History: This book was written in 1929.
Plot: This novel, West’s third, tells the story of Harriet Hume and Arnold Condorex; we meet them first when they are young and in love with each other. On this particular day, Harriet discovers she has the power to hear Arnold's thoughts, which she sees as evidence of their deep love and connection. However, as they wander through the garden of her Kensington home, he contemplates how he will put her aside to marry someone rich who will help him gain the political power he so desires, a thought she can obviously hear. This thought of his ruins their budding relationship, and he leaves her, whilst trying to convince himself he has done nothing wrong.
This pattern continues, as they meet three more times over the next twenty years, as Arnold advances in his political career. Each time they meet Arnold has forgotten her power to read his thoughts, painting her in his head as a silly and helpless woman, an object to be admired. And each time she hears something in his thoughts that she dislikes concerning his unending quest for power and each time Arnold again attempts to deny his culpability to both her and himself and is more threatened than ever by her power. Later things come to a head as he finally faces his downfall and looks for someone to blame.
Review: this is a weird one, one I don’t quite know how to describe; and maybe it went over my head a bit too much! This novel tells the story of the relationship between two people: the free-spirited musician Harriet, who lives in a lopsided house in London, and her lover, Arnold, a politician The story takes their relationship/friendship through many years, at which they meet up periodically.
This was a very, very slow read for me, and one I didn’t enjoy very much. Part of my problem with this book was Rebecca West’s writing style; the only way I can describe it is bizarre! For example: “But the governess had turned her gaze on them, and had on seeing the marks of deep emotion on the faces made a long leap through the ether to some universe thickly upholstered with seductions.” (p. 106). At times, West’s prose style makes no sense, so much so that I had to go back and re-read bits and pieces here and there.
I enjoyed West’s characters; part of the charm of this odd couple is that they are so different. But Arnold is so clinical and detached that I really didn’t like him after a while; and Harriet was so flaky that I got frustrated with her. Also, the dialogue isn’t all that believable; these characters talk as though they come from a different time period, which makes this book quirky and charming, but I got tired of it quickly.
Opening Line: “Their feet, running down the wooden staircase from her room, made a sound like the scurrying of mice on midnight adventures; and when they paused on the landing to kiss, it was still whispers that they told each other how much they were in love, as if they feared to awaken sleepers.”
Closing Line: “And we would both, sir, like to wish you and the lady A Very Happy Eternity.”
Quotes: “You know them of course: They are the ladies Frances, Georgina, and Arabella Dudley. Sir Joshua Reynolds painted them. The result of his labors is in the National Gallery under the title “The Three Graces Decorating a Statue of Hymen.”
“Let the witch burn. For she had come between him and every human beings right not to know quite what he is doing.”