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Review: Together and Apart, by Margaret Kennedy


Pages: 342
Original date of publication: 1936
My edition: 1981 (Dial/Virago)
Why I decided to read: it’s on the VMC list
How I acquired my copy: the Book Trader, Philadelphia, December 2010


Together and Apart is the story of a marriage—or rather, the breakup of a marriage. Betsy Canning decides to get a divorce from her husband Alec, a famous lyricist. Although she had tired of married life long before, she has all the more reason for divorce when Alec runs off with a much younger women. Thus begins the breakup of a family, as their three teenage children have to choose sides.

Many of Margaret Kennedy’s novels were placed in a historical setting (such as Troy Chimneys) or were timeless (The Constant Nymph). This novel is clearly rooted in the 1930s, when to get a divorce was to put yourself in disgrace. Of the novels I’ve read my Margaret Kennedy, this novel seems much more authentic. The divorce seems to have the greatest impact on the Canning children: Eliza, who’s making the transition from childhood to adulthood; Kenneth, a boarding school student who eventually falls in with the wrong crowd; and Daphne.

Witness to the family’s destruction are the Blochs, a family of German refuges who live on the grounds of the Canning family estate, Pandy Madoch; Mark Hannay, Kenneth’s friend from school; Max St. Mullins, who Betsy marries afterwards; and, of course, the Other Woman, Joy, who starts out as a kind of governess to the children. Some of these characters are likeable; others are detestable (I for one couldn’t stand Betsy; she’s very selfish and completely unaware of how her actions have ruined the lives of her family). I particularly enjoyed the escalator scene in the London Tube, when Alec and Betsy accidentally pass each other by; apparently Margaret Kennedy got the idea for this novel from a nearly identical chance encounter that she witnessed between two strangers. The tension in that scene is almost palpable. In all, this is a fantastic novel; very realistic and sometimes unpleasant, but the author does a wonderful job of conveying emotion.

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