by Rose Macaulay
I had not read anything by this author before, and on doing a little research, I learned that she was a contemporary of Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey et al. She was also involved with that ‘set’ but as an author she as not well known in her day. This novel, published when she was 75 and only a couple of years before her death, is her best known work, and is considered to be partly autobiographical.
Several things about the novel appealed to me, and I will try to identify these here. It is very funny, and had me laughing out loud on several occasions. For example, when the heroine Laurie has written down the wrong phrase from her Turkish phrasebook and keeps asking “please get me Mr Yoram on the telephone” when she means to say “I don’t understand Turkish”. It turns out that there is a Mr Yoram, and she speaks to him on the phone and then meets him in the hotel where she is staying.
I say “she” but one of the things that I find fascinating about this novel is that neither the gender nor, until quite late on, the name of the narrator are made clear to the reader. We learn that Laurie is involved in an adulterous affair with Vere – but Vere’s gender is not divulged either. Only at the end of the novel do we learn that Vere is a man, and we may assume that Laurie is a woman. The affair – and even the car accident that ends it – reflect events in Macaulay’s own life.
The novel appears to be set in the present day (i.e. 1950s) with references to the Cold War, and especially Burgess and Maclean. Aunt Dot is therefore the most likely to be based on Macaulay herself, at least as far as her age is concerned. She is an intrepid and independent-minded traveller.
I did not get all of the ecclesiastic and classical references that must have been more accessible to educated readers in Macaulay’s day. But I did find myself tickled by contemporary references – for instance Aunt Dot’s relating how she had visited Paddy and Joan in Hydra, which must refer to Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor. Macaulay presumably knew them too.
Score: 7 or 8/10