Thursday, November 10, 2011
Westwood by Stella Gibbons
Margaret Streggles finds a ration book during a walk on Hampstead Heath and being the helpful sort she is, she seeks out its rightful owner. This lands her on the doorstep of Hebe Niland, a moment which is fortuitous for both of them. Hebe needs someone that very instant to watch her brood of children. And Hebe's father is Gerard Challis, the famous writer whom Margaret just so happens to adore.
Plain Margaret and her glamourous friend, Hilda, are veering towards different paths as they mature. Margaret is constantly reminded by her mother to try and make the most of her rather dowdy appearance while Hilda's social calendar is booked solid. So while Hilda is working her way through servicemen, Margaret becomes more immersed in the eccentric Challis family and their German maid, Zita. Now I know it is very un-PC to mock accents but the way Gibbons writes her dialogue had me laughing out loud a few times.
Questioning what she wants out of life, Margaret keenly observes the lives and relationships of those around her. Why do women dedicate their lives to men who simply continue to do as they please? Is it enough to sit for hours on end every evening darning socks? An outing to Bedfordshire to spend a weekend with the ancient matriarch of the Challis family proves to be an eye-opening experience.
Stella Gibbons writes scenes beautifully. Her descriptions of the rhododendron bushes around Kenwood, darkly lit tube stations, walks up and down Highgate Hill and kitchens filled with cooking smells put you right there in the moment. My only complaint is that in some cases this makes the story more drawn out that it need be. Which is great if Westwood is the only book you've packed for a two week holiday but if you have other books calling then you just want to get on with things.
A lovely read which I wouldn't hesitate to read again and well worth the purchase price. You just may feel the need to follow it up with something a bit more succinct.