Skip to main content

Review: The Orchid House, by Phyllis Shand Allfrey


Pages: 246

Original date of publication: 1953

My edition: 1991 (Virago)

Why I decided to read: Heard about this while browsing the list of Virago Modern Classics

How I acquired my copy: Ebay seller, July 2010

The Orchid House is the story of three young white women growing up in Dominica, in a house called L’Aromatique, or the Orchid House for its conservatory. The point of view is from their nurse, Lally, who took care of them when they were growing up. Stella, married to a German but living in America, is now a mother; Joan, also a mother, is a political activist; and Natalie is a wealthy widow. The girls have grown up and moved away, but one by one each returns. It’s a novel in which women are the focal point of the story; each of the male main characters is weak, both physically and/or emotionally.

This is a weird one, both in tone and story. As far as plot goes, there’s not much of one; it’s mostly just a flurry of activity as one sister leaves and another one comes. The narrator, Lally, isn’t believable; she’s far more educated than I imagine someone in her position might be, and she has less of a presence in the novel than some of the male characters. She claims that she loves the three girls, but you don’t really get a feel for that in this book. Of the three sisters, Joan and Stella are the more interesting, since their role in the story is much larger than Natalie’s. As far as the tone goes, though, it’s atmospheric and brooding, which I enjoyed; I’ve never been to the West Indies, but I can imagine it very clearly through this book. You get this feeling of being suspended midair while reading this novel, much as the humidity of a summer afternoon hangs in the air. There’s almost a repressive feeling to the tone of this novel sometimes, which works for it in a way.

Nonetheless, this book is important in terms of its place in West Indian literature; apparently, Jean Rhys was influenced by this book in the writing of Wide Sargasso Sea. Unfortunately, I just didn’t care much for The Orchid House.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

2015 Reading

January
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

February
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

March
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

January:
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

February:
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

March:
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: Amazon.com, 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…