by Dorothy Whipple
first published 1953 by John Murray
2008, Persephone Classic Edition
J.B. Priestly once described Dorothy Whipple as the "Jane Austen of the 20th century". After reading Someone at a Distance, I think this may be a pretty fair comparison. The novel takes a look at a post-WW II upper middle class family in England. Almost all the action revolves around the domestic drama that occurs when a young French woman (Louise Lanier) takes a position as a live-in companion to Old Mrs. North, and gradually insinuates herself into the North family.
When circumstances eventually force an extended stay at the home of Avery (Old Mrs. North's son) and Ellen North, the situation deteriorates. Louise, recently dumped by her lover for a woman of higher social status, is in desperate need of a new conquest to bolster her self-esteem.
"To live dangerously became the most exciting of games to Louise. The double life she led, the lies she told, the necessity of deceiving, became almost second nature to her... Also, her inclination to despise people had been fostered by finding them so easy to deceive. They were stupid to be so gullible. If you were clever enough - and she was - you could get away with anything." (page 134)
Ellen North's entire life revolves around her husband Avery, her children Hugh and Anne, her home, and her garden. She is sweet, gentle, and down-to-earth.
"He [Avery] took Ellen for granted and that was, Louise considered, Ellen's own fault. She was altogether too open and simple. A woman needed art and subtlety and Ellen had neither." (page 164)
"The foolish creature [Ellen] didn't seem to realize that it was necessary to fight. The battle was joined and would be over before she knew there was one." (page 202)
Whipple's writing exquisitely shows the pure, raw emotional responses of all parties involved as this domestic drama unfolds... and it is riveting! I'll simply let the author's words complete this review. They could not be more beautiful.
"A family is like a jigsaw puzzle. If a piece is lost, the rest no longer makes a pattern." (page 254)
"These women were old, time had softened them, they had learned something from loss, helplessness, loneliness; they knew almost anything can happen to anybody. They were kinder than when they were young." (page 359)
"Life is like a sea, sometimes you are in the trough of a wave, sometimes on the crest. When you are in the trough, you wait for the crest, and always, trough or crest, a mysterious tide bears you forward to an unseen, but certain shore." (page 413)