Skip to main content

Review: Great Granny Webster, by Caroline Blackwood


Pages: 108
Original date of publication: 1977
My edition: 2002 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read: It’s on the list of NYRB Classics
How I acquired my copy: Joseph Fox bookstore, Philadelphia, February 2012


What an odd novel.

Caroline Blackwood was an heiress to the Guinness family fortune, a 1950s socialite, and, at one time married to the poet Robert Lowell. Great Granny Webster is a semi-autobiographical novel. In it, the narrator tells the story of several generations of her family: her Scottish Great Granny Webster, who lives in a mildewed cottage in Hove; her grandmother’s descent into madness; unstable, freewheeling Aunt Lavinia; and the narrator’s father, who died during WWII.

Our unnamed narrator is not so much a well-rounded character as she is an observer of her family history. At the heart of it all is the family seat, Dunmartin Hall, a dilapidated pile of stone in Scotland. The novel is full of dysfunctional characters, and the only one of them that seems to have it all together is the family matriarch. As I was reading this, I kept picturing Great Granny Webster in Victorian mourning (although the book is set in the years after WWII). But one can imagine that nothing in Great Granny Webster’s house has changed in fifty years; she’s even had the same maid for four decades.

Contrasting with Great Granny Webster is the narrator’s unstable Aunt Lavinia, a woman with multiple divorces and a penchant for partying and alcohol (maybe an autobiographical portrait?). Saddest of all the family members that appear in this novel is the narrator’s grandmother, a woman forced into a marriage she doesn’t want, who eventually ends up mad. Because this is a character-driven novel, there’s not much of a plot. I really enjoyed this novel, despite the oddity of the characters (right down to the butler and footmen who serve at table wearing Wellingtons). Even Dunmartin Hall is a character unto itself, reflecting the crumbling nature of this dysfunctional family.

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…