“Old Mrs. North’s husband had spoilt her, but now that he was dead and her three children married, no one spoilt her any more. She didn’t come first with anybody and she didn’t like that.”
And so Mrs. North advertises for a live-in companion. Across the Channel, the young, self-centered Louise Lanier is recovering from a broken love affair and looking for a distraction. She finds it in employment with Mrs. North, and thus begins the saga of the breakdown of a marriage.
The author cleverly weaves together the story of a family in France, the Lanier family, and the North family in England, catching the reader up along the way with their triumphs and tragedies. Not just a story about marriage and family, there are lessons to be learned here and the reader is absorbed with vignettes of life in a small English village:
“Mrs. North had a housekeeper, a Miss Daley, who, reinforced by day-women, kept everything in apple-pie order, but who had an unfortunate passion for singing in the chapel choir.”
When I was halfway through this I began to doubt that it would be worth the read. The decline and inevitable breakdown of a happy marriage and family life is not going to be a pleasant ‘comfort read’. Now that I have finished, all I can say is , ‘wow’. This is far from a despairing or depressing read! As each character (so realistically drawn that they seem ‘real’ to the reader!) begins the slow climb out of despair, the author shows that life is never completely hopeless.
“What shall I do?” said Ellen. ‘What shall I do now?’
‘You must go forward,’ said Mrs. Brockington. ‘You must go now with love and courage, Ellen, and trust to God to carry you forward through your life.’
The ending was so unexpected and I was rooting for Ellen (my newest literary heroine!), all the way. Definitely worth reading, I will be hunting down more of Dorothy Whipple.