Friday, October 27, 2006

"Greenery Street" - Denis Mackail

Yesterday I finally finished reading Denis Mackail's "Greenery Street" (needless to say, published by the enduring Persephone Books). This has been such a hot-water-bottle of a book that I dragged it out for as long as possible - but sadly, yesterday I ran out of pages.

And what a comforting book it was. Detailing the first year of married life for the lovestruck Ian and Felicity Foster, who live on Greenery Street (based on the very real Walpole Street - in the house where PG Wodehouse once lived) in Chelsea. While nothing particularly significant happens in the 329 pages, it's gripping nonetheless because Ian and Felicity are at once both helpless and adorable, and you really want them to do well – despite the troubles of grandmother's ghastly pearls and the drunken maid servant. Felicity's problems with the household accounts are one I can well identify with, and Ian's bewilderment as he struggles to understand his emotional wife are one I'm sure many men can identify with.

Although written in 1925, which isn't so very long ago, the book is in some ways very dated. The Fosters live in a five-storey terraced house, but as soon as babies come along, it's time to up sticks and move somewhere bigger. Whereas today, a young couple with a baby would be ecstatic at the prospect of living across five floors in Chelsea - rather than in a pokey two-bedroom flat in zone three. And the fact that Felicity's days are occupied with nothing more than worrying about who to invite for dinner, and picking out library books from Andrew Brown's (a poorly disguised Peter Jones), is a far cry from the current housewive's daily routine of commuting, work, commuting, shopping, household tasks and then some.

Denis Mackail said he wrote the book (and two more on the Foster's non-adventures) based heavily on his own experiences of married life - and it appears that he and his wife Diana had an extremely happy marriage. So much so that when Diana sadly died in her 50s, Denis was so upset that his previously prolific output of novels stopped and he never wrote another one. As the younger brother of the more successful novelist Angela Thirkell - who by all accounts was rather beastly to her younger sibling – Denis was always in her shadow in a literary sense, but evidently rose above Angela's shortcomings to be a success in his own right.

(As an aside, my grandmother was a huge fan of Angela's books and when my mother and I first discovered the joys of Persephone, we wondered if Angela's novels - which we'd never read ourselves – would be in the same vein. Having read about what a nasty character she seemed, I feel rather put off even attempting her books now).

"Greenery Street" ranks alongside Eve Garnett's wonderful books about "The Family From One End Street" as a book to return to in times needing great comfort and reassurance.

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