Mary Hocking reading week hosted by Heavenali officially ended on the 9th, but I didn’t finish my first Hocking until the 10th. I came close I guess. Several weeks ago I caught Ali’s enthusiasm for Hocking and ordered all 12 of Bello’s recent reprints of her work. With 12 more set to release in July, my book-collecting gene kicked in and I felt I needed all these matching novels despite never having read anything that she had written.
How do I feel now that I have read one? I feel like I am going to enjoy discovering what’s in the other 11, and may, possibly, order the next 12 when they become available.
The Winter City by Mary Hocking
Since I had 12 to choose from, and three of her later novels are part of a series, I thought I should start at the beginning. Published in 1961, The Winter City was Hocking’s first novel and it was happily part of Bello’s initial offerings. Set in an unnamed country behind the Iron Curtain, the action follows four British ex-pats living in the unnamed capital of that unnamed country. Roommates Helen and Kate work at the British embassy and Paul and Doyle are journalists and friends of Helen and Kate. Living largely in an ex-pat bubble the four witness, and in some ways, participate in the beginnings of some political unrest/popular uprising. Not surprisingly for a novel, there are also some emotional entanglements among the four.
Hocking’s writing is cool and precise and somewhat detached. It certainly seems more disciplined than most first novels written these days. Not that writing needs to be disciplined, and it does come at a cost–I’m not sure any of these characters engender any warm feelings toward them. It’s not that one doesn’t like the characters, they just don’t really let you get close to them. Even in the face of tragedy, it was a little hard to actually feel the tragedy. But I am a bit of a fan of the detached, so none of this is terribly off putting to me.
There were times when The Winter City put me in mind of Muriel Spark’s novel The Mandelbaum Gate. Although published in 1965, Spark’s novel also takes place in 1961 and involves British personal and official involvement in the post-WWII political landscape outside of Britain. There were also hints of Brookner in the measured language and a bit of Pym’s career woman observational abilities. Although, these latter two comparisons may be too generic and broadly applied to be of much use.
The net of my experience is that I don’t know what the future holds for me and Hocking. I’m intrigued enough that I am looking forward to reading more–especially the Good Daughter series, if that is what it is officially called. We will see if our relationship becomes something more.