Pan, London, 1975
To the memory of VR Lang, poet and playwright, who died in July 1956
dedication: To the memory of VR Lang, poet and playwright, who died in July 1956
The blurb on the back:
Jane’s Tuesday lover, Tom
This is tremendous stuff, to be very highly recommended indeed. The basic situation is as described on the sleeve - one pregnant woman, three possible fathers – and there’s a genuine interest in finding out whose it is and what she’s going to do with the knowledge. That keeps the pages turning nicely, but – for me - what really makes this a classic is the stuff inbetween, specifically the observations of England in the early-1970s.
Dee Wells was an American journalist, who was married to philosopher Sir Alfred Ayer (their relationship was reportedly the inspiration for Tom Stoppard’s play Jumpers) and was a regular on every TV discussion programme in the late-‘60s. She was also an astute observer of Britain - ‘a haunted house divided against itself,’ as she puts it (p.75) – and was particularly sharp on the upper classes:
And here she is on one of them in particular:
Not that she’s got a lot of time for most of the rest of us either. She’s pitiless in her characterization of a charwoman, and this is her on the Labour Party: ‘Do they still wear greenish tweed suits and pledge allegiance to the Red Flag in rooms that smell of sweat?’ (p.13) And, perhaps, at the root of it is the English attitude to women:
Does she mean us? She surely does.
My apologies for quoting at such length (particularly if you happen to hold the copyright to the book), but I think it’s worth it just to establish what a fine piece of work this: perceptive, witty and provocative. And, as I say, arching above this detail is a story that you genuinely want to read, featuring a central character you really care about. Because I wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression: there’s a lot more going on here, as well, including inter alia a passionate defence of radical film-making (Jane’s father was a victim of the McCarthyite purge of Hollywood).
As far as I know, Ms Wells wrote only this one novel, which would be a terrible shame if true. A search of the Internet suggests that it sold two million copies, and – it appears – most of those sales would have come in the States. Presumably American readers were responding to the psychology of a woman at a critical early moment in the rise of feminism, but, without wishing to cause offence, I suspect that they might have missed some of the beauty of the social commentary.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 5/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 3/5
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