by Helen Dunmore
This is the fourth book I have read by Dunmore. I picked it up at my aunt’s home when I visited last week. Knowing that her house is full of books (and that she seems to have stopped reading), I decided not to bring a book with me. I had heard varying views on this book, but after being very impressed with Exposure, I thought I would give it a try.
I wasn’t as impressed with this book as with Exposure. Dunmore seems to focus heavily on her characters, giving us a good view of who they are, but at the expense of the plot – or so it seems to me. The story is that of Lizzie Tredevant, the daughter of Radical parents who marries a Bristol property developer. The backdrop to the story is the French Revolution – welcomed initially by the likes of Lizzie’s mother and her friends, but which causes a downturn in trade that ruins her husband. The key events of the Revolution are communicated effectively; and the author manages effectively to demonstrate how ordinary lives might be played out in troubled times. This was her intention, as she states clearly in the Afterword.
Lizzie is a resourceful young woman, slightly in awe of her husband whilst enjoying a vigorous sex life with him. She remains close to her family and, after her mother dies in childbirth, effectively adopts her baby half-brother. The Clifton landscape of the late eighteenth century is skilfully imagined, and I am sure that if I knew Bristol better, I would be able to place much of the action around the city.
John ‘Diner’ Tredevant, Lizzie’s husband, has a dark secret which is hinted at near the start of the novel, but only fully revealed (though the reader might have guessed it) very near the end. Somehow this seems to me to be superfluous and not a really gripping plot. The book seems to be mainly about setting, historical context and character. The story doesn’t really get going, for me.
Birdcage Walk was Dunmore’s last published novel. She died just over a year ago, aged 64. RIP.
I think I will give Dunmore’s novels a rest. I may try reading some of her poems and short stories instead.