Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

As a penniless young widow, Viola has the unpleasant misfortune to be forced to live with her husband's family.  The Wither family have a miserable existence in a dull and oppressive house.  Mr Wither is an obsessive miser, his wife is a snobby routine freak and their two middle aged daughters, Tina and Madge, are equally unattractive.  Tina is in love with the chauffeur, Saxon, and manipulates her father into agreeing to driving lessons to allow her to spend more time in his company.Viola makes some effort to fit in but yearns for a more exciting life which to her is defined by the glamorous Spring family who live on the other side of the hill.  Victor Spring is wealthy and has the best parties, but that life is shallow and meaningless for his cousin, Hetty, who longs for a more realistic and literary lifestyle.  The charity ball is the only glimmer of excitement to Viola but is Victor the answer to her disappointing life? 
It's a vague variation of a Cinderella story, poor Viola with Victor as her Prince Charming.  Written in the late 1930's it's very much of it's time - the looming war, class distinctions and dashed expectations.  The style is rather arch and it has a knowing and rather dismissive humour.  I did enjoy it and found it particularly interesting from a historical aspect and as a comedy of errors.  However, the characters are not likable and don't earn any sympathy, I didn't warm to any of them...they are all grasping and self seeking, even the ones that end up having their "almost happy ever after".  Viola is weak and childish, Victor shallow and arrogant...I actually wanted them to have a gruesome end rather than a happy resolution...but maybe that reflects more badly on me than the characters?!!