Skip to main content

Review: Wish Her Safe at Home, by Stephen Benatar

Pages: 263

Original date of publication: 1982

My edition: 2010

Why I decided to read: it’s on the list of NYRB Classics

How I acquired my copy: Borders, March 2011

In the midst of Royal Wedding Madness, I incidentally picked up a copy of Wish Her Safe at Home, set during another time of Royal Wedding Madness (thirty years ago). Rachel Waring inherits a house in Bristol and moves there from London, abandoning her old job and roommate for a life of idle dissipation. She becomes obsessed with her 20-something gardener, as well as the first owner of the house she lived in—who lived and died two hundred years ago.

At first, the story is quirky and charming, a kind of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Going in to the novel, I liked Rachel right away; she’s youthful, exuberant and carefree, and doesn’t seem to care what the people around her think of her. Rachel seems socially awkward, saying and doing things that are “off” (in fact, for a while while reading I thought that she has Asperger’s or something).

But it becomes clear about halfway through the novel that there’s something not quite right with her or the way that she thinks. It’s one thing to be obsessed with Roger, the gardener, especially when he’s young and good-looking; but Rachel’s obsession with Horatio, the previous owner of the house, becomes creepy and eventually tragic as Rachel’s true mental state is revealed. Stephen Benatar’s prose style is sparse and effective, detailing Rachels’ descent precisely. This is an extremely moving novel, one that I liked much more than I thought I would.


Mystica said…
A new author and book for me. I like the story very much and would like to read this.
Aarti said…
I LOVE this book. I am so glad you read it and enjoyed it, too! I pretty much push it on every blogger I know ;-) It is so brilliantly and empathetically written, and so scary in some ways in that readers never really know what Rachel is just thinking or what she's saying out loud...

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

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 an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancée, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…