Uneven Books, Unsettling Endings

When the cold is record-breaking (20 degrees below zero), we stay indoors.   I managed to finish two books,  Margaret Oliphant’s The Marriage of Elinor and Anne Maybury’s The Minerva Stone.

The neglected Victorian writer Margaret Oliphant is consistently workmanlike, sometimes great.  Her  well-plotted novels are  riveting.    I think of her as the female Trollope: indeed, her Chronicles of Carlingford, set in the fictional country town of Carlingford, were inspired by Trollope’s Barsetshire series.    I enjoyed The Marriage of Elinor, published in 1891, a book I chose randomly from her books at Project Gutenberg.  In this  splendidly entertaining novel, a willful young woman, Elinor, marries The Hon. Philip Compton,  despite the rumors about his immorality and the objections of her mother and cousin John Tatham.  Alas, Phil proves to be an unscrupulous businessman; he also leaves Elinor  to give birth in an isolated cottage (her mother gets there just in time) while he has an affair with a flirtatious woman at a house party. After their son Pippo (Philip) is born,  Elinor refuses to go back to her husband, and she and her mother flee to another town where they hope not to be found.

What if Philip decides he wants his son, Pippo? And what will be the consequences if Elinor doesn’t tell Pippo?

This is a common Victorian heroine’s nightmare in fiction.    In Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, a mother flees to an isolated country house to protect her son from an alcoholic father; in Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right, a father kidnaps their son.

The second half feels a little rushed, but the structure is a perfect ring composition.   Oliphant supported her extended family by her prolific writing, and I suspect she didn’t have time to develop the ideas–particularly the ending.  Still, a good read!

A GOTHIC NOVEL. In the 1960s and ’70s  Gothics were in vogue, and I was always reading  books by Mary Stewart and her ilk.  It is possible I read Anne Maybury’s The Minerva Stone  back then. I do remember this author.  At any rate, I galloped today through this uneven, eerie novel.  Think  I Capture the Castle meets a Gothic heroine fleeing along a cliff path!

The jacket copy says:


How fun is that!

Sarah Palfrey’s  marriage to egomaniac TV interviewer Niall Rhodes is in crisis.  She is staying at her childhood home Guinever Court, a comfy castle by the sea, while Niall is out of the country.  Her family is artistic, loud, and emotional:   her father Kestrel Palfrey, an artist, hates Niall; Freda, her stepmother, a former opera singer, is an earth mother;  her father’s helpless first wife, Polly, and handicapped daughter  by another man, Dido, live there because Polly can’t make a living; and Sarah’s other siblings drop in and out.

 Maybury might have been inclined to write a realistic novel about an artistic family but constrained by the genre of romantic suspense.  (She merely sketches the family members, but there is potential here.) When Niall arrives at Guinever, Sarah and Niall are precipitated into  danger. Someone tries to run Sarah down with a car; someone shoots at Niall and grazes his arm.  Is Luke, Sarah’s former lover, a doctor, involved?  Or the mysterious woman who calls herself Alexandra?

Tune in and find out!

And this is another one with a weird ending.  More post-modern than Gothic.  I will tell you no more!

N.B.  This is not in the class of Mary Stewart’s books!  I’d say it’s third-tier Gothic.  Nonetheless, I  loved the last hundred pages.