This book makes good reading. It’s very British. The characters are very middle-class. Emotions are restrained but enough to keep the story afloat. It’s well written but not over written. Every chapter edges the reader a little closer to the story’s climax without giving too many clues away. By the time I reached the last chapter, I was still eagerly wondering how the story would wrap itself up and was taken aback by the nature of the unexpected death – the circumstances of which are a little ambiguous. I would have liked another few pages to have this mulled over but the author chose to finish it there, half leaving me to think that the characters wouldn’t be too unperturbed by this death and that their lives would, shortly afterwards, have resumed their normality. A typical British stoicism would have stepped in to fill the void.
The story is about Pauline, a middle-aged London editor who has a holiday home in the countryside. Her cottage, named ‘World’s End’, is large and split in two with Pauline living in one half and her daughter (Teresa) and son-in-law (Maurice) occupying the other half. It’s an idyllic backdrop, set deep in the English country, miles from the nearest town. Pauline is divorced and sceptical of love and relationships after having suffered repeated infidelity at the hands of her ex-husband. In simple terms, she believes she is an expert in the broken- hearted and a professional at spotting unfaithfulness. I didn’t really like her character though as she presents as somebody who has been left bitter by her own experiences of betrayal. She also often comes across as snobbish, cold and aloof. Poor old Maurice didn’t know that his mother-in-law had such expertise in spotting infidelity because otherwise he might have thought twice before embarking on an affair right before her eyes. He is an author, writing a complicated travel book. His friend James, a London researcher, is helping him with this which entails coming down from London to World’s End at weekends. James’s girlfriend, Carol often accompanies him on these trips. It was during one of these visits that Maurice’s affections are directed towards Carol. Pauline had them under her radar from the very beginning. Not even the slightest sign, word or gesture escaped her attention. Anyway, the story intensifies when Maurice starts to make his trips to London in the middle of the week for whimsical reasons before Teresa finally suspects the truth, confronts him and discovers that Maurice is indeed a lying, cheating wastrel! Pauline could have told her daughter this all along but didn’t. She feared resurrecting her own pain that had been buried deep long ago. And although she felt great empathy for Teresa’s suffering and wished she could spare her these miseries, the enduring reminders of her own past heartache were never far from the surface.
It crossed my mind when reading the book that it would make excellent material to read out loud, such is the greatness of the construction and wording contained in some of its passages. There are beautiful extracts in the book that stand out and although they remain integral as background information to the main story, can be used as separate, standalone pieces, including descriptions of the countryside, being in love, betrayal and mistrust, and acceptance of fate in life. These could be used in a creative writing class or in a book club to stimulate discussion about writing styles. Indeed, this book lends itself to being a good audio book if it hasn’t already been turned into one. All in all, I found this to be a good book and one that I am thankful for having read. It is published by Penguin under their modern classics collections. It is always good to read different styled books by a range of different authors. This stands out as being a good example of something different and out of the ordinary.
© Declan Henry