Saturday, 30 September 2017

Darkness And Day by Ivy Compton-Burnett

Darkness and Day by Ivy Compton-Burnett
First published in the UK by Victor Gollancz in 1951. Republished by Endeavour Press in February 2015.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publishers via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Sir Ransom Chace is reunited with his god-daughter Bridget, and her husband Edmund Gaunt, long dead secrets start to creep out of the wood-work. Chace and Gaunt both have two daughters borne out of happy marriages, but both have also fathered another daughter out of wedlock. As aging Chace debates age, life, and morality with his best friend and two daughters, he realises he wants to clear his conscience before he dies. Meanwhile the two young Gaunt daughters overhear a shocking secret about their parents' relationship… What happens when a dignified man comes to believe that his wife is also his daughter…?

Conveyed almost entirely in dialogue, Compton-Burnett’s novel was ground-breaking for its time, experimenting with style and content.

I love the elegant new cover for the reissue of Darkness And Day which, together with its Virginia Woolf quote of 'intense originality' convinced me that I had to read the novel. First published in 1951, Darkness And Day does have a certain period charm to it and might well appeal to fans of Downton Abbey. It is written as a series of conversations and discussions between the inhabitants of two distinguished houses and, as readers, we get to eavesdrop both upstairs as the families converse and downstairs as the servants do likewise. Ivy Compton-Burnett created some memorable characters. I particularly liked the selfless Mildred, the irascible Bartle and the haunted Bridget. I did think that the words of the children often seemed way beyond their professed ages, but their treatment of Mildred is funny to read.

The themes of class and family are eternal, but Compton-Burnett's addition and treatment of incest is surprisingly modern so this novel must have been incredibly shocking in the 1950s. Her unfolding of the story through gossip and speech is a perfect device for the tale. It is tricky to keep up with who says what at the beginning of the book as the speaker of each line of dialogue is not always identified. However, as the characters develop, their personalities shine through in their words, frequently making identification superfluous. I often felt as though I was reading a play rather than a novel and I think it would be interesting to experience Darkness And Day as a full cast audio recording.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Ivy Compton-Burnett / Contemporary fiction / Books from England

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