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