!

Christy, Lil Bit Brit Lit said...

In three weeks I will be in Scotland and the Isle of Skye. I was going to ask around for suggested reading matter appropriate for my trip. This seems just right and I will try and get a hold of a copy before I leave.

Loved your review and look forward to reading it.

Christy

Danielle said...

I almost picked this one to read this week, but I wondered if there was a liberal sprinkling of Scots dialect or not? I love local color, but sometimes it can be more challenging than I am in the mood for. I look forward to reading this one--sometimes it just takes a recommendation from another reader to make me want to grab it off the shelf!

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, it is delightful but not in the same light way as Miss Pettigrew; it's a rose with thorns.

Steph, I hope you enjoy it! As you can no doubt tell, I love it.

Darlene, it is very special and revisiting it in just a review has me teary and wanting to share it with everybody I know! I hope that you love it too.

Heather, wise choice ;). It's such a magical read.

Christy, oh it will be perfect! I so hope you manage to obtain a copy in time and that it's the right fit (I hope it will be).

Danielle, not that I can recall... if there is any then it is very mild. I find dialect challenging too, even when it is Glaswegian (I'm from Glasgow).

Nymeth said...

This is the book you were threatening to tempt me with on Twitter, wasn't it? :P Well, it worked. I want it!

Paperback Reader said...

Ana, imagine that... ;) I'm sorry :s

claire said...

Claire.. Another serendipitous moment, both of us posting on the same day! I love you for recommending this! As you can tell from my post I loved it, too. In fact, I kept thinking about you while reading, knowing it must be so sentimental that it's set in Scotland.

I didn't think I would love this so much in the beginning, but in the end it hit and brought me to tears. A keeper.

To Ana.. I really think you would love it, too! :)

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, very serendipitous! As I mentioned a while ago, you inspired this post :). I knew you would love it and I know that Ana will too! It is sentimental to me, indeed, and revisiting it for the post made me even more nostalgic for home but in a good way.

StuckInABook said...

*sort-of-almost-spoilers*


I really enjoyed this book, which I read about five years ago, but I did wish the big denouement hadn't been quite so obvious from the beginning!

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, I didn't think it was too obvious and still heartbreaking :(.

claire said...

Claire.. I inspired this?? That's so sweet of you.. :) *hug*

Simon.. It wasn't obvious to me at the start, only nearing the end, but I didn't really mind because the tone was very childlike and whimsical, so they complemented.

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, yes! Since I knew you would be reading it I thought that it was about time that I reviewed it myself to complement yours.

Julia said...

I have this on my shelf, and I've been saving it for a special treat...

Paperback Reader said...

Julia, I guarantee it will be a special treat :).