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I found a paperback book, dropping to bits at my parents' house reacently and liked the sound of it so started to read it. Written and set in the 1960s, the book is full of old fashioned prejudice and charm in equal measures.
A bit about...
The book centres upon Jane, a twenty something innocent young girl who has found herself pregnant and kicked out of the family home. She has a good job, yet she knows she will lose it when her employer finds out so she sets out to find some cheap digs and attempts to hide the pregnancy for as long as possible. The room she rents becomes a focal point in the book. A hovel with prostitutes in the basement and an assorted mix of characters on the different floors. Jane makes the room more presentable with a few feminine touches and begins to form bonds with all the housemates.
In addition to Jane is John, in the room next door. He's a huge but gentle giant and at first Jane is intimidated by the colour of his skin but realises he means no harm and will go to the ends of the earth to protect her. Toby on the floor below is a jobless writer, scraping together a living and he is immediately attracted to Jane but he doesn't know her big secret yet. The landlady is horrendous, greedy and alternately nice and nasty to Jane, squeezing her for every possibly penny. An old lady on the ground floor becomes a great friend to Jane, helping her with sewing and knitting advice in addition to unwanted advice on the baby.
I read and enjoyed this book a great deal. I could see how well it was suited to the stage although in fact it was a book and later made into a film. Perhaps the author, who spent time as a jobbing actress herself intended it for the stage originally. I actually warmed myself to the L shaped room, which is described in such great detail down to the pictures on the walls, I could imagine myself sitting in there.
I loved the chapter where Jane finds herself so hungry she goes out alone to seek food. Fancying curry (damn those cravings!) she eats through the menu at an Indian restaurant out of town and makes her way home in the fog only to get lost. This did amuse me.
Second hand copies are available for around the £3 mark on this book but it's not one that you'll find easily in the shops. My copy is falling to bits but I think I'll keep it as I did enjoy reading it.
Whilst the book must be read in the context of the early 60s and faces many prejudiced views of women, skin colour, religion and the evils of promiscuity, I really enjoyed reading it and found each chapter held a surprise for the reader. It was well written and descriptive and also makes me feel lucky to live in more accepting times. Highly recommended.
The 1960s were perhaps the most important decades in Brittan?s social history due to the number of changes that happened such as the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality for males (lesbianism has never been illegal as Queen Victoria did not believe it existed), the invention of the pill, the growth in women?s lib and the relaxation of the censorship laws The impact of this decade really hit me when reading the L shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks, This book was published in 1960 and was set sometime in the 1950s.The plot tells the story of a young single woman Jane Graham who is turned out of her comfortable middle class home by her shocked father after telling him she is pregnant. The L shaped room refers to the dingy room at the top of a very shabby verminous house that Jane retreats to, to wallow in her miseries. The story follows Jane through her pregnancy and her journey to self realisation and fulfillment. There is Toby a Jewish writer trying to make his break, Mavis a cockney ex seamstress for a theatre company, John a black guitarists, Doris Jane?s witch of a landlady and Jane and Sonia the two prostitutes that live in the basement. Jane who is also the narrator is a likable enough girl although prone to bouts of self pity I did feel very sorry for her due to her unplanned pregnancy. Her tragedy is that she is unlucky enough to get pregnant the night she loses her virginity in a passionless, uncomfortable bungled sexual encounter with an ex boyfriend. What is doubly tragic is the stigma she faces as an unmarried mother as she is transformed from a clean living middle class office girl in a prestigious job to That sort of girl who is regarded as being little better than the prostitutes that live in the basement of her new home. Jane?s predicament although not unheard of would have been very contr oversial at the time of the book being published. At the age of 27 she is still described of as a silly little girl by a doctor. He
also refers her to the draconian Victorian sounding Society for Unmarred Mothers. Iti s strange to think his happened forty years ago in our own parents lifetimes. If Jane was a real person and still alive today she would be of a similar age to my grandmother. Nowadays for this book to really shock Jane would have to be 13 or 14 years old living n a squat with asylum seekers as no one bats an eyelid at a woman in her mid 20s having a one night stand and living with the consequences For Jane termination was an option even though except for very special circumstances it was not legal. The book describes the anguish of young girls who use pills form back street chemists, alongside knitting needles and gin (Drink lots and lots.-no tiny tots) as methods of causing a miscarriage. The other alternative was to go to a private doctor who would charge lots of money for the procedure without even confirming if the girl was pregnant or not. This book mad me realise how difficult it was for women before modern contraception methods confronted with unwanted pregnancy and makes me even more pro choice when it comes to the abortion debate.. The other thing that made the book seem very archaic to me is the un politically correctness of itwhen it comes to minority groups such as Jews, homosexuals and black people. Both Toby and Jane?s ex boss are Jews and although Jane is not prejudiced against them they are described stereotypically with comments about beak or hook like noses. Homosexuals fair no better. Jane as a former actress n a small time repertory company comes across a queer who adores her then boyfriend. She describes him as disgusting. John is saddled with being both gay and black. He is the one character who 3; feel lets the writing down. He is a gentle giant but is described as having a strange smell and being primitive with big white teeth. I was particularly disappointed with his narrative. His speech patterns seemed at times to be almost pidgin
English. It reminded me slightly of the Africans in Heart Of Darkness One character I have to mention is Jane?s Great Aunt Addy. I have met this type of character before in different novels but I d like her. She?s the woman that brought Jane up after her mother died in childbirth. She is strict but has a soft side, is eccentric, generous and a real lovable old batty woman I think the characters really did make this book what it is. They may be a bit stereotyped at times but they do have their faults and passions and are truly human. I found myself becoming truly interested and engrossed in the character?s lives. The other main strength of the book is the standard of wiring. This may have been the author?s first book but it is not amateurish at all. The language is crisp, well developed and highly literate with a lot of imagery. I liked her idea that the L Shaped Room and the house itself had their own personalities. I have always thought houses did have faces due to their windows. There are sex scenes in the L Shaped room; however they are not explicit at all. I would not have expected them to be as this book was published the same year as the then scandalous Lady Chatterley?s Lover and thus the censorship laws would not allow explicit scenes. I actually found this to be refreshing and more arousing than some of the bonk busters you get nowadays. Most of all I liked this book because it was a thoroughly good read. The story kept you captivated as you truly cared about Jane and wanted to know what happened to her. The story did have a number of twists and turns meaning that the book could have ended in a number of different situations. The ending itself I found highly satisfactory and left me wanting to read more. The L Shaped Room is a must read and I think it should be on the school curriculum. It is an interesting piece of literature with a great story and character you really care about. It is a boo
k that is as much as a period piece as any of the classics due to the change in society?s attitudes that have taken place since the 1960s. All in all an engrossing thought provoking read. Boring details I bought my copy from a chirty shop but you can buy it new on Amazon for 5.99 Dor a comapnion to L Shaped Room please read Lamorna's account of back street abortions in the 1960s. Thanks to Jill Murphy for alerting me to it