Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Brightness by Elizabeth Jenkins
Persephone Books has just reprinted Elizabeth Jenkins' book Harriet which I look forward to reading but in the meantime it is another of her books which has been occupying my time. After stumbling upon a gorgeous black Virago edition of The Tortoise and the Hare two years ago and quickly becoming a fan of Jenkins' style of writing, I went back and scooped up Brightness for 75¢. It's worth ten times that amount and then some.
Una Lambert lives in wind-swept New Broadlands with her son, Richard, just out of his teens. Her husband drowned while serving as a naval officer barely two years into their marriage leaving her a young widow. Raising her son while being useful to her neighbours and community keeps Una from feeling lonely. She could not be more opposite in values to Marion Sugden whose family is very much part of the 'nouveau riche' set. The local women who work part-time at the Sugden's house as domestics barely lift a finger as every mod-con in production make housework a breeze. Their son, Derek, is nineteen years old and despite his father wanting him to make his mark on the family business he is not interested in anything which doesn't revolve around sports cars, flash clothes, women and himself. I haven't run into such a narcissistic dynamic duo in literature as this mother and son in quite some time.
For the first three-quarters of the book the reader is immersed in the day-to-day events surrounding the Sugden and Lambert families. Richard is beyond his years in accepting the Sugden's for what they are and through his words of wisdom and saintly guidance, Una, bears news of vacation plans and posh purchases with resolve. One indulgence too many though brings about an horrific event that shatters these two families (note: tissues) and presents a dilemma to citizens within the community. One voice in particular campaigns for justice and vows to stop at nothing until it is served.
If you thoroughly enjoyed Jenkins' The Tortoise and the Hare it is a cut above Brightness but the experience is still a richly satisying one so don't hesitate to pick it up...if you can find it.