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ReaderMarija

ReaderMarija's Reviews

...a pot luck of thoughts and reflections

Currently reading

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Nightingale Wood: A Novel - Stella Gibbons Nightingale Wood is like Barbie and Ken meet Cinderella. Viola and Victor are so pathetic, yet you can’t help but be entertained by their banter. Here’s a sampling:

The setting: an intimate dinner between Victor and the innocently pure widow Viola after a chance meeting at a hotel. Victor asks Viola, who’s been polishing off half a bottle of champagne:

Victor: Aren’t you afraid of getting tight?
Viola: No, I’ve got a very good head.
(Victor roars)
Victor: You have, have you? What do you usually drink?
Viola: Oh well, lemon and barley at The Eagles, but of course I’ve had cocktails and gin and lime and sherry and all those things, and none of them made me tight. I’m very fond of drink…
(Victor lifts his drink, silently laughing across at her, saying nothing…)

Setting: After dinner, Victor’s taken Viola out for a drive, wanting to apologize for his rotten behavior at a former party.

Victor: You know… I’ve been wanting to say I’m sorry about what happened in the summer. I’m afraid I hurt your feelings.
Viola: Well, you did rather, but it’s all right now.
Victor: Sweet of you…
(Viola wonders when he’ll start kissing her again. Desperately hopes that he will.)
Victor: You—er—you—I suppose you heard—?
Viola: About your being engaged? Oh yes….
(a pause)
(Sniff)
Victor: Violet, darling, what’s the matter? Don’t cry. Here, have mine.
Viola: It’s Viola, not Violet. You always get it wrong (sniff) and you always make me miserable and I think you’re a beast. I was quite all right until you started about getting married. And you don’t even know my name properly, either. It’s (a kind of wail) an insult, that’s what it is.
Victor: I’m sorry, darling. There, there…
(Viola blows her nose)
Victor drives her back to the hotel. He thinks to himself, “she also offers an inversion of it. The reader’s given the story of the beautifully handsome chauffeur, Saxon, who has come across hard times and is trying to earn his way back into society. It’s lovely that Saxon’s able to find his best friend, true happiness and love all in one person. But, while he does get everything he desires in the long run, there’s a slight shadow that darkens part of this happy ending picture for him…. Yet, in terms of comparison with all of the endings in this novel, as a reader, this particular ending works and is indeed satisfying.

The one ending, though, that upset me was Hetty’s story. Her story begins with such promise: a level headed girl desiring to be free from her overbearing aunt, wanting to go to university, to meet and make some learned friends and get an apartment in Bloomsbury, lining the walls with her collection of books. But then Gibbons takes that line from the Robert Burns’ poem, “the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…” graphically illustrating how far they can go awry. In a way, Hetty becomes a Marianne Faithfull type thrown into the midst of Edward Albee’s play, [b:Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. It’s an awful ending, almost chilling, making the best of it and loving as she can love in such a situation. And there’s no hope in sight. Even though this novel is essentially a social commentary, I truly believed this character deserved so much better.

The little side stories and vignettes do make up for this, however. They’re quite entertaining. The Hermit’s tale is a riot. The story about Saxon’s mother is bittersweet, but fun as well; there’s a good ending for her. I also rather enjoyed Phyllis and her fastidious nature. But honorable mention must also go to the cameo appearances of Dr. Parsham’s dog, Chappy. ;)

The one aspect I truly loved about this book was how Gibbons gave her readers the chance to see into the thoughts of every character that appeared in her story. It’s a rare talent for an author to be able to give each of her characters a distinct voice that never once slips. Gibbons does this very well. Her transitions from one perspective to the next, and from one story to the next are also masterfully done. They’re quite subtle, easily melding from one paragraph to the next, with no need for a page or chapter break. As a reader, you won’t get lost.

All in all, I really enjoyed this novel, and do want to read Gibbons’ other two fairytale retellings: White Sand and Grey Sand, which borrows from “Beauty and the Beast” and My American, which is influenced by "The Snow Queen"—my favorite fairytale, both of which will be reissued by the end of the year.