First it was the not-so-small band of book lunatics—I mean bloggers—who were constantly raving about Persephone. Not being one to miss out on book lunacy I got the catalog, ordered 12 of them, joined the Pesephone Secret Santa, got the Persephone logo tattooed on my shoulder…okay I really didn’t do the last one but it does have a certain appeal, the logo would make a good tattoo.
Then I began to notice that the Persephone Pack was raving about one Persephone author more than any other. It was all “Dorothy Whipple this”, and “Dorothy Whipple that”. And the Persephone catalog did seem to have a lot of Whipple in it. Being a sucker for an anachronistic sounding name, I felt myself being drawn in and wishing I had a Whipple to read. When lo and behold, I realized that I had actually included a Whipple in my original Persephone order.
By the way, I defy any American to claim that they don’t think of Charmin toilet paper when they hear the name Whipple. And even for those outside the US who use toilet roll rather than toilet paper and have no idea who Mr. Whipple is, thinking of Ms. Whipple just might make you think of some sickly sweet dessert with a ripple of something running through it. And if there are any fans of "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" out there you can probably even hear Reggie (brilliantly played by the late Leonard Rossiter) talking about Sunshine Desserts latest flavor, Strawberry-Lychee Ripple.
But I digress. The real question is, how do I feel now that I have read my first Whipple? Did the Whipple Wing of the Persephone Pack lead me astray? Let me put it this way, I have had to hide all the credit cards lest I go on a Whipple buying spree.
The Priory was an amazingly good read. Its 528 pages joyfully flew by. A book where you are dying to see what happens next but at the same time you don’t want it to end. The plot revolves around the decaying Saunby Priory somewhere in the British Midlands and the decaying lives of the cash poor family who inhabit it. In the make it, invest it, and lose it progression of wealth common in so many moneyed families, the Marwoods are deep into the third stage and don’t have a clue what to do about it. Widower Major Marwood lives for cricket. His young twenty-something daughters have never bothered to move out of the nursery and are not equipped for much of anything (life, work, or love) outside the expansive grounds of Saunby. The somewhat potty aunt who spends all her time painting despite not having an ounce of technique or talent. And then there is a cast of servants, outside elements are introduced into the story, the focus shifts, etc. I am not going to say much more about the plot, except that there is a lot of it and that it is fascinating and compelling.
And like most good novels, the characters have dimension and never fall strictly into hero or villain categories. Just when you think one of the characters is bad they show some redeeming quality that makes one not hate them after all. I have a little quibble over one part of the story line that never gets fully developed (Penelope refusing to have kids), and the fact that the novel’s wrap up leaves Penelope’s fate somewhat unknown. But when I said it was a quibble, I meant it was a quibble. This is a fantastic book.
My joy in reading The Priory was accompanied by a desire to see it dramatized for TV or the big screen. Which made me think of all the great books that would make for great TV or a great film. Which, in turn, started to annoy me a bit. I mean do we really need 172 filmed versions of Emma? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good period Austen film, but c’mon, there is a world of literature just waiting to for period costumes and Emma Thompson. (Given Ms. Thompson’s current age, I would probably cast her as Anthea or Aunt Victoria, but neither role seems meaty enough.) But I guess that doesn’t matter too much. Movie or not, you will enjoy The Priory.