|Endpaper for the Persephone edition - 'Thistle' sold in Liberty's in 1896|
What a sad book - although the blurb and introductory essay had drawn out a sense of wryness or irony in the portrayal of a conventional and comfortable family at the end of the nineteenth century, I found it profoundly sad.
I felt for Alex, so uncomfortable in her own skin, unable to 'read' other people - except for their disappointment in her - and so ill equipped to be happy in any of the circumstances and societies she lived in. I liked the complexity of the characters - for example the layers of Alex' relationship with her sister felt human and real, with the mixture of guilt, love, frustration, incomprehension, a desire to dominate and be the best mixed with awareness and envy of Barbara's greater social skills. I'm not sure that I agree with readers who draw out lesbian subtext, to me Alex' attachment to Queenie, Mother Gertrude et al was about idolising someone she wanted to imitate, and about her desperate loneliness and response to anyone who would accept her, take an interest in her and behave as if they cared about her.
I wondered how much to read into the title and the opening (vulgar???) game of consequences - it would be easy and maybe interesting to draw out a thread in which what happens to Alex is often the result of someone else (and different people each time) taking their turn to decide what happens next. And there is a refrain through the book about waiting for things to pass and for the next thing to happen...
In terms of how it's written, I'm obviously going through an anti-narrator phase. As with a couple of late-19th/early 20th century books I've read recently, I found the authorial voice irritating as it set the context or drew out inferences. My only other criticism is that I found the wrapping up of the book a bit too quick - it felt a bit bish-bash-bosh as one thing happened after another, and then slammed into the final scenes.