17 October 2010

Book Review: The Provincial Lady in London by E.M. Delafield

    
Illustrations by Arthur Watts
For me the Provincial Lady books are true cozy, comfort reads. And I am a fan of the two that I have read thus far. But a large part of the humor found in these books comes out of the disheveled nature of the Provincial Lady's lifestyle. And it is that very thing that tends to aggravate my mild OCD. I constantly want to fix her life. I want to balance her checkbook, prioritize her housekeeping tasks, manage her social calendar, and show her a million and one ways she can economize.

And once my mind starts to overwhelm my willing suspension of disbelief, all hell breaks loose. Once I give in to organizing her world I start to question her life choices, and then I end up feeling a little exasperated. Not surprisingly given the title, in this volume the Provincial Lady goes to London. She rents a flat for herself so she can work on her next book, which she never seems to get around to. Caught up in way too many seemingly unpleasant social situations, she doesn't ever seem to get around to writing anything. And in that sentence is a world of hurt for someone with a brain like mine.
  1. She needs to set a writing schedule to ensure she has time to maintain her professional commitments.
  2. She needs to realize that a more effective work schedule would allow her to earn the money she needs to cover her costs.
  3. She needs to stop being a social suppliant. By taking control of her social life and saying no in the right way and at the right times she would not only preserve more time for her work and things she would prefer to do, but she would also gain a bit of the upper hand--especially since her successful book has increased her social value. A few declined invitations would only add to her social allure, and over time increase her demand allowing her to pick and choose the social occasions that she might actually enjoy.
  4. Did she really think that busy, distracting, expensive, London was the place to write?
Do you see how pernicious my mind is? The whole point of these Provincial Lady books is to delight in the ditzy chaos of her life. And I do delight in them, but I am also rewriting the script of her life as I chuckle.

And what's up with her marriage? They seem about as happy together as two strangers waiting for the same bus.

Although my mind works overtime reading these books, I do actually enjoy them. One thing Delafield does particularly brilliantly is the way in which she manages to make the books feel like real diaries. As I have noted in the past:
The diary entries brilliantly capture the episodic, shorthanded cadence so typical of how one thinks about things. Not always in lovely complete sentences, but short bursts of thought, like thousands of brain synapses firing directly onto the page. There is much that made me chuckle in this book. And of course I love a good bit of domestic detail and this book does not disappoint on that account.

   

7 comments:

  1. Oh your post made me laugh so much! I haven't read these books, but I'm pretty sure I'd be wanting to do the same thing.

    Have you read Cold Comfort Farm? Because Flora Poste, the main character, would be all about fixing up a life like that. I think you'd love it!

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  2. While I haven't read these books or had this exact reaction with a few others, I do frequently find myself wanting to straighten out protagonists in books I do read. I either want to wring their necks or send them to therapy!

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  3. I love your take on that Thomas - made me smile.

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  4. I don't know how I missed this review. I am almost finished with reading The Provincial Lady in London and love it. One thing I couldn't figure out is why she rented a flat when she belongs to a club and often overnights there. Go figure!

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  5. I think I've got the first of the Provincial Lady books on my TBR. I know, why haven't I read it yet? I'm going to! Your post had me in stitches, love your writing style Thomas.

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  6. I love this book to pieces, my favourite of the series - called The Provincial Lady Goes Further over here - but your angle on it was funny :)

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  7. Teresa: I haven't read CCF, but I saw the film version back in the 90s which didn't do much for me. But I can totally see what you are saying and think I need to read it and see the film again.

    Steph: Oddly enough I want to straigten out the characters in the Lessing novel I am reading right now as well.

    Verity: I am glad you liked it.

    Kim: I am fascinated with what these clubs must have been like. I would like to do a little time travel to see what they were like in their heyday.

    Sakura: You will love it.

    Simon: I didn't realize it had a different title in the UK. I think I may have liked the first one a little more.

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