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Thursday, 22 October 2015

Book Review: The Echoing Grove by Rosamond Lehmann

The Echoing Grove tells the story of two sisters spending their first night under the same roof in many years and then explores the intricacies of their estrangement. At the heart of this is Dinah's affair with Madeline's husband, Rickie, which fractured their lives and is recounted in lengthy flashbacks which include all three parties.

This is a tricky book to read. I was wondering whether I was the only one to find it difficult but then I read this excellent post at Miss Darcy's Library which articulates some of my problems with the novel. I really enjoyed the opening portion of the book. The brittle conversation between Dinah and Madeline is very intriguing and there's an exceptionally vivid scene with a rat that's haunted me since I finished reading. However, once the book begins toying with chronology, things become a little more difficult to follow. It doesn't help that you dip through one memory to another and get a little disorientated in the process.

The themes of the novel - adultery, marriage, family - are explored well and Lehmann's makes good use of the time period, particularly in the scenes set in the Blitz. However, I didn't find any of the three characters especially easy to like. Rickie, particularly, came across badly but that may be my feminist instincts kicking in. That said, all of them are very realistic and products of their time. In that sense, The Echoing Grove is an exceptionally skilful novel, but it's very dismal in tone. There's no way you can come out of this book feeling uplifted, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. 

I can't say that I'll reread this novel but I am glad I read it in the first place. I do also think I'll be reading more of Lehmann's work in the future. 

I was provided with a free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

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