THE FINEST TYPE OF ENGLISH WOMANHOOD by RACHEL HEATH.
It's 1946, and seventeen-year-old Laura Trelling is stagnating in her dilapidated Sussex family home, while her quietly eccentric parents slip further into isolation.
Then she meets Paul Lovell - a chance encounter that will change the course of her destiny, and bring her a new life in pre-apartheid South Africa.
Three years earlier, and many miles north, sixteen-year-old Gay Gibson is no less desperate to escape England. Gay's heart is set on stardom - but first she must find a way out of Birkenhead and the dreary prospect of secretarial college.
When their paths cross in Johannesburg, Laura is exposed to Gay's wild life of parties and liaisons. Thrown together, each with her own agenda, the girls find their lives inextricably entangled, with fatal consequences ...
..... Inner front cover.
FIRST SENTENCE (Norman Mead Hotel, Winchester: March 1948): My father was a man so skinny and weedy as to be rendered almost incapable of imposing himself on anyone or anything.
MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 70): They could only have been in their late twenties or early thirties but the silent, villagey, expectation was that they be grateful, middle-aged and entirely without hope.
MY THOUGHTS: A debut novel by author Rachel Heath which, as I found out after having read the book, actually combines fact with fiction, the story of the totally fictional Laura with the 'largely truthful' story of Eileen/Gay.
Written in two very different styles, Gay's story is told as a series of diary entries which I felt impeded the momentum of the novel, the fact that Laura's account dominated much of the book didn't help matters as it just further added to the overall disjointed feel of the whole thing.
Set in a post-war, pre-apartheid South Africa The Finest Type Of English Womanhood (a title I'm still puzzled by) does go some way in raising the political and racial tensions of that era but ultimately concentrates more on what are after all some unbelievably one dimensional characters, their actions increasingly implausible.
Perhaps expecting too much, I really think all of the hype and endorsements on a book cover can be detrimental, leading you to believe a book is something more than it is. Still, as always, each to their own, I know of several others who rave about this book.
KEEP IT/BUY IT OR NOT?: A readers group read, I won't be buying a copy of this.
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