The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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May 10, 2018

Persephone no. 90: The Winds of Heaven, for Monica Dickens, on her birthday

I  finally took out my calendar and made notes in it of some dates from our friend Jane's Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors so I could appreciate them :)  -- thankfully just in time for Monica Dicken's birthday, which is today. I read her 1955 novel, The Winds of Heaven, because it is also one of the very few Persephones that I own, so I had the added pleasure of reading one of their beautiful editions.  And among all their lovely endpapers, this book has my very favorite one.  I didn't read this book for that reason, but -- full disclosure -- that is probably why I bought it. :)  That turned out well, didn't it?

I thought that I may have read Monica Dickens before -- a memoir though, not a novel? -- although it was a long time ago. My reading notebook reminded me that I had:  I've read An Open Book {confusing it later with One Pair of Hands, which I haven't, but which drew on some of the same material}. And speaking of Persephones, this one reminded me, in the best possible way, of Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple, the last one I read.

The central character in The Winds of Heaven is Louise Bickford, a recent widow, almost sixty, who has been left essentially homeless and almost destitute after the death of her feckless, deceiving husband.  It has become necessary for her to live, in turn, with her three daughters, except for the winter months which she spends at a hotel on the Isle of Wight owned by her cheerful school friend Sybil, who lets her stay at a reduced rate because it's the off season. Louise is calm, mostly unruffled, clear-headed about her husband and her daughters, conscious of the slights and discomforts that her precarious situation brings, though always willing to find the good in most things.

During a day out in London, on which, typically, her eldest daughter Miriam has sent her off on her own because she is in the way, Louise escapes into a tea shop and meets Gordon Disher, a round, kindly gentleman who sells beds in a department store by day and churns out sexy thrillers by night. He presses his tattered copy of his latest book on her, urging her to write to him and tell her what she thinks.  'I picked up a man today,' she tells her daughter and son-in-law that evening, and her relationship with Mr. Disher becomes another reason for them to be kindly and belittling, although for Louise, he becomes a true and steady friend, especially in a crisis.

This is a charming, quiet, often funny, often sweet book, filled with small domestic events and wonderfully drawn characters.  It's not especially plot-driven, except for Louise's travels between her very different daughters' very different homes, and the untangling of an affair that her youngest daughter, Eva, is having with a married man.  So there's something dramatic that happens at the end (or just before the end) that seemed gratuitous,  unless it's a way of insisting that Louise's quiet, ordinary life is not ordinary at all, which is true.  I liked her, and this book, very much.

The Winds of Heaven, by Monica Dickens
Persephone Books, 2010 (first published in 1955)
From my bookshelves


Cosy Books said...

I really enjoyed this book too, Audrey! And I must admit, I can be reeled in by an eye-catching endpaper or stunning cover art too. Have you seen the Persephone Classic edition of Mariana by Dickens? It's on my tbr list for this summer....

Sandra @ said...

I also chose this one for Jane's Monica Dickens Day and enjoyed it very much. My rambling thoughts will be out later this evening. Like you, I also read Greenbanks quite recently - for Dorothy Whipple's birthday and loved that too. Just as well it's not necessary to choose between them. I don't think I can!

Jane @ Beyond Eden Rock said...

It's lovely to have your compactor another celebration. Those endpapers are lovely, and I'm almost sorry that I found and read an older copy before the Persephone publication.

JoAnn said...

Mariana is the only Monica Dickens I've read, but will add this one to my list. Such beautiful endpapers! It's been too long since I read a Persephone, but there are a few waiting on my shelves at home. We head north this weekend.

Vintage Reading said...

I'd like to read this. I enjoyed Mariana very much when I read it a few years ago. I haven't read a Persephone for a long while - I visited the shop in Bloomsbury recently but bought some Jane Austen novels - which they also have in stock!

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