Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Elizabeth Jane Howard’

Getting It Right by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Having previously read and enjoyed a short story collection by Elizabeth Jane Howard I knew I would like Getting it Right.

Gavin was a 31 year-old hairdresser still living at home when the story begun. He was comfortable with his work and his friendship group, although he was terribly shy, had never had a girlfriend and was stuck in something of a rut.

Everything changed for Gavin when he went to a glamourous party in a penthouse with friends and met two unusual women with whom he formed relationships, both of which ripped him right out of his comfort zone.

One of the women was Joan, the party’s hostess. She was flamboyant, fabulously rich and interested enough in Gavin to start a conversation with him where they bypassed polite topics in favour of saying what they really thought to each other.

Gavin also met Minerva at Joan’s party, while she was sobbing on Joan’s bed after the fellow she was interested in became interested in someone else. (Yes, that was a polite way of saying that she caught the fellow having sex with someone else at the party).

Later, when Gavin’s parents were unexpectedly called away, Gavin was freed from the constraints that his difficult mother otherwise placed upon him, and was able to live his own life for once.

Over the course of the next two weeks, Gavin went to bed with Joan and found the experience to be life-changing. He was also called on by Minerva to provide her with a depth of emotional support that he wasn’t able to give. During the fortnight Gavin also became friends with one of the junior hairdressers at his workplace and while his parents were away was able to invite her to his home, something he had never been able to do previously.

Although Gavin was a capable and confident hairdresser, he had previously lacked confidence with women socially. This story was a something of a fairy tale with the usual roles reversed; in this case the main character was a shy, quietly wonderful young man learning that he had something to offer the world.

The story was set in the late 1970s and it showed its age in ways that were amusing to me. Gavin was called ‘Mr Gavin’ by the junior staff in the salon where he worked and the tips he earned at the salon wouldn’t pay for a postage stamp nowadays. On the less funny side though, an unmarried mother was thought scandalous and a woman who desperately needed psychological help was considered to be a nuisance by everyone she knew. However, the story was enjoyable and I liked watching Gavin figure out who he was and who he might become.

Mr Wrong by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Mr wrong

Mr Wrong is a book of short stories by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

I expected a romance, with an unsuitable fellow from the title story, Mr Wrong, but couldn’t have been further from the mark. All I have to say after reading this story is, don’t pick up hitch-hikers.

The author brought me to tears during a seven-page story, Summer Picnic, which tells of several generations picnicking together. A woman from each generation remembers or experiences her first kiss during this story. It made me smile when I realised that each generation believe they are the first to discover romance.

Pont du Gard tells of an unhappily married couple holidaying in France with their youngest daughter and her friend. The husband tells the wife abut the end of his latest affair, looking for sympathy from her, but as soon as he has that off his chest, notices how attractive his daughter’s friend is. These characters are nasty and I was glad to finish this story.

The Proposition is the story of a job interview, but the actual position turns out to be a surprise. If I told you the young man being interviewed was handsome enough to be a model and his services were expected to be used exclusively by an older man, what would you think the job was? Me too. But you’ll never guess what he is to be employed to do.

The Devoted is a story that takes place over Christmas, with a grandmother, two brothers, their wives and their children all telling part of the story. For me, this story made it clear that some of us are the devoted, while others are the subject of our devotion.

Child’s Play is a story about women, and being Daddy’s girl. Daddy’s girls can always be relied upon to look after their father when they are old, to forgive their fathers anything and to blame their mothers for everything. Sadly, every mother of a daughter will relate to this story to some extent and every daughter will also recognise this truth in her heart, to some extent, whether she admits it or not. As the mother of a daughter and as a daughter, Child’s Play left me feeling uncomfortable with this realisation.

Toutes Direction is another unpleasant story. A woman goes on holiday in France, then finishes up her visit by staying overnight with an old school friend. When she arrives, she learns the old friend is to have an illegal abortion that night. The woman helps out by holding the bucket, then has a quickie with the friend’s lover en route to the train station. Not my idea of a holiday.

Three Miles Up is another ghost story. Two friends go on a canal boat holiday and pick up a hitch hiker, (they should have read Mr Wrong), who cooks for them and keeps the peace, but they never seem to get anywhere. (Neither did this story, really).

Although Mr Wrong was published in 1984, most of the stories didn’t seem dated at all. I thought Summer Picnic and Child’s Play were the best stories in the collection, and on the strength of them, intend to read a full novel by this author in future, although I hope she has written about some characters who aren’t miserable, or selfish or nasty. Most of the characters in this collection were horrible.




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