I’ve made cursory mention a few times about the postal book group I’m in – I send a book to someone, and receive a book from someone. Repeat every two months (always the same people), and at the end of 18 months or so, my book has been round a circle, and come back with comments from lots of people. Plus, I’ve had the chance to read and comment on a bunch of books, too.
A week or so ago I got my book back from the end of 2006, and was able to see what people thought – and so I thought I’d share the outcome with you all. I chose Ivy Compton-Burnett’s A House and Its Head. I chose it for a couple of reasons – first, I wanted an excuse to read another ICB after having really liked Mother and Son, and secondly, Ivy Compton-Burnett was sure to raise some reactions! She is very much a love-or-hate author (Our Vicar’s Wife hates her; I love her). I think the reason she causes such a divide is the play-like style of her novels i.e. they are almost completely dialogue. For me, this brings characters alive – and often dialogue is the site where authors can be the most amusing or their most poignant.
A House and Its Head follows the Edgeworth family, none of whom (except perhaps Nance) are particularly likeable – and some rather dramatic storylines, expressly the father’s unpopular remarriage. But it’s more about Ivy C-B’s writing style than the plot… so… what did the recipients of the book have to say?
“I C-B certainly has an individual style of writing. As I started reading I noticed that she would describe each character when they first appeared, in fair detail, incl. their age, and then just dialogues would follow. Actually this style didn’t bother me at all (at first I thought it might!) I found the novel quite austere and gloomy, nevertheless I enjoyed the experience of reading my first I C-B. I’m certain I would enjoy a second reading sometime & I’ll certainly sample some other I C-Bs.” – Angela
“I tried with it, I really did, Simon, but I must place myself in the ‘hate it’ category, which puts me in the same camp as your Mum. The style really grated on me – I found it difficult to follow the play-like dialogue, and the characters irritated me more than I can say. Yes, they are of their time, but so are the Provincial Lady’s, and I though hers – even the unpleasant people – were delightfully drawn.
Maybe it was the scene at the begiining when Duncan is cheerfully throwing a book he disapproves of INTO THE FIRE – and that is in a book published in 1935! I just could not forgive Ivy C-B for that.” – Rhona
“The jury was out for a long time, as they say, but in the end, I’ll be adding my name to the ‘love’ camp. At first I was struck by the claustrophobia-inducing atmosphere – a house full of not particularly likeable people who have nowehre to go and nothing useful to do and so submit to the tyranny of its head. Ass to this the ever watchful and oh-so well-meaning neighbours, prepared to gossip about the slightest irregularity. But despite – or because of – it all, the book is hilarious. I kept waiting for each and every one of Dulcia’s appearances – inwardly cringing, of course, but unable to suppress a giggle.” – Susan
“For quite the first 100 pages this book irritated me beyond belief, but I decided that I had to stick with it and get it finished. Then it just ‘grew’ on me – I can’t say I loved it. I found it very hard going, but I was intrigued by the characters. [The rest of this comment has too many spoilers!] – Barbara
And a few people either didn’t have time or gave up!
Make of those responses what you will… I was quite pleased with them. And hopefully it’s convinced some of you to dip a toe into Ivy Compton-Burnett territory… if only because you have the back-out of solidarity if you hate it.