Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting – Penelope Mortimer

When it comes to reading week(end)s I sometimes wish I could suspend normal life for a few days and just read non stop. Reading all the fantastic posts, adding masses of books to my wish list, adding links of all the newly discovered book lovers.. and so on. Inspiring and lots of fun.

I had intended to pay a visit to the lovely Persephone Books to choose my book. Had I made it, I would have been reading The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, which has been at the top of my Persephone wish list for a while.

In the end it was a flying visit to the library to see what was on offer. I suspect there might be one or two fellow book bloggers living in my area as the stocks were a bit depleted! I chose Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting by Penelope Mortimer and I’m so pleased. It’s not an uplifting book but it’s absolutely fantastic; raw, insightful and immediately engrossing.

Ruth is travelling on the train back from London having waved off her sons as they return to boarding school after the holidays. As is her ritual at this time, she has gone on a shopping spree and is laden with bags of clothes in an attempt to replaced the space left by the departure of her boys. These purchases are meaningless to her, a sentiment it emerges that extends to the rest of her life.

Ruth is achingly lonely. Her marriage is empty. She is numb from going through the motions and suppressing her feelings. Her relationship with her husband Rex is superficial and strained. He belittles her, she frustrates him with her indecision and apathy. Ruth’s standard response when questioned by Rex is ‘I don’t know’, an answer which exasperates him. Rex is not portrayed as a nice man. He is critical and unfaithful. Ruth married him because she was pregnant and has never loved their daughter Angela because of it. Angela is painfully aware of this lack of love but not the reason for it. She is desperate for some attention and honesty from her mother, for something more than superficial responses.

“Of course he’s fond of you! Ruth said vehemently. It occured to her that dishonesty had never been unconscious, accidental; it had always, as now, been deliberate, the only way of survival. The opportunity to speak the truth, to use the language taught you in childhood, never arose.”

Ruth lives in a commuter belt village filled with houses of wives looking, acting and living life in the same way. Husbands away in London during the week leaving the women to tend to the house and children and all coming together for tedious social events at the weekends.

“The men arrived rowdy with the spirit of Christmas. All of them had assumed a dazzling Pickwickian appearance, rubbed their hands and hit their sons on the back, roared “Merry Christmas” and kicked the fires and opened the port and left parcels about for their wives to hide away. They were going to enjoy themselves, by God, they were going to relax. The moment of disillusion gaped in front of them. Unseeing, they kept their balance like clowns on the edge of a crevasse.”

Ruth is anxious and depressed and in the middle of a breakdown. All she wants is to be left alone to escape into the oblivion of sleep. But there are problems that need addressing and she must solider on.

Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting was published as Cave of Ice in the US. A perfect description of Ruth’s experience of her life; claustraphobic and cold. The book is very engaging. It is peppered with dark humour.The writing is such that it is impossible not to empathise with Ruth but also with Angela and Rex at times, despite their unattractive traits. It was published in 1958. I think the many themes (isolation, conformity, finding meaning, authenticity) are still relevant for the 21st century reader. I was going to say female reader but I don’t know if that is exclusively true.

Penelope Mortimer was at one time married to John Mortimer, the creator of Rumpole of the Bailey. It sounds as if she had an interesting and slightly unconventional life and her novels draw on her own experiences. She wrote several books including two volumes of autobiography as well as her later better known novel The Pumpkin Eater which was made into a film starring Anne Bancroft. I love Anne Bancroft!

A long post and now I’m off to do some blog visiting and add more books to my wish list no doubt. A big thank you to Claire and Verity for hosting this wonderful weekend

1958, 256 pgs
Persephone Book No. 77. Published 2008

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11 responses to “Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting – Penelope Mortimer

  1. A review that has me itching to read the book! It’s one I haven’t even cracked the cover of yet which is silly as I loved her two autobiographies.

    • ramblingfancy – I’m so pleased to know you loved her autobiographies and really hope you enjoy this book when you get to it. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I’ve read a lot of praise for Penelope Mortimer, but very little about this book. You make it sound wonderful, and it’s high on my list of priorities now. Thank you!

    • FleurFisher – Thank you and you’re welcome! I had heard of Penelope Mortimer but didn’t really know anything about her. I think I might have started one of her other books at some stage and not carried on with it. I can’t imagine now how that could have happened! I’m think you will really enjoy this book.

  3. I didn’t manage to read this over the weekend and now I am regretting that wholeheartedly! Thank you for such an enticing review and thank you for joining us again for Persephone Reading Weekend.

    • Claire – I’m not suprised you didn’t get to this with all the hard work that went into hosting the weekend! Thanks so much again to you both – it was wonderful and I hope you enjoy this when you do get to read it.

  4. Great review. I read this when Persephone first published it – before blogging – and found it very interesting and an excellent portrayal of how lives can appear perfect on the surface but be crumbling underneath. I don’t see many people reading this but it’s a fascinating book and also nice to read something a bit more modern than most Persephone choices.

    • bookssnob – Thank you! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it too. I agree about things appearing perfect on the surface until you look a little deeper, another facet of it that could still be relevant for people today I think.

  5. Pingback: The Persephone Oscars | Paperback Reader

  6. Reading your review makes me very happy I bought this one last year. I need to read it soon, that’s for sure.

  7. Susan – how nice to know you have your own copy sitting there waiting to be read when the time is right. I hope you like it as much as I did. I’ll look out for your thoughts on it.

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