Skip to main content

Review: Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple

Pages: 413
Original publication date: 1953
My edition: 1999 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read: Intriguing plot; and I’ve read and enjoyed another one of Dorothy Whipple’s books
How I acquired my copy: Persephone bookshop, September 2009

Dorothy Whipple’s Someone at a Distance is a very complicated novel to write about. It’s the story of the Norths, a suburban couple with two teenage children. Avery North’s aging mother engages a young Frenchwoman as her companion, and he develops an attachment to her that develops into an affair and later leads to divorce from his wife Ellen. This novel is a stunning book about the wide-ranging effects an affair can have on several families.

Dorothy Whipple’s language is very simple. Her prose is uncomplicated, yet there’s a lot of meaning behind it. Her upper-middle-class English characters are all absorbed in their own mundane lives, until the arrival of Louise literally shakes them all up. Louise is obviously not meant to be a sympathetic character (unlike Ruth in Susan Glaspell’s Fidelity); and at times she devolves into the stereotypical “other woman.” Much more preferable is Ellen, the sensible English housewife who finds her life shattered during the after the divorce.

It’s a sad subject, yet there are some truly funny moments; the surly Miss Daley going postal on Louise is an example that comes to mind. So in the end, each of the characters get what they deserve—even Avery, towards whom I feel a bit ambivalent. I feel as though he simply sat back and let things happen to him, rather than be an active member of the cast of characters.

It’s interesting that I’ve chosen to read this book now, so shortly after reading another Persephone title, Fidelity—it’s the story of an extramarital affair as told from the conventional point of view. Despite my feelings towards Avery and Louise, I though many of the other characters were well-drawn. Whipple’s description of the angst teenage Anne goes through is very real, as are the difficulties that Ellen must feel as she prepares for a life alone. After all, she’s been married for twenty years, and she’s never had a job or had to pay her own bills; how will she cope? It's funny, then, how Ellen ultimately finds solace in a group of elderly ladies. Like the other Whipple novel I've read, The Priory, this is not a novel in which much “happens,” but it’s a powerfully emotional novel. Whipple’s prose is simple, as I've said, but her way with words is absolutely stellar. She really knew how to play on her readers’ emotions, so that you feel invested in the lives of her characters.

This is Persephone no. 3. Endpaper below:


Hannah Stoneham said…
I really enjoyed reading your review, and although I have already read this, you have inspired me to have a re read one of these chilly afternoons... I also think that the Persephone edition is so attractive. Thanks for sharing, Hannah

Popular posts from this blog

2015 Reading

1. The Vanishing Witch, by Karen Maitland
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
4. Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
5. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
10. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
11. Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith

1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, by Cynthia Lee
4. Music For Chameleons, by Truman Capote
5. Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious
6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
7. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
8. A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather

1. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
2. Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garc…

2016 Reading

1. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
3. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
4. Liar: A Memoir, by Rob Roberge

1. The Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy
2. Girl in the Woods, by Aspen Matis
3. She Left Me the Gun, by Emma Brockes
4. Because of the Lockwoods, by Dorothy Whipple
5. The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch
6. To Show and to Tell, by Philip Lopate

1. Fierce Attachments, by Vivian Gornick
2. Too Brief a Treat, by Truman Capote
3. On the Move: a Life, by Oliver Sacks
4. The Go-Between, by LP Hartley
5. The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr
6. Giving Up the Ghost, by Hilary Mantel
7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
8. The Great American Bus Ride, by Irma Kurtz
9. An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Radfield Jamison
10. A Widow's Story, by Joyce Carol Oates
11. So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder
12. The Liar's Club, by Mary Karr
13. An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard
14. So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972Originally published: 1944My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press)How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…