I shared with you here that the Persephone book I received from my Secret Santa, Jodie, was Every Eye by Isobel English (the end-paper for which, a 1956 'Iberia' fabric, is pictured above), and I read it at the close of the festive period. This novella opens with the arresting first words, "I heard today that Cynthia died" and alternately tells the story of Hatty on her honeymoon with her younger hustband on a train through Europe to the Spanish island of Ibiza and a younger Hatty who had an older lover, a friend of her Uncle Otway and his wife, Cynthia. From the opening page the reader knows that Cynthia was an influence in Hatty's life, our attention is focused on her from the outset and we know that Hatty will reveal the details of the deterioration of their friendship:
... It is six years since I last saw Cynthia, six years since I cut myself free from the inquisitive disapproval; the light unfriendly laugh that always accompanied her sharpest barbs - the honey and the gall mixed to such a smooth consistency that were inseparable. And yet I should have known the reason for this; I am alwaus talking about a true sense of vocation - the time when I was going to become a pianist - and now once more when I am trying to put together the bits and pieces of my life to start off with a husband who is so many years younger than I.
The closing line of the novella -written in French and crucial to translate- is revelatory and refers to something that Hatty reads, which illuminates her perception of the past and the perception of the reader; I wanted to reread the novella upon hindsight to seek out possible hints. It is a cleverly-crafted work that is beautifully written. Isobel English (a pseudonym for June Braybrooke) was friends with a number of other talented writers one of whom was Muriel Spark; Spark wrote, "The late Isobel English was an exceptionally talented young novelist of the mid-1950s. Every Eye is one of her most successful and sensitively written books, a romantic yet unsentimental story of a young woman's intricate relationships of family and love, intensely evocative of the period, remarkable in its observations of place and character". The stunning prose of Every Eye impressed me and I found it a wonderful book to lose oneself in the descriptions of the Iberian landscape, the observations that Hatty makes of the social position of women and to study the hold Cynthia retains on Hatty even in death. Thank you, Jodie, for your lovely gift as it may not have been one that I would have purchased for myself for some time.
Some favourite passages:
So, it is Wednesday and the first for Cynthia below the ground - the cold raw earth lined with evergreens. 'Six feet of semi-detached will do me nicely, dear,' I had heard her say often enough when she was looking for another smaller flat when their lease had expired. At last this had been realised as a permanency.
The words carried right into the soft part of my brain and stuck there like three neutral stones. I suppose that I must have stood there with my mouth open, my bad eye focusing all over the place in an effort to materialise him again in the gap which he had left. This was the first time that anyone had ever said these words to me; the first time, and they were no more active that fizzy lemonade. I wanted to reach out and extricate them from the smutty stucco frontages of the ugly houses, save them from the smell of petrol and the dust-thick sun of two o'clock of that September afternoon.
I remember her now as she had been when I first saw her. The picture that had been taken with the unclouded lenses of a fourteen-year-old's eyes had gained in the intervening years another dimension; I could see now the might-have-been: the little touches of English chintz and pottery that she must have added to her hotel bedroom to make it like home; the warm nest of spinsterly living into which she would eventually wind herself. So often this is the way with solitary Englishwomen of character who retire abroad: they harden like the autumnal beads at their throat into hard little wax pellets that no heat will ever melt again, they turn into a self-supporting wholesome substance that can never take anything in, nor be taken in, again.
At that time, already the clouds were beginning to build up behind Cynthia. I saw her as an all-powerful magician who could produce black evil and despair at the flick of her wrist. Her small white voice creaked on, in and out of the teacups as she sat smiling at me behind the tray; these were no longer objects of domestic comfort, but stark receptacles for surgical performance, something in which to catch the sly tear, or conceal for second, with the raising of a hand, the buttoned-down anguish of her mouth.
With another Persephone book read and reviewed I look to the recent additions to my collection -bringing it to thirty five and the need for a longer shelf- acquired at the shop yesterday. Again, I would like to say how generous the shop are and I feel greedy and guilty looking at my Persephone loot. I purchased the copy of To Bed With Grand Music as I have been coveting a copy since October and Santa didn't me one (he brought other exciting and surprising things instead) and will most probably read that first swiftly followed by The Home-Maker, which I bought for my Santee, Thomas, and which he loved.
My new Persephones:
To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski
The Village by Marghanita Laski
The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield-Fisher
Daddy's Gone A-Hunting by Peneople Mortimer
Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson
Amours de Voyage by Hugh Clough
Consequences by E.M. Delafield
How to Run Your Home Without Help by Kay Smallshaw
Making Conversation by Christine Longford
Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malle