Sunday, 27 February 2011

(Miserable) Consequences

Endpaper for the Persephone edition - 'Thistle' sold in Liberty's in 1896
I finished Consequences (EM Delafield) last night - or actually about 1am this morning. I picked it up in the Lambs Conduit St shop when my book group met there, and held on to read it as part of the Persephone Reading Weekend.

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.


  1. So I'm reading this as part of the Persephone Reading Weekend - if you want to catch up on what else is going on, have a look here

  2. What a shame this Persephone didn't do it for you. I was interested in your review as I've only read 'Diary of a Provincial Lady' and was curious about Delafield's other work. I had an inkling that some of her novels were darker/sadder.
    I know what you mean about narrators... sometimes the tone or language used can be a bit irritating and make reading a little harder.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I think I might try it myself some time.

  3. Thanks Cristina - I enjoyed Diary of a Provincial Lady too. And in a funny way, Consequences did do it for me - except for my annoyance with the narrator, I enjoyed reading the book. At least as much as it is possible to enjoy reading a sad book...

  4. Intriguing review. I have heard nothing but glowing things about Consequences and, although you enjoyed it, your review has tempered my expectations some (that's a good thing!)

    Thank you so much for joining us for Persephone Reading Weekend.

  5. I was gutted by the ending and it was days until that heavy feeling of absolute misery passed. Not at all what I was expecting from EM Delafield after Diary of a Provincial but what a reading experience!