Skip to main content

Review: The Sugar House, by Antonia White


Pages: 255
Original date of publication: 1952
My copy: 1989 (Virago)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Philly Book Trader, January 2013

The Sugar House is the second novel in a trilogy of books that began with The Lost Traveller. Clara Batchelor is now twenty-one; having graduated from drama school, she’s now a member of a traveling acting group. She has a love affair with another actor (although we can tell that it won’t end well) and ends up marrying her former fiancée Archie. Although newlywed, Clara—and Archie—still have a lot to learn about life; and for better or worse, the second half of the novel is how they try to cope with the demands of marriage and, at the same time, grow up.

Antonia White has laid on the symbolism and imagery pretty thickly; the title is in reference to the Hansel and Gretel story. The similarities are so close that you might think that White is retelling the old myth, with the house made of confectionery representing the house in Chelsea, and the trail of breadcrumbs and witch representing Clara and Archie’s marriage. Because of this, the book seems kind of claustrophobic; indeed, most of the scenes in this book take place indoors. It’s a clever analogy, but it’s not so skillfully done in that Antonia White actually has to tell her reader what the title means in the text of the novel. Still, I enjoyed reading the continuation of Clara’s story; and it’s interesting to watch how she matures from childhood to adulthood in this book.

The Catholicism of White’s earlier novels is less obvious in this novel, but still present. Antonia White was very strongly influenced by her religious upbringing, and so it shows clearly in her series of novels that were based on her personal history from the ages of 9 to 23. The Sugar House fictionally details White’s marriage to Tom Hopkinson as well as White’s attempts to be both a writer of fiction and work as an advertising copywriter. You don’t need to have read The Lost Traveller or Frost in May (which is also unofficially a part of the series) previously, but it helps. Given what happened to Antonia White in real life, it’ll be interesting to see how the story unfolds in the last book Beyond the Glass.

Comments

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…