- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 352 pages, 1 port.
- Publisher: Persephone Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 22/09/2005
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9781903155493
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Review by Liz1564
This tour de force novel, written by Norah Hoult during WWll, is a wrenching study of a woman with memory loss. Clair Temple is 80 years old and is living in Kensington during the Blitz with only a servant and a companion for company. Her short term memory is almost nonexistent and so she is constantly repeating herself, asking the same questions, forgetting that there is a war on just outside her windows. Her servant who is also the cook, the housekeeper, her personal maid, is an unsympathethic, rude Irish girl who just considers the old lady nasty and mad. They have loud shouting matches which reduce Clair to tears of fury and frustration. When Clair gets a companion, she is dull and so passive that Clair again becomes frustrated at having to interact with a lump of a woman. The three are caught in the web of the war. Kathleen, although she really dislikes her employer, stays because she is paid decent wages, can entertain her soldier boyfriend without interference, and possibly feather her nest by pilfering and selling the odd trinkets scattered around the house. Miss Jones has drifted through life being a companion to more fortunate women. She is too old to get a defense job, has few marketable skills, and is hanging on just have a roof over her head. Clair knows she is "losing her mind" and is frightened of being locked up in an asylum. They dislike each other and need each other.The genius of the book is the way that Hoult shows Clair trying to cope with her disappearing existence. Clair likes the woman who comes once a week to do the laundry and has pleasant conversations with her. The problem is that she keeps asking after the woman's husband who is dead and causing the woman constantly to relive her grief. The few friends Clair has left eventually stop visiting because it is just too hard to keep reexplaining what has happened in their lives. They weary of Clair's accusations that Kathleen is trying to poison her by serving bad meat and no matter how they explain the rationing rules Clair cannot grasp them.Clair's tragedy is that she has a brilliant mind that is shutting down. She wrote novels and still can tell wonderful stories from her past when she was friends with Henry James, was proposed to by Oscar Wilde, and introduced Mrs Humphrey Ward to Christobel Pankhurst. She peppers her speech with quotes from Shakespeare to illustrate her points. She has a physical energy and no outlet to release it. She is terrified because she knows that her memory is failing her and fears that soon she will cease to exist as Clair and become nothing. She tries to work her mind, with no success.Clair is not likeable. Her attitudes toward her hired help are Victorian when servants were a necessity and not to be treated as equals. She cannot comprehend why "cook" is so disrespectful and why Miss Jones is even in her house. Kathleen and Miss Jones have to put up with tantrums, ducking teapots, accusations to the police, and the daily grind of explaining again and again why food is rationed and and drapes must be shut tight because of the blackout. In the house, everyone is to be pitied. Today, Clair's Altzeimers or senile dementia would be more understood. Caregivers would be informed on how to manage her fears and how to stimulate what remains of her mind. They wouldn't just classify her as "mad" and to be tolerated. In 1944, during a war, there was neither the knowledge or the tolerance for Clair's condition.At the end of the novel, I felt like I had been inside Clair's head, but also inside the heads of everyone who had to deal with her. It is a reading experience I will never forget. However, I have to add a warning. This may not be the novel for you if you are living with a person with memory loss or have done so. At least not now. In the future, if the pain ever lessens, you may want to read about Clair and see the world through her eyes. It could help you understand how the person you cared for had to cope with life.