83. LOLLY WILLOWES, BY SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER
Another recommendation by Mary. It’s funny that I had never heard about this book before, considering it’s exactly the kind of book I like...
Synopsis: Laura is a spinster who never had any intention of marrying. She doesn’t resent being alone; in fact, she wishes she would be truly left alone. When her father dies, her family decides, without much consultation with her, that she’s to live with her brother and help raise his children. She keeps house for years, until, one day, she decides she wants to be by herself, and moves to Great Mop. Her freedom is cut short when her nephew moves in with her, at which point she makes a pact with the devil, becomes a witch, and uses her powers to successfully drive him away.
Overall enjoyment: Like I said, exactly the kind of book I like. It’s funny, witty, and profoundly feminist. It’s very light and happy, and beautifully written.
Plot: The first part describes Laura’s situation, how she hates the obligations and societal conventions she has to follow, and how she strives for a life of her own. The second part is when Laura discovers her powers and “battles” her nephew. The two parts are, of course, related, but they’re so different it’s a shock how smoothly the transition is made. There is no mention of anything supernatural in the whole first half of the book, but even so, when these things start happening, they don’t feel awkward or artificial.
Characters: Laura is such a well-developed character. She’s so reasonable, and she has a surprising sense of humor. All the other minor characters are well written. They’re not very deep, but with the two or three sentences she uses to describe their personalities she manages to convey a full gamma of emotions and characteristics.
World/setting: The book is set at the time it was written (1920s), in somewhat rural England. The strictness of the social constraints put on people by tradition and their idea of morality is almost palpable. By contrast, the openness of the fields and comfort of the woods once Lolly moves to Great Mop is liberating.
Writing style: Sharp and elegant, with a biting sense of humor. I love how unfazed Laura is about the supernatural stuff, and her commonplace attitude balances the fact that there is no indication of anything supernatural in the beginning of the book.
Representation: Quite poor, in regards to POC. Impressively good, in regards to women and queerness, especially taking into account the time when the book was written.
Political correctness: This book is all defying what is expected of you. Her family considers “Lolly” a failure for not having married and not having children, they treat her as furniture in the way they dispose of her. It’s understood she must always be under male tutelage, and that, because she is unmarried, she is somehow more fragile and unable to face the world on her own. She is expected to serve everyone around her; no one forces her to do it, but she still has to do it. She is somewhat happy once she moves to Great Mop, but she only discovers her “powers” once her nephew goes to live with her (something she was never consulted about, by the way, her sister-in-law just sent her a letter saying that he was coming, and that it would be the best for everyone--although it obviously wasn’t the best for Laura), and she uses them to convince him to move. It’s interesting how the things that happen to her nephew are trivial and insignificant; they could have happened without any supernatural interference. The true power that “the devil” gives her once she “sells her soul” to him is to see those things happening to him and not feel sorry, or guilty about wanting him to go away.
Up next: The Siege Winter, by Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman