The Tortoise and the Hare – Elizabeth Jenkins

What an exquisite book. I’m reminded again how much I love being part of the blogging world with this, an author and story I’m sure I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. People have commented on this latest choice of cover by Virago and I agree that it doesn’t do the book justice. The cover is playful and almost flippant, something that the pages within are definitely not. The story is a great read as well as an exploration of stereotypes and gender roles within a marriage and in society generally. Although written in the 1950s, mostly it is still relevant. One thing I’m sure of is that any of us who have the tendancy be a little submissive or more accommodating that we would like, will think twice after reading this!

The story is told in the third person and mostly from the point of view of Imogen, a sweet, attractive 37 year old and dependant wife of the older Evelyn, a successful barrister and son to Gavin, who at 12 years old is well on the way to becoming a mini version of his father. He treats his mother just as his father does, with dismissiveness bordering on contempt. Imogen, frustratingly – very frustratingly…. accepts this as part of her role as pleasing wife and doting mother. I felt she loved her husband and son but perhaps didn’t especially like either of them. Tellingly these were her thoughts on the early days of their relationship:

“He was everything Imogen admired; not only had he all the qualities she instinctively looked for in a man who was to take direction of her life, but he had them in an unusual degree. When at twenty-seven, she had met him at forty-one, even handsomer if less interesting than he was now, she had been fascinated by his appearance, then riveted by the attraction of his personality and then filled with delight at his passion for herself, but she had never entirely lost her head about him: held back, perhaps, by the fact that he never wished it. Sympathy he wanted, usefulness, complete devotion, but not infatuation..”

Into their lives enters the older (scaringly described as elderly at 50 years old) widowed neighbour, Blanche Silcox. Blanche is everything Imogen is not; out of shape, frumpy and seemingly unattractive, socially inept but also wealthy and capable with plenty of more masculine hobbies that Evelyn admires. To Imogen’s astonishment this woman who should pose no threat seems to be making moves on her husband.

What astonished me was how Imogen allowed herself to be manipulated by her husband, there were times I just wanted to shake her because she was a likeable character and I ended up feeling, like her friend Cecil, (an understated woman who I liked a lot) very worried for her. There were times I wanted to throttle her husband and had to remind myself he was a fictional character from the 1950s and not a real person.

I could write much more but I don’t want to give too much of the story away. I think this would be a great book club choice as there is plenty to talk about, with plenty of passion I’m sure. All of the characters have a part to play and add an enjoyable dimension to the central story. For readers who enjoy the Virago Modern Classics and Persephone style books, this is a must read – Fabulous.

1954, 262 pages

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6 responses to “The Tortoise and the Hare – Elizabeth Jenkins

  1. Wonderfully written review. This sounds like a truly great book.

  2. Suko – thank you.

  3. I really want to read this and very much enjoyed your review. Will add this to my tbr list.

  4. Already trying to dredge it up from a library somewhere. So far no luck, but keep your fingers crossed – this sounds like one too good to miss!

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