Sunday, January 28, 2024

A Tale of Two Families

A Tale of Two Families / Dodie Smith
London, UK: Hesperus Press, 2015, c1970.
272 p.

Following on from Yoshimoto's Premonition, I picked up another story of families and strange relationships. Not intentionally - but I absolutely adore Smith's I Capture the Castle so thought I'd read this one when it appeared in my library catalogue. 

If I'd read this first I would probably have never picked up another Dodie Smith book. It's bland, the time it's set is uncertain (50s? 60s?), the characters are not compelling, and there is far too much inbreeding going on. May and June are two middle aged sisters married to two brothers, George and Robert. June and Robert are much less well off, and when May decides they are all moving to the country (partly to deter George's womanizing) she invites June and her family to live at no cost in the cottage on the grounds. Each sister has two children, around the same ages. The eldest of each, Corinna and Hugh, are quite certain that they are going to marry each other. Despite their being close cousins with both parental sets siblings. Another ick! 

June has a hidden passion for George, her brother in law who seems much more vibrant and successful than Robert. This enforced isolation and togetherness brings that feeling out more than is useful. But other than this little spark, not much else happens in their country retreat. Hugh meets the daughter of the big house, who is odd and very countrified but there is a possible wrench in the works of his expected future there. 

My favourite characters were the grandparents -- May and June's mother Fran, a stylish city woman who tries not to interfere and is still youthful and involved with her own life, and George and Robert's father Baggy (nickname) who is an old duffer being taken care of by his daughters-in-law in turn. I thought these two characters were interesting and individual, with interests beyond their love affairs and domestic rounds. 

But this story felt a bit unfinished and inconsequential; alongside the apparently quite accepted notion of double cousins marrying, this really didn't add up for me. I didn't much like it, it's not funny or striking or even very memorable. Disappointing indeed! I will try a couple of others by Smith that I haven't yet read, but I don't think any of her later fiction will match up to I Capture the Castle

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