Van has finished reading…The Ladies Of The House by Molly McGrann

23 Apr

Ladies of the house

Let’s start with the cover. I have to say the cover is fantastic – suburban suggestion in 50’s pulp-book-cover tones, anonymous and also just obvious enough. It’s quite perfect. And that ambiguous title, ‘Ladies’. Though it could be applied to the marital home in Kettering or the house in Primrose Hill – the locations of the two quite different houses that title could apply to – it’s in the association, in the context, in the cover image that you find the connotation.

The houses in question were both once the property of Arthur Gillies, businessman, and are now managed in accordance with Arthur’s Will by his punctilious solicitor, Mr Wye. The two houses are miles apart in so many ways, as are the women who occupy them. And yet…

Arthur Gillies spends his weeks in London on business and his weekends at home in Kettering. Even as the book begins, though Arthur is by then long gone, his wife and daughter are unaware just what that business was, and how successfully he ran it. Arthur was studious to keep his two worlds very separate, even after his death. It’s only when Arthur’s daughter makes a discovery and takes her first tentative steps out from under his shadow that the fates of the ladies of these houses are drawn inevitably together.

There’s a studious avoidance of cliché with the presentation of the ladies so that what we’re presented with are lives shaped by circumstance, rather than circumstances made to fit a story. There’s heartbreak and wretchedness aplenty, as you might expect. There’s the falling into the profession, the niche of post-war recovery that seems almost a license for the business to flourish. There’s the need to survive, the strength or courage or even belligerence that flavours the concept of a work ethic, that allows the compartmentalising of a service provided. That feels almost like a sense of pride in a job well done at times. And there’s society’s strict bounds that provide an inevitable frame to the Ladies’ reception in the wider world, and to the outcome. There’s uncommon violence, all the more impactful in its simple reporting, and there’s love too. Not just the act or the assumption of, not simply the thing we name it for want of a better word but deep-down and heartfelt love.

There’s something very quiet about this book, something very unassuming that is wont to get right under the skin. I wouldn’t say it’s an easy read but it’s a worthwhile read.

With thanks to Katie Green at Picador for sending me a review copy.

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