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Review: Mad Puppetstown, by Molly Keane

Pages: 304
Original date of publication: 1931
My edition: 1990 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: Read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: Ebay, Augst 2010

Mad Puppetstown contains all the hallmarks of a Molly Keane novel; a large, rambling estate in Ireland; a slightly dysfunctional family; and, of course, house-parties in which hunting is featured. Easter, Evelyn (male, so I’m assuming it’s pronounced like Evelyn Waugh), and Basil are cousins who grow up together at Puppetstown. The novel opens in 1908 and takes the cousins through the Great War and, more importantly, the Easter Rising, during which the cousins must flee to England. They harbor hopes, however, that they will return to Puppetstown and restore it to its former glory.

The novel starts off slowly, idyllically; this is the point in the novel at which the reader is supposed to feel the magic of Puppetstown and why the cousins are so attached to it. After all, it’s where Easter, Evelyn and Basil grew up, if only for a short time. In this way, the estate itself becomes a character in the book. Molly Keane does this often in her books, and she does it very well; inanimate objects and houses take on lives of their own.

Molly Keane is also skilled at character development. The novel opens in 1908 or thereabouts, when the cousins are young children; it closes about ten years later, when the cousins have entered into society. Easter is the focal point of the group, and Keane captures her growth through adolescence marvelously—right down to her frustrated unrequited love for her cousin. It’s very poignant and true-to-life; what young girl hasn’t experienced something like that? There are a couple of overly-described hunting scenes that kind of lost me for a while, but all in all, this is another really strong novel from a favorite author.


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