This review has been a long time coming for various reasons, most of which were just that September has been crazy! I'm excited to be talking about a book that I really enjoyed today, part of the British Library's Women Writers collection, Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay.
This is a new series from British Library Publishing where they are bringing back to life works by forgotten women writers from the early 20th century. We included another title from the series, My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes in our most recent box, and I was really excited to have the chance to review Dangerous Ages as this series is shaping up to be one that I am likely to buy every title from.
I had no previous experience of Rose Macaulay, but she was quite a prolific writer in the early party of the 20th century, publishing her final books in the 1930s. Dangerous Ages is a hugely enjoyable book to read and I will be seeking out more of her work.
The novel is quite domestic in tone, focusing on the lives of three generations of women in a family, and the way that societal expectations of a woman's role play into each of their lives depending on the generation that they belong to. Beginning with Neville, who is the middle generation, as she celebrates her forty-third birthday and muses on what she has achieved with her life so far and her expectations versus the reality. The book also follows her younger, and less conventional sister, Nan, who is toying with the idea of marriage and refusing to conform to expectations. Alongside Neville and Nan we see glimpses of Neville's daughter Gerda (and her son Kay) who are at University and deep in strong philosophical and political stances that they feel they absolutely must cling to at all costs, in the way that young people often do. To round out the worldview we have Neville and Nan's mother, who also celebrates a birthday - her sixty-third - in the course of the story. She spends a lot of time telling people how she has no purpose in her life since her husband died and doesn't seem to really have any interests or self motivation and pretty much sits around complaining and waiting for her children to come and see her (can you tell she wasn't my favourite character?).
Neville once had dreams of becoming a doctor, which were derailed by marriage and motherhood, and she decides that now her children are mostly grown she may as well go back to school and study to become a doctor. Nan meanwhile is deciding whether marrying Barry would tie her down too much, and Gerda has strong opinions but no actual experience of life and pretty much just drifts along letting things happen to her.
I really enjoyed the distinct voices of all of the characters, and as they're all a family they spend a fair amount of time gossiping to each other about the ones that aren't there, and I felt like I was getting to hear what everyone really thinks. Dangerous Ages has quite a confidential tone, and feels a little like tagging along on a family outing in many ways. It's quite clear that basing your entire existence around your husband and having no hobbies or side projects of your own (as Mrs Hillary, Neville's mother has done) is not the way to go, and the portrayal of Mrs Hillary confirms this as she really doesn't have much going for her before she discovers psychoanalysis later in the book!
The books in the British Library Women Writers series are beautifully put together and thoughtfully introduced so you will learn lots about the period and the writer as well as getting a great story.
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