Review of 'A Sensible Life', a novel by Mary Wesley
I am reviewing the paperback edition of this novel. ISBN 055299393, published by Black Swan, cover price £5.99, 380 pages, genre:- Modern fiction.
A Sensible Life is written in five parts, covering the life of Flora Trevelyan. We first meet Flora in 1926, she is a skinny ten year old girl, staying in Dinard, France, for the holidays with her mother, the beautiful and vain, Vita. They are staying in a hotel and Flora is left to her own devices while her mother shops, visits beauty salons and generally has a pleasant time. When Flora's father joins them, on leave from his position with the Civil Service in India, Flora's parents leave her in the hotel alone, under the scant supervision of the staff and depart to a rented flat. Flora's father is so jealous of his wife that he cannot even bear 'the child', as he always refers to Flora, to be near. He even suggests having Flora adopted in order to have his wife to himself.
Dinard of the 1920's was a very fashionable resort for well to do English people and attracted a great many elegant people. Flora is rather a misfit with her unsightly clothes, ripe French language and she is somewhat isolated.
A British family, the Leighs, are also holidaying at the hotel, they have a 15 year old son and a 17 year old daughter, both of whom have a friend with them for the holiday. They make the effort to befriend lonely, foul mouthed Flora and when another family, a Dutch widow, her five daughters and her son, Felix arrive, Flora is invited to join in lots of fun activities. During the holiday, Flora falls in love with the Cosmo Leigh, with his friend Hubert and also with Felix, the Dutch boy.
Meanwhile her parents only have eyes for each other and to the astonishment of the other holidaymakers, are content to leave the little girl to her own devices. Flora's parents have arranged for Flora to have language lessons from Madame Tarasova, a Russian immigrant and they believe this is adequate to further the child's education. After the holidays, Vita Trevelyan intends returning to India with her husband and Flora is to be sent to a boarding school in England.
As the plot unfolds, it transpires that Flora is expected to complete her education and then travel to India to join her parents once she is 17 years old. However, as her parents have no relatives, Flora is left at her boarding school for years with no parental visits or holidays away from the school until fate causes a meeting with Felix and the friendships formed in France are rekindled.
A Sensible Life then follows Flora over the next 40 years and the contact she has with the people she met in France.
About the Author
Mary Wesley 1912-2002, was born near Windsor, her education took her to the London School of Economics and during the War she worked in the War Office. She also worked part-time in
the antiques trade. Mary Wesley lived in London, France, Italy, Germany and several places in the West Country. She used to comment that her 'chief claim to fame is arrested development, getting my first novel published at the age of seventy'. That first novel, Jumping the Queue, was followed by a subsequent nine best-sellers.
Mary Wesley was married twice and had three sons.
Mary Wesley was awarded the CBE in the 1995 New Year's honour list and died in December 2002.
More about Mary Wesley, her life, work and her family can be found in her obituary, published in the Independent newspaper. It can be read in full on the following link:- http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/mary-wesley-612409.html
Cost and Availability
My copy was given to me by my daughter in amongst a lot of books she unearthed when doing a pre- moving de-clutter. It carries a cover price of £5.99.
The novel can be purchased from the following retailers:-
www.amazon.co.uk from £1.98
www.snazal.com £6.29 (hardback)
www.ebay.co.uk from £1.95
My Thoughts and Conclusion
I have read one or two novels by this author previously which I enjoyed very much, so was pleased to receive this book. It is a real page turner, the author has drawn her characters remarkably well, I found them to be believable, likeable, unpleasant and truly awful, where appropriate!
The storyline although set over several decades is fast moving and gripping, the author has the uncanny knack of writing about sexual matters in a frank yet sometimes humorous fashion. She often pokes gentle fun at the upper and middle classes of the time and shows them for the shallow, frivolous people they could be. The novel is remarkable in as much as the author writes in a very distinctive style, she shows the joys and emotions of a young girl and the maturity of an older woman in equal parts, which makes for a very entertaining novel.
I will not spoil the novel for future readers but I must stress that this book is one to be savoured and enjoyed as Flora's journey from childhood to the age of 50 progresses. The plot twists and turns around the lives of the central characters and shows a great insight into the social structure of Britain in the early part of the 20th century. A real page turner of a novel and one I will definitely re-read.
Thank you for reading.
©brittle1906 September 2010
N.B. My reviews may be found on other review sites under the same user name.