Friday, August 6, 2010

Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar

What a captivating and yet unsettling read this is!  Reading this book had me remembering what it felt like to be on a ride at the fair, smiling on the outside but a little scared on the inside.

Rachel Waring is working in London and living with a flatmate, Sylvia.  Inheriting a rather run-down mansion in Bristol from an eccentric Aunt she hasn't seen since childhood, Rachel packs up and strikes out on her own.  To say that this woman has a certain 'joie de vivre' would be an understatement but I like people who march to their own tune and breaking out into song was something Rachel did fairly often.

Horatio Gavin was the original owner of the mansion centuries ago and Rachel becomes obsessed with him.  Not having much experience with men she fantasizes quite a bit about what other men, movie stars or Horatio, hanging above the fireplace (weird, I know), would do to her given the chance.  Personally, my alter ego is a Victorian prude and I wanted to reach for the smelling salts on a few occasions!

Roger, the gardener she hires, and his wife, Celia, become friendly with Rachel but just what are their motives for friendship?  At times I felt worried for Rachel and at others scared for the gardener and his wife!  This book is written in the first-person and with Rachel's spiralling madness we can never be sure if events are being relayed accurately or the delusions of a madwoman?  At different stages of the book I found myself going back and forth between berating Rachel and feeling so sorry for her. 

In the first few pages we find out that Rachel's father thought 'a strain of insanity' ran in his family and her benefactor, Aunt Alicia was a recluse who ended up in hospital.

Each time my mother and I came away from Neville Court my mother would say something like, "Poor Alicia.  One can only humour her."
"Is she mad?" I once asked.
"Good heavens, no.  Or at least..."
I waited.
"Well, if she is," she went on, "she's perfectly happy.  There are many who'd even envy her that type of madness."

Twenty-five years ago, I passed a middle-aged woman sitting on a bench while she waited for the bus.  She was applying lipstick to her cheeks as a rouge.  She was being ever so careful to get it in just the right place as she gazed at herself in her compact mirror.  The trouble was she was pressing so hard that the lipstick was in chunks on her flaming pink cheeks.  The image staring back at her was obviously a beautiful one and who was I to judge, she was happy.  Rachel Waring reminded me of that woman.


  1. You might like to read this, Darlene:

    I also ran into him in my local Waterstones, selling his books and thought his name sounded familiar; when I got home I realised I already owned an earlier title from years ago. He was certainly very charming and interesting to talk to (and I'm one who would normally run a mile from being 'sold to'). Was good to hear that Waterstones had been eencouraging, you hear so many horror stories about them charging even to display books.

  2. I've been wondering about this book since I saw it pop-up on the NYR Classics blog. It sounds wonderful, in a slightly unnerving kind of way.

    Your description of your alter ego made me laugh. :)

  3. mary, Thank you for the link, it was a fascinating article! Benatar is certainly having the last laugh now!

    makedoandread, It is totally unnerving in a really fun way! See if your library carries it...should you read it, let me know what you think!

  4. This sounds fascinating!
    I love your picture of the bunting and strawberries.

  5. Bloomsbury Bell, If this wasn't an overdue library book I would have turned right back to the front cover and read it again!

  6. This sounds brilliant. But when will I have time to read it?! How sad about that lady you saw, Darlene. I suppose, as you say, happiness is relative. So is normality. I'm sure most people think I'm crazy but I think I'm perfectly sensible and ordinary. I could be the Rachel in this book!!! Though fat chance I'd be left a mansion to go mad in.

  7. Rachel, You have no time! In fact, I'm surprised you even manage to read my humble posts with so much research and planning to do! Keep this title in mind though as it does make for fabulous reading. And I'm sure that you can only be crazy in an endearing sort of way...the other Rachel...not so much!

  8. I have read a handful of reviews of this recently and all have me inching towards pressing "proceed to checkout"!

    That last paragraph reminded me of the sad observations that Dorothy Whipple makes.

  9. Hmm. Now you have me wondering just what happened to Rachel. The cover is sort of wacky, too, isn't it? She looks just a little off kilter. My library doesn't have it, but maybe it'll be one for my ever growing ILL-queue.

  10. Nice to see your thoughts on this, Darlene - and I do love your little anecdote at the end.

  11. Paperback Reader, I think that this is definitely one you might like so keep it in mind for the future.

    Danielle, The cover is wacky! A great choice though when you read the book. It's a quick read too as you really hate to put it down!

    StuckInABook, Your review made me really excited to read this and it didn't disappoint!