By September 18, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

Elizabeth Jenkins’ The Tortoise and the Hare

images2My hold on Elizabeth Jenkins’ The Tortoise and the Hare (Virago) came in just as I read that Jenkins had just died at the age of 104. I am often in the mood for quiet, British novels by women and publishers like Persephone and Virago keep me in steady supply of new old authors to try!

The Tortoise and the Hare, originally published in in 1954, now comes with a lovely introduction by Hilary Mantel and afterword by Carmen Callil.

It is a novel about a marriage between a young beautiful woman, Imogen Gresham, and her older barrister husband, Evelyn. The Greshams have a loving but distant relationship. Imogen’s relationship with her teenage son has begun to sow doubt and despair in her mind and bleed into her relationship with her husband. Imogen looks up to her husband, and we learn that she admires him and that her admiration brings her to continually devalue herself and her own abilities. Imogen is an endearingly exasperating character in her insecurity and her narration unfolds a building paranoia as her husband begins to spend more and more time with a wealthy neighbor, Blanche Silcox. Blanche Silcox is the other woman, but one that is described as resembling an ox. (Blanche is a wonderful character–complex and slyly villainous.) Evelyn and Blanche are more of an intellectual match and Imogen wants to believe for the longest time that they only share a friendship until the truth of their affair becomes impossible to ignore.

The book begins with a moment that serves as a metaphor for their relationship–Imogen and Evelyn are in an antiques shop where Imogen sees something that she would like, but Evelyn won’t let her buy it because it has a crack, it is less than perfection. Imogen is shell-shocked that Evelyn falls for a woman who does not in any way embody physical perfection. Who though is the tortoise and who is the hare, or moreover, who is the cracked pot?

Elizabeth Jenkins is a sharp, careful observer and this novel crackles with her insight into the mysteries of human relationships. I look forward to discovering more of her work when the mood for a quiet English novel comes over me again.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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