Notes on The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann and Small Island by Andrea Levy
My face-to-face book group is introducing me to some books I would never read by my own choice. Last month’s book was The Weather in the Streets.
I was looking forward to reading it as I don’t often read romantic fiction. However, I was disappointed. It’s about Olivia, separated from her own husband and having an affair with Rollo Spencer. At times I just wanted to shake Olivia and tell her to open her eyes to reality. It’s set in the 1930s, that inter-war period that seems so glittering, full of bright young things going to lots of parties, lots of socialising and being part of the in-crowd. Olivia is really just on the fringes looking in, whereas Rollo is one of the aristocracy – it’s painfully obvious that he is not going to leave his wife and marry Olivia.
Although it is a beautifully written book, rich in description, giving insight into the characters’ thoughts as well as their actions, I didn’t like the plot and felt little empathy with the characters. I can imagine how shocking it must have seemed when it was first published in 1936 when divorce and abortion were taboo. I found it mildly depressing.
I didn’t fare any better with Small Island by Andrea Levy, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year and the Orange Prize for Fiction. I had high expectations of this book as I had thoroughly enjoyed The Long Song. Small Island tells the story of two couples, Hortense and Gilbert from Jamaica and Queenie and Bernard from England and the interactions of their lives in 1948 and earlier. It’s narrated by each of the four characters, covering a number of issues, predominantly racism and prejudice, war and love.
As with The Weather in the Streets I didn’t like the characters very much; although they mostly come across as rounded personalities, at times they seemed like stereotypes. For me the book was too long and I lost interest several times. For such a long book I thought the ending was rushed, as though Levy had suddenly thought she’d better draw it to a close.