I feel like Virago has really been coming through for me lately. It makes me want to stick to a steady diet of green spines. When I read the synopsis for The Tortoise and the Hare I was pretty sure of which characters I was going to root for. The plot centers on Evelyn, a 52-year barrister who takes an interest in his 50-year old tweedy neighbor Blanche at the expense of his beautiful younger wife Imogen. As uncharitable as it may sound, I was all set to be happy for Evelyn and Blanche for finding an age-appropriate relationship, thinking that Imogen must no doubt be some vapid, flighty, money grubbing, shrew. Instead I found myself furious at Evelyn and Blanche and all I could think of was the Charles – Diana – Camilla tragedy.
Was Imogen/Diana the perfect mate for Evelyn/Charles? No, but it was no fault of her own and it was unfair for Evelyn to expect Imogen to be someone she wasn’t. Was she profligate with his money? No. Did she vamp around with other men? No. Did she provide the requisite son? Yes. Being older and more experienced, should Evelyn have known himself and his desires better before choosing a mate? Yes. Should Blanche/Camilla have stayed the hell away from a married man? Yes.
And the worst part is that Evelyn and Blanche never get their comeuppance. I found that part the most frustrating thing about the book. Evelyn was so awful to Imogen I thought for sure at some point there would be some coal in stocking. There is a ray of hope for Imogen in the end, but it didn’t keep me from wanting some pain for Evelyn and horsey Blanche. Even with this frustration, I really enjoyed this book and found it emotionally compelling.
Nice review — please don't give up! I loved this novel and I agree with what you say about it so concisely and wittily. Also agree about the green spines — they are almost always a reliable guide — only almost though as I have had a couple of duds lately.
I haven't read this one, but if I do, I won't forget the comparison with Charles/Di.
This book has been on my wish list for quite some time, but your review has given it a whole new dimension! Hope I can get to it soon…
I read The Tortoise and the Hare a couple of years ago but I never made the connection with Charles and Diana and Camilla!
Poor Diana. I hope Charles never gets to be king. At least that would be comeuppance for how he treated Diana.
Oh, Thomas … such a compelling book, I agree, but I felt sympathy for all of them. And poor Evelyn, can you imagine it, years and years married to beautiful, sexless Imogen when he was so much better suited to Blanche. (Of course, I was never a Diana fan!)
I'm not/never was a Diana fan either (definitely Team Charles all the way), but you make this novel sound awfully interesting. Added it to the Must Read list.
(p.s. I generally enjoy your book review posts and am glad you're not abandoning them)
It's been a while since I read this, but I think Jenkins hints that Blanche will be abandoned the same way that Imogen was.
Harriet: I have a feeling I have a few un-read duds on my shelf as well.
Susan: I may have poisoned your interpretation.
JoAnn: It can be a little maddening.
Karen K: I don't worry so much about his commeuppance anymore and I feel like as long the Brits cleave to the notion that heredity is everything, they should have to live with what they have been given.
Mary: Ooh, no sympathy for Blanche at all. Maybe a little for Evelyn, but none for Blanche.
Inskslinger: See, I don't think you have to be a Diana fan to believe that the 32 year old Charles bore much more responsility than the 19 year old Diana in entering into a totally inappropriate marriage. It seems almost predatory to me.
Vintage Reader: Interesting thought that Blanche might be abandoned. I can see him cheating on her sexually but loving her tweedy ways for ever.
Great post! I have to say that it has always bothered me that Camilla got the prince and Diana ended up dead.