This review is part of the 1938 Club: add your reviews to the comments here.
I’ve written about her a few times now, but Richmal Crompton still feels like an author who lives chiefly in my pre-blogging days. In those heady days, probably around 2002-4 mostly, there were few enough authors on my radar that I could afford the luxury of delving into everything a single author had written. In Crompton’s case, it wasn’t everything – partly because so many of her books were unfindable or unaffordable; partly because I read about twenty over a short space of time, and needed a bit of a breather. My blog may not have reviews of all the many Crompton novels I read and loved, but it’s beginning to reflect what a substantial part she played in developing my reading life: I went into that in more depth in a blog post entitled ‘Richmal Crompton and me’.
Journeying Wave is now readily available, thanks to Bello, but I have actually had a 1938 edition on my shelves for a little while. The 1938 Club was an excellent excuse to take it down, and I even read it a few weeks ago in an effort to be super prepared. Naturally that means I’ve forgotten some of the finer details – but, truth be told, I’d forgotten some of them before I’d even got to the end of the book. On the scale of Crompton novels, I’d place it in the top half – it was quite moving and very gripping in that must-read-on-even-though-there’s-not-really-any-tension way that Crompton was expert in – but, gosh, what a lot of characters and plotlines.
The event that kicks them all off is the revelation of Humphrey’s affair. Crompton’s theme here – thesis, even – is the ‘journeying wave’ that a single action can create. I think she made up the term ‘journeying wave’, but it’s essentially the butterfly effect. How will Viola asking Humphrey to leave affect their children and wider families?
The same ‘types’ of many Crompton novels are here. There is the studious young woman who never thinks about men (until one particular man makes her rethink her priorities). There is the man who is in business when he would be better suited for the rural world. There is the selfish mother who uses her children as props to her own social success.
And, most typical of all for Crompton, there is the pair of women, one dominant, one weaker; the dominant one is controlling the life of the other, always thinking it is for her own good. In this instance, it’s elderly twins Harriet and Hester. Hester clings to the recollection of the one day she could call her own, and starts to rebel. It’s curious that an archetype as specific as this sort of pairing should recur in almost every Crompton novel, but there it is – and it is just as moving as usual.
For some characters, the discovery that Humphrey could have a child from an adulterous affair rocks their sense of trust. For others, it shows that life can change, and that they need to grab opportunities. For others, simply having Humphrey or Viola on the scene, offering a fresh perspective, changes things that way. The ‘journeying wave’ motif is quite cleverly done; it makes it more realistic that so much would change in the lives of so many characters over a relatively brief period. In Crompton’s novels, often the same number of things (and sometimes exactly the same things) happen to as many people, but with less obvious justification for such a meeting of incident.
The one unusual portrait in Journeying Wave is Humphrey himself, and he is perhaps the least successful portrait at the same time – because he seems both too decent and too simple to commit adultery. Not ‘simple’ as in stupid; he just comes across as plainly happy with the life he has, and unwilling to rock any sort of boat. He has to, in order to set off the motions of the novel, but it never seems quite believable that he would have done.
But credibility hardly matters. More important is the joy of being in the surrounds of a Crompton novel. Nobody writes as captivatingly as she does, though even when the stakes are high for the characters, they feel low for the reader. We race through the novel, but we know that the high drama is happening in some sort of relief; there will probably be a happy ending and, even if not, very similar characters will appear in the next Crompton novel we read. But as soon as that first page is opened, and I get an opening paragraph like this…
The light filtered softly through the drawn curtains, grew stronger, and flooded the big square bedroom, which, despite the up-to-date furnishings, still retained a vague suggestion of Victorianism. The bay window, the high ceiling, the ornate marble mantelpiece, struck the note of more settled spacious days, and the chintz pelmeted curtains and chintz skirted dressing-table seemed tactfully to bridge the gap between the old and the new.
…I know that I’m going to have a wonderful few days of reading, and will enjoy every moment.
(Oh and, somewhat to my surprise, someone else read Journeying Wave during 1938 Club week! Do go and read the thoughts of the aptly-named RichmalCromptonReader.)