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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January 27, 2011

Virago Reading Week: Thank Heaven Fasting

I think I could be forgiven for thinking, for the first 80 pages, that E.M. Delafield's novel Thank Heaven Fasting was just exquisite fluff, a light comedy of matters about a properly-brought-up English girl's first season.  {Especially since that's why I chose it. :)}  Monica Ingram is raised to be good, and 'to meet all the right people, since it was only among the right people that a young girl could find the man she might hope to marry.'  Her mother is relentless in reminding her how to act so that she will be successful in the only thing she can possibly do, and Monica is naive, childish, and excited about what will almost certainly (anything else is unthinkable) happen to her.

That's why it's almost shocking when an indiscretion (I don't want to spoil things if you haven't read it) changes everything for her, almost literally overnight. It's not just that what happens seems so insignificant (no one's dragging a dead Turkish diplomat around an upstairs corner), or that the hoped-for alternative was one or two dances turning into a marriage, but that there's nothing, in her world or in her, that allows for the possibility of going somewhere new. 

Monica is just a bit of a blank. She pipes up once in a while, but no one listens to her. She does connive with her mother to create the story of why she has not married, and enjoys observing, and seeing through, the people around her:

It sometimes vaguely crossed her mind that it would be satisfactory to tell Carol the truth about himself, and even to laugh -- frankly, and with friendliness -- at his childlike self-deception, but she was afraid of losing his friendship, and would not risk it. He was her chief outside interest in life, even though she had almost given up hope that we would ever want to marry her.

{If only someone had done that for her!}

One of the best moments in the book, I thought, comes at the end, when Monica is so wrapped up in remembering another afternoon spent seated on a tree trunk that she almost misses hearing the most significant words imaginable. (I found myself being very glad that we didn't hear her companion's 'little confession,' so we could hope that whatever it was would at least make her life more interesting.)

Thanks again to Rachel and Carolyn for hosting this Virago Reading Week.  It was great! I read three books that I enjoyed very much, and I have several more green-spined books that I'm looking forward, more than ever, to reading very soon.

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Joan Hunter Dunn said...

Love the mention of 'dragging a dead Turkish diplomat'! An intriguing book.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review! I loved this book and found it to be much deeper than it at first appears too. Such a shame that Monica was brought up to be just a blank slate - rather like May in The Age of Innocence.

Thank you so much for taking part so enthusiastically in Virago Reading week - and extra points for getting a Downton Abbey mention into your review!!

Carolyn said...

That Downton Abbey reference made me laugh too and this sounds like an interesting book, rather like her only Persephone, Consequences (I'm just guessing, from reading a review of it).

Darlene said...

Danielle from A Work in Progress has tempted me with her writings about this book and now you! I really hope this title is re-issued at some point, fingers crossed.

StuckInABook said...

EM Delafield is one of my favourite authors, but like most people I came to her through her (wonderful) Provincial Lady novels, and was consequently shocked by how different her other novels are! Consequences, which Persephone publish, is even further away from the light-heartedness of the Provincial Lady - but still brilliant!

Vintage Reading said...

I didn't even know that Delafield wrote other novels! Enjoyed your review. Loved the Prov lady but I think the other volumes - Prov Lady in Wartime etc lack the sparkle of the first book.

Danielle said...

I was curious where this story was going too! It's almost funny that such a small discretion landed her in such a state of disgrace--how times have changed!! She was a bit of a blank--it was sad that any suggestion she gave to her mother was instantly dismissed--even though I was completely tepid about Mr Pelham, at least she would have been better off with him I think! Had to chuckle over the Turkish diplomat, too. I've been totally enjoying Downton Abbey--this reminded me a little of the movie.

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