Friday, August 6, 2010
Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar
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..."
"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.