Book Talk: They Knew Mr Knight by Dorothy Whipple

Running the Indie Book Network, it's becoming even clearer than it previously was that I'm the one whose 'reviews' are actually just emotional responses, but I say that's OK! Emotions are often what prompts me to read a book, and what prompted me to recently run a Persephone Readathon. I love reading Persephone books because I know they're going to give me, in the words of Blur, 'a sense of enormous wellbeing' (strangest pairing ever? Persephone Books and Blur...) Dorothy Whipple in particular, is the queen of comfort reading for me, although that's not to say that all of her books are actually comfortable to read. In fact my favourite of hers, They Were Sisters is distinctly uncomfortable at times, but that's another subject for another day!


They Knew Mr Knight follows the Blake family fortunes from modest beginnings to the highest of heights, alongside the enigmatic Mr Knight. It's a story about personalities really, and how far charisma can carry you, but also about what happens when everything comes crashing down. Thomas Blake is working in a business that once belonged to his family, but through mismanagement on the part of his father now doesn't. He is desperate to own it once again, and when he meets Lawrence Knight, a finance man, on the train he begins to aspire to something bigger.


The story really is told from the point of view of Celia Blake, the mother of the family, but follows the fortunes of Thomas, her husband. Celia's are the thoughts we hear the most, so we know that she doesn't always share her husbands enthusiasm and isn't as swept away by love of Mr Knight and unbridled excitement as he is and through her the reader remains grounded throughout the whirlwind story.


It isn't a hugely fast paced book, but a lot happens in not a lot of time (chronologically speaking - pages wise it's quite hefty!) giving the feeling that we have somewhat run away with ourselves and are playing catch up; a feeling which is echoed by several of the characters throughout the story. Celia and Thomas's children are all affected in different ways by the rise and fall of their fortunes. The eldest, Freda, is desperate to fit in with 'society' and early on in the story falls in with a particular group of people and her own story proceeds in something of an inevitable way. She isn't a likeable character, and is written as being perpetually out of sync with the rest of her family. Always a little removed, first through her own efforts and then because she has become someone that they no longer understand. The middle child, Ruth, was my favourite, as fictional Ruth's somehow always seem to be! She has dreams of being a writer and doesn't really let much bother her besides doing the thing she wants to do. She's much more dependable than Freda and much less out for herself and throughout the events of the story is the most involved with the family. The youngest child, Douglas, is mainly at school - events of the story dictating which particular one - and from the beginning it is clear that his father is pinning a lot of hopes on him, which everyone except Thomas seems to know is pointless as Douglas's interests lie in a completely different direction.


Something I particularly enjoy about Dorothy Whipple is the way that she never shies away from reality. Her books are never needlessly miserable, but at the same time they embrace all the ups and downs of life, and They Knew Mr Knight is no different. It's the perfect read for this time of year - chunky enough that it will last you a while, but gripping enough that you won't want to put it down. A stormy afternoon with a cup of tea and blanket is the perfect way to read it! (If you like the sound of it, we have a preloved copy in our bookshop at the moment)


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