My first book of the new year was The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins, which I finished in six days. Ever since doing NotSoNaBooReaMo, I'm realising just how quickly I can finish books if I just devote a little time to it outside of the daily commute. I hope I'll keep this up and read more books this year than I have since leaving university.
Rebecca recommended this book to me and said it was excellent - so my expectations were pretty high. I've never heard of it outside of that conversation, nor am I familiar with Elizabeth Jenkins, but I knew it was about a man and two women. Rebecca compared Blanche to someone else, though I can't remember who now, which is how the conversation got started.
I absolutely enjoyed the latter half of this book, and at least some of the moments earlier on as well. There are lots of gorgeous descriptions of the houses and the English countryside. I found that many of these focused on the light, which is something I tend to be interested in so I imagine that added to how much I enjoyed them.
It's hard to talk about what was so great in the second half of this book without spoiling it. I want to describe it as a very elegant, polished cover on a rushing river of emotion and that emotion is done so well, and so unobtrusively, that it really carries you away. There's a turning point - and anyone who has read the book probably knows exactly what I mean - after which I stopped thinking I wasn't going to like this book and immediately saw what Rebecca had recommended it for.
The ending is also superb, but again difficult to describe without risking spoilers. It felt very emotionally real and surprisingly satisfying.
The first half of the book isn't as strong. If I hadn't gone into it knowing what the main plot was, I'm not sure I'd have picked up on what was happening. For the first few days I thought I was going to be disappointed, that I wasn't clever enough to 'get' what Rebecca had seen in it. She talked about how it was devastating and insidious and at first I couldn't see that at all.
Several of the characters are quite similar. I struggled to differentiate between Paul and Hunter. Over halfway through the book, I couldn't explain to Rebecca who Hunter was! This made it quite difficult for me to get a grasp on the background characters, but in the end that didn't really matter. The characters you need to know are Imogen, Blanche, Evelyn, Tim and Gavin. Everyone else will fall into place. Another criticism would be that a few of the others are quite superfluous, certainly to a modern reader who isn't as likely to pick up on what I suspect is a slight satire of contemporary attitudes.
In some ways, this book reminded me of Madame Bovary - which you wouldn't think would be a good thing, since I hated Madame Bovary when I read it in school. I definitely didn't hate this, at all. Once I got into it I thought it was wonderful. I'd like to read it again now that I know the ending. 7.5 stars.