Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #16: The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins
“The Tortoise and the Hare” immediately calls to mind Aesop’s fable with the lesson that slow and steady wins the race, and the opening setup of the book seems to parallel this message. By the end of the book, however, the nature both of the prize and the real winner have been overturned in a deliciously ambiguous fashion.
Imogen is a sensitive, attractive woman, married for twelve years to Evelyn Gresham, a famous barrister 15 years her senior. As well as a beautiful house by a river near London and most things money can buy, they have a self-willed ten-year-old son Gavin who has occasional struggles with Imogen’s authority but mostly ignores her and a nervously kind friend called Tim, some friends who are variously selfish and caring, some neighbours who are self-consciously decadent and liberal, and a potential problem (in Imogen’s mind anyway) in Blanche Silcox, a calm and sensible fifty-year-old frumpy and plain spinster who knows all about horses and the stock market.
This is a slow-burning novel; events unfold with an elegant, sometimes agonizing, pace. The main characters are all frequently frustrating, and the importance placed on the trappings of post-WWII upper-middle-class life seems strange at times to the modern reader (i.e. me). However, once I got used to the style, to the lingering descriptions of nature or food or interiors and the delicately etched yet knowable characters, the irony and occasionally even humour that pervades The Tortoise and the Hare and the sense of inevitability in each event or choice or emotion – particularly the ending – this ended up being an enjoyable read.
“At that moment the air was filled with a low, soft but powerful vibration. Imogen hurried into the hall in time to hear the delicate crunching of gravel as a large car drew to a standstill. It was the Rolls. Blanche Silcox sat at the wheel, and Evelyn, moving more slowly than usual, was getting out and reaching into the back of the car for suitcase, briefcase, a pile of books iwth paper markers jutting from them and a carrier containing two bottles of Bristol Milk. He turned slowly and faced the front door, stooping slightly, his face heated and tired, with an absent smile. While he maintained this pose, the car drove off.” 145
Jenkins, Elizabeth. The Tortoise and the Hare. Introd. Hilary Mantel. London: Virago Press, 2008. Orig. pub. Victor Gollancz, 1954.