Other People’s Worlds
Ms. Hen happened to find this small novel in the Little Free Library probably in Downtown Crossing, but she does not remember. Most of the books she finds are from there, but she takes so many, and does not always read them right away. She picked this up because she has read William Trevor before, and admires him. She found this book charming, but distressing.
This novel is about England, probably in the 1960s or 70s, and a group of people affected by a conman named Francis Tyte. Julia is a widow, but still attractive, with two grown daughters. Julia lives with her mother in the family home called Swan House. Francis convinces her that he is in love with her. He is an actor who is well known for a series of tobacco commercials.
Francis is a tricky and conniving man. Since he is an actor, he can convince people he is interested in them. He has a daughter with a woman who works in a shop, Doris, who he sees now and then. Doris is obsessed with him. He told her that he is married to an elderly dressmaker, and he can’t leave that woman, because she is sick and dying. He is married to a dressmaker, but has not seen her in a long time. Francis scorns Julia, and Doris gets involved. Doris is a drunk and makes a spectacle of herself. Her daughter, Joy, does not go to school because the kids in school have crazes and the latest one is tattooing, and she does not want a tattoo.
One of the things that struck Ms. Hen about this novel was the use of the internal worlds of the characters. The last few books she has read have been contemporary, and have been focused mainly on the surface of the characters’ lives. Ms. Hen thinks that writers now might be more influenced by movies and TV, which can only show what is happening with the person externally. Ms. Hen enjoyed reading about the lives of people and how messed up they were. Ms. Hen thinks that genuine pathos is something that might be lacking from fiction these days.
Another aspect of this novel that struck Ms. Hen was she thinks that there's a chance these events would not take place in the world today. A man would not have the capability to be as big a con man that he was then, because now things are more open. Also, Ms. Hen likes to believe that women are not as weak and subservient these days as they are in this novel.
There is one brief mention of some chickens in this novel. Francis is walking around a sketchy part of London, and he prostituting himself. He sees, “By a row of dustbins a cardboard carton was full of chickens feet.” Ms. Hen thinks this was put in to show how weird this place was, and untrustworthy. Ms. Hen thinks this is an unsavory use of chickens, but it works for the novel.
Ms. Hen liked this novel. It was starkly different from the other books she has read recently, but she thinks sometimes it’s good to shock the system, like jumping into a cold lake on a lukewarm day. Life can be terrible, but it can always be worse.