Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I reviewed The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers. Tina will miss author Peter Robinson, who died earlier this month, and his DCI Banks series of books. Davida joined us with a review of To Capture His Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen — a book that combines mystery and romance in a Victorian England setting.
Edited prior to publication on Thursday, 20 October 2022, for breaking news. The new British Prime Minister, Liz Truss resigned, making her stint the shortest in history. I managed a full post when Boris Johnson announced his resignation in July, also on a Thursday, but I couldn’t make that happen this week. So, check out this AP News article for all the chaotic details.
Book: A Pin to See the Peepshow by F. Tennyson Jesse
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: 1974 (originally 1934)
Source: Print book borrowed from the library
Summary: Julia Almond is a lively young woman with a vivid imagination and great expectations for her future, although her plans are light on detail. She works her way toward success in a dress shop but struggles in her love life until World War I. Suddenly, all the men look more dashing, and she finally has a taste of the passion that she dreamed could be true.
Then, the war ends, and she discovers that she married too hastily. Her husband is the plodding older man that she should have known he would be. How will she get the beautiful, romantic life that she intended now?
Thoughts: Most of this novel is set in a quiet suburb of London or in the London shop where Julia works. An advantage of reading an older novel as opposed to a historical novel is that the settings all feel so much in the present.
This author didn’t have to research transportation options, for example, she simply had to remember what it felt like to ride on a double decker bus at night after a rain to see the lighted windows reflected on wet pavement.
I enjoyed the holiday in Torquay. Since I’ve made a bit of a study of Agatha Christie in September last year and this year, my first association for Torquay is that’s where Christie grew up. But an author in 1934 probably wasn’t thinking about that. Torquay would make a perfect seaside getaway for a middle-class family in the 1920s and 1930s. Torquay’s heyday was several decades earlier when it was a famous seaside destination for Victorian travelers. In the post-World War I years, the fading elegance would still be attractive to people who want a week or two away from their London shop jobs.
For an older book, this novel was startlingly frank about sex. Book-banning is in the news, so I took more notice. This is just the sort of old novel that I might have picked up at my small-town public library when I was a teenager with no one really remembering that it was going to teach me things like the disappointment that a woman might feel after her first night of married life.
Not that Herbert hadn’t been kind. He had. But her body still felt battered as well as her soul. Apparently a man didn’t necessarily give a woman the sensations she craved, although he attained them for himself. That pleasant, rather dull-looking man opposite…was the strange man with whom she had passed that first devastating night, who had assaulted her, apparently without any thought of her own sensations. (p. 199)
I was also surprised at the casual use of the n-word. It’s not frequent and is part of phrases rather than directed at anyone. In fact, it’s not apparent that any character in this book ever met someone other than white English people like themselves, except, perhaps, for the young man in the Navy.
Appeal: I find that older novels take some patience. This is a long slow story with little foreshadowing of the adventure to come. In fact, I’m sure I would have given up on it if I hadn’t been curious how the Edith Bywaters / Frederick Thompson case inspired this novel. Still, I’m glad that I went along on this journey. It just goes to show that sometimes a good story needs a little time and space to spin out into the world. Toward the end of the novel, I had a hard time putting it down.
Of the three novels that I read based on the Bywaters / Thompson case, this is the one that most mirrored the actual people and events. I appreciated that because it gave one possible answer to the question: How do people get themselves into these situations? By learning about the characters as they encounter one another and the events as they play out step by step, the unthinkable becomes more understandable.
Challenges: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge participants will enjoy the scope of this book that takes us from Edwardian London, through World War I, and into the post-war years — all from the point of view of a young middle class woman. So much of what I know of that era comes from a world history perspective. I enjoyed getting to know what it might be like to live a relatively ordinary life at that time.
Have you read A Pin to See the Peep Show? What did you think?