I really don't need any urging to pick up one of Persephone Books' titles, but it does help that Verity and Claire are hosting a Persephone Reading Week. You can click on either (or both) links and get a complete rundown of activities, posts and giveaways. I decided it was finally time to read something by the much lauded (by many dedicated readers) Dorothy Whipple, and have started Someone at a Distance. By the way, my edition is one of the lovely Persephone Classics with the color cover (and slightly cheaper price tag, and also happily available via Amazon). In this case the cover illustration is a painting is by Sir James Gunn, R.A. called Pauline.
I contemplated reading this one last year but thought the subject matter, an adulterous husband, was too much of a downer for my mood at the time. I've obviously moved on as adultery seems to be a recurrent theme in my reading these days. What is it with French governesses anyway. Though in this case the liaison is with a Frenchwoman acting as a companion to an elderly lady. Said Frenchwoman seems to have designs on the elderly lady's much married son, but I am getting ahead of the game as I've not gotten that far yet in the book. Although I'm moving along at a fairly nice clip, I don't expect to finish the book before the end of the week (you probably already are aware of my weakness for dipping into a variety of books over the course of the month, which always slows me down a bit).
Dorothy Whipple wrote something like eighteen books over the course of her career, six have been republished by Persephone Books. Someone at a Distance was her last novel. Sarah Waters called it "a quiet masterpiece of a novel, poignant and beautifully observed." Knowing how talented Waters is I am happy to take any recommendation she is willing to offer, but then fifty pages in I already knew I had made the right choice of book.
The point of my post is to share a short excerpt from the book, so how about I introduce you to Mademoiselle Lanier, our Frenchwoman? At 27 she is practically a spinster, but I think she has a few stories she could tell. Somehow I think that phrase, "butter wouldn't melt in her mouth" would suit her.
"Her face was smooth as ivory and the same colour. Her dark eyes slanted upwards a little at the outer corners. Her shining dark hair was parted in the middle and drawn into a knot on her slender neck. Her lips were made up, even for breakfast, in a magenta colour, which nevertheless became her and matched the varnish on the nails of her narrow hands."
Very elegant, yes? But her elegance is accompanied by a tart tongue and selfish outlook. I'm very curious to see how things play out. Someone at a Distance was published in 1953, so I have visions of a young Grace Kelly-like actress (Grace Kelly being far more subtle and likable than Mademoiselle Lanier) in the role of Louise with her impeccable grooming and stylish clothes (á la Rear Window perhaps?). I've read that a couple of Whipple's books were made into movies and wonder which titles those were (and if they are still available?).
And to really get into the Persephone Reading Week festivities I'm thinking it's time to buy a few more. It's been so long since I've placed an order that I suspect I've been dropped from their mailing list (how sad is that). Now, which books should I order? Maybe I'll go now and browse!