14/11/2014

From this day forward (by Connie Monk)

A friend of mine passed this book on to me when she'd finished it, thinking I might liked it and not wanting to re-read it herself. I’m not usually particularly keen on historical fiction set around the turn of the 20th century, but liked the cover, so thought I'd pick it up to read recently. The author, Connie Monk, is apparently quite a prolific writer of historical fiction.

‘From This Day Forward’ opens with high drama. Jane Bradley is having an argument with her father. He is the owner of a brewery and she, unusually for the period, has been working there with him for some years in a management role. They have had a close relationship, but now Jane has fallen for the handsome Ian, one of the workers. She wants to get married to him; her father is furious that she would even consider such a thing.

So Jane decides to elope, certain that her father will come round to her point of view. She comes across as a very spoilt young lady, not just privileged in her upbringing, but unwilling to listen to her father’s wisdom. He seems very hot-tempered too, using quite the wrong psychology, and it made me wonder how they could ever have had the close ties that Jane recalls.

Unsurprisingly, marriage to Ian is not what Jane expected, and once he realises that her father is not going to give her an allowance or dowry, the relationship starts to go very wrong. Jane does not fit in with her neighbours, she has no idea how to prepare a meal, and she’s hurt that her father does not respond to her letters…

There’s quite a lot of potential for this book, even if the opening scene is at odds with Jane’s memories. Unfortunately it starts to get a bit sordid when the author tells us about the first night Jane spends with Ian. Not in as much detail as some modern books, thankfully, but still more than I wished to read about. And whereas I could see that it was significant to the plot, it’s not an isolated incident.

There are two other couples who are important in the book: the rector Marcos and his saintly wife Alayne, as well as the doctor Matthew and his flirtatious wife Yvette. There is plenty of mention of their marital intimacies - or lack thereof - and, inevitably, several adulterous liaisons featuring various of the cast.

Worse, I didn’t really find many of the characters sympathetic or really believable. I could sympathise with Jane to some extent; Ian turns out to be a distinctly unpleasant person at times. But she makes little effort to make things better despite huge amounts of introspection. Alayne is simply too good to be true, and Elsie, a buxom good-natured barmaid who features later in the book, is also - in her very different way - apparently without fault.

I did like Alice, an older woman who befriends Jane; yet her situation and back story seemed unrealistic. Perhaps the nicest people are the stationmaster and his wife, Mr and Mrs Philpott - the way Jane treats them in the end made me dislike her all the more.

All of which sounds rather negative, and yet it’s not a bad book. It paints a good picture of life at the turn of the last century in the working classes in the UK; the settings felt authentic, as did the language. From a social history point of view, it’s quite interesting. Other than the odd, stream-of-consciousness introspection, it’s mostly well written too, although towards the end it feels more stilted. The ending is predictable, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it all happens rather too rapidly.

For people who enjoy novels written in this era (1905-1907 to be precise) it could make good holiday reading: easy to put down, easy to pick up again. Despite disliking most of the cast, they are memorable enough that I never forgot who was whom.

Not currently in print but sometimes available second-hand.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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