On March 24th, I am doing a book club presentation in the store at 7 PM. I hope I get a decent amount of people, but honestly, I don't know.
Because I'm nervous about this whole thing, it seems like a good idea to make another pitch. I'm going to do this by telling you about a book you've never heard of that you should read.
My gem is Elizabeth Jenkins' novel, The Tortoise and the Hare. John Eklund recommended this book to me after finding it at a bookstore in Iowa*. From the lovely jacket to the Hillary Mantel introduction (she who just won the NBCC award for best novel after also grabbing the Man Booker), this book has “find” written all over it.
Imogen Gresham is a barrister’s wife in suburban London. Evelyn was once romantic, but both he and Imogen’s son Gavin now treat with something akin to disdain. She’s certainly no Blanche Silcox, the fifty-something neighbor who spends her days juggling charity work, fishing, and ferreting Evelyn back and forth to town.
Imogen certainly has her friends, like Paul Nugent, a doctor friend married to a much younger woman, and Cecil, a publishing exec who might hit it off with Evelyn’s friend Hunter, divorced from a poet whose sister is one half of a rather batty couple. Her husband is an urban planner of the 1950's style throw away everything old variety. They have three kids, all pretty much left to fend for themselves. Their son Tim latches onto Gavin and the Greshams.
Jenkins' astute character sketches and wry humor recall Barbara Pym at her finest. In some ways, it's a mix of early and late Pym, filled with both wry humor and a bit of melancholy. Jenkins wrote 12 novels and what is said to be a fine biography of Jane Austen. In fact, she's won of the founders of the Jane Austen Society.
Long after I finished the book, I’m still thinking about Imogen and the gang. As Mantel wonders, who exactly is the tortoise and who is the hare.
*Per John, the store is Paper Moon Books in McGregor, Iowa. If you are ever out that way (right near Prairie du Chien, where they offer free delivery), John says they are not to be missed, and maybe worth driving 20 miles out of the way.
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