Thursday, November 10, 2011

Westwood by Stella Gibbons

The adorable cover art on this edition of Stella Gibbons's Westwood is what initially drew me in and I was then thrilled to discover the book is set in both Highgate and Hampstead.  Two wonderful destinations on my list of many while I was in London.  I had to buy it.

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.


  1. Oh I loved this - beautiful story and so good to have it back in print with that lovely cover - would not have picked it up otherwise!

  2. Ditto about the artwork. I snatched it up at my local library on the strength of that alone... then was delighted to see it was a Gibbons...very enjoyable read, pity I had to return it!

  3. Oh good. It's on the pile on the hearth, from the library

  4. verity, Those Vintage covers are pretty irresistible and just getting better and better. Have you read 'Starlight'? I'm wondering about that one and it's set in Highgate as well.

    ChasingtheCrayon, It's quite the charming read! You may just have to spring for a copy to call your own.

    Susan, Good on the Toronto Library for having it in the collection! I think you will love this one.

  5. I also love the art work on the cover of this book. By the way did you read the terrific article in the Book Review section of last Sunday's New York Times on the art work that was on the covers of all the vintage Penguin classics? I think you would enjoy it. Another great review and I'm wondering if this is the author who also wrote "Cold Comfort Farm"?
    Your blog has one of the best names, so charming, I love it.

  6. So glad you read this one, Darlene, and so glad more Gibbons came into print - in such beautiful editions. I agree, it could be a little more succinct - but I *did* pack it for a week on holiday, so I didn't mind!

  7. Yes, I am another sucker for a lovely cover! I requested this via ILL at my library, read about half and had to return it (yes, it is a little longish, isn't it). So when it came out I had to splurge and buy it so I could finish, but now I have moved on to other books and haven't had a chance to squeeze it back in. I guess now I'll have to start all over again... :)

  8. I have been meaning to read this since it came out...I shall put it on my Christmas list. I'll know not to expect magnificence but I think it still should entertain me! And the cover IS gorgeous!

  9. I'm 100 pages in and keep nodding off. Itching for an editor's red pen to slash through it and tighten it up.