Laurie and Claire (by Kathleen Rowntree)

Having decided to re-read books by some of my favourite authors, I wanted something that I was going to enjoy, to read at bedtimes. So I picked up ‘Laurie and Claire’ by Kathleen Rowntree, a book I remembered enjoying very much when I first read it just over sixteen years ago.

I vaguely remembered the start of the book. Two young children grow up in a musical community, almost as brother and sister. Their parents founded and run a huge house called Foscote, although it’s mainly Laurie’s mother whom the children turn to for support and understanding. Claire feels inferior, as she’s very unmusical, and her French mother (a well-known singer) rather despises her.

We see insights into the world of music conferences, and gradually realise that there’s plenty going on under the surface. I found it a bit sordid, though there aren’t too many details given. Claire realises, in her teens, that her love for Laurie is more than that for a friend or brother, but he doesn’t seem to respond to the overtures she makes; and she is not willing to risk their strong bond by saying anything direct.

The plot moves forwards to their adult lives, sometimes sharing a home, sometimes separately. The characters are well-drawn, and Kathleen Rowntree introduces some people who, back in 1995 when this was first published, would have raised quite a few eyebrows. Lydia, in particular, is a complex and controversial character who comes into Laurie and Claire’s lives and creates a great deal of anger and confusion.

I liked Laurie very much. He’s flamboyant and a little manipulative, needing to be in control of every situation; but he’s also gentle, empathic, and extremely generous. The reason why he doesn’t become more than close friends with Claire is not revealed until a good way through the book; I had remembered, but it didn’t matter that it came as no surprise.

However, I found myself liking Claire less and less. She’s highly intelligent, and does some important botanical research in her adult life. She flourishes in academic circles. But she’s quite cold emotionally, taking advantage of other people’s good nature, jumping into bed - often in adulterous liaisons - in what seems to be a totally cold-blooded way. Her first encounter of this type is sordid in the extreme, and the climax of the book, though understandable in some ways, and not out of character, is horrendous.

The book is character-driven, following Laurie and Claire through their lives, into their forties, and briefly, at the end, into their fifties. The writing is excellent; the fact that I responded so negatively to Claire suggests that the author created a very well-rounded and believable person. I found it quite difficult to put the book down, at times, even though there’s not a great deal of plot.

But although I’m glad I re-read it, I would no longer count it as one of my favourites.

No longer in print, but can often be found in charity shops.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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