I bet you never expected to read the words ‘love child’ on Stuck-in-a-Book… well, if you’ve been paying careful attention, you’ll have seen them a couple of times already. Edith Olivier’s novel The Love Child came in at no.3 on my favourite books read last year. I’ve just realised that I’ve been referring to Olivier as Oliver for a long while, and thus may have misled people… I must go back and alter.
This novel has had mixed reception – I’ve only ‘tried it out’ on a couple of other people; one liked it and one wasn’t so sure. I know Lisa at Bluestalking would love it and am waiting for her to clear space in her schedule to read it! (That is, unless she already has, and kept quiet about not liking it…)
Agatha Bodenham, at 32, finds herself alone for the first time, after the death of her mother. She has been kept quietly at home, and has no real friends or chance of marriage. She turns her attention instead to an imaginary friend of her youth, Clarissa – who then appears, ‘gathering substance in the warmth of Agatha’s obsessive love until it seems that others too can see her’, to quote the blurb. Though a great joy to Agatha’s lonely life, as Clarissa begins to explore the more exotic features of 1920s life (tennis, dances, boys) something of a power struggle develops, and it is unclear who possesses whom…
There are similarities to one of my favourite books, Miss Hargreaves, though Baker’s novel was funnier and less affecting. The Love Child (1927) is a touching portrait with edges of surrealism and heartache. A very slim novel, it contains many intriguing ideas about love and possession and neediness – I also found the writing to flow beautifully. I’d love to discover other fables of this ilk – where Miss Hargreaves and Lady Into Fox also fit.
My Virago copy (bought on a whim for 75p in an Oxford charity shop) has an introduction by Hermione Lee which is illuminating. And, like so many other authors, Edith Olivier was related to a clergyman. Daughter, in this case. She spent nearly all her life in her native Wiltshire, except for some time at Oxford University on a scholarship – and The Love Child, where it does not wander into fantasy, appears to be influenced by autobiography.
Like all the other books so far in my 50 Books… I really recommend that you seek this novel out – it may well become a treasure you’ll remember for a while.