How much do I love the feeling of turning the last page of a book and sitting for a moment, a lump in my throat, unwilling to break the spell the story has cast on me?
I love it so much and I wish it happened all the time. But we readers know that this visceral response is special, often unexpected, and something to cherish.
Mothering Sunday had this effect on me.
Mothering Sunday is written by Graham Swift, winner of the Booker Prize for Last Orders and author of many other novels. Unfolding as languidly as honey dripping off a teaspoon, it is a mesmerizing tale of an illicit romance from the point of view of the mistress.
It is 1924, in rural Berkshire, England, after the war has ravaged the lives of families both rich and poor. The wealthy Nivens family of Beechwood lost both sons in the war and reduced its household staff to just two. Jane is the servant girl and Milly is the cook.
The story opens on an unusually warm day in March — Mothering Sunday, it happens to be, a day the wealthy allow their servants a half day off to visit their mothers. Delighting in the gift of a sunny day, the Nivens family departs for lunch with their friends, the Sheringhams. Milly leaves to visit her mother, and Jane, an orphan and therefore having no mother to visit, bicycles over to the Sheringham estate, Upleigh, to meet Paul Sheringham, with whom she has been having a clandestine affair for six years.
Paul is the heir to the estate since he is the only son left in his family. His two brothers were also killed in the war.
And this is how the novel begins, with just-after rapturous sex on a lazy and languorous day, in a still house, with beams of sunlight streaming in the open window dancing on the naked bodies in bed. Neither one of them wants to move, but Paul eventually gets up to dress. He is running late to meet his fiancee for lunch. As he heads out, he tells Jane to lock the door behind her when she is ready to go. She hears his sports car motor off down the road, scattering stones in its wake. Before she gets dressed, she pads around the house, still naked, observing each room, especially the library.
The pleasant reverie we readers have been lulled into is suddenly punctuated by a sentence that made me gasp. Something awful happens, a tragedy, that has far reaching repercussions for everyone and changes the trajectory of Jane’s life.
Recounted from Jane’s perspective as an old woman, we see how fate and resilience altered the life of a woman and freed her from the servant destiny she would have expected. In spite of deprivation and loss, a woman’s spirit prevails and leads to profound self-discovery.
Throughout this slim novel, under 200 pages, the tapestry of language is woven so exquisitely that nearly every sentence is a wonder into itself. Every detail has its place and special meaning, whether it is the race horse owned by the Sheringhams or the works of Joseph Conrad discovered by Jane.
Mothering Sunday is spare but intensely emotional, a work of perfection and bliss.
I am delighted to give one of my readers a copy of Mothering Sunday. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected.
I received a copy of Mothering Sunday from Knopf for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.