All I knew about this book when I started reading it was that it involved a collection of family papers, centered around a Regency gentleman. I have noticed that Margaret Kennedy often used fictional letters or other documents in her stories. In those I have read, they serve to contrast how something happens with how it is remembered later - and to show how it is frequently mis-remembered and misunderstood. The documents also show that even those close to an event don't always know the full story. This tension is at the heart of two of my favorites, The Wild Swan and A Long Time Ago. She must have enjoyed creating her fictional documents, her stories within stories.
In Troy Chimneys, we have the reminiscences of Miles Lufton, written while he is recovering from a hunting accident, in the country rectory where he grew up. A Prologue dated 1879 tell us
In letters and journals of the Regency occasional reference is made to a person called Pronto who is generally mentioned as a fellow guest in a country house.
Conscientious researchers have identified him with a certain Miles Lufton, M.P.; he sat for West Malling, a borough in the pocket of the Earl of Amersham, and he held an important post at the Exchequer during the years 1809-1817. He spoke frequently and well in the House, in support of Vansittart's financial policy. Nothing else is known of him save that he could sing...
In the 1879 framing story, Miles's manuscript has been sent to someone who is researching a friend of his, Lord Chalfont, the heir to the Earl of Amersham. There are letters back and forth with the researcher, which give some information not found in the manuscript. It is an interesting device, to be reading about people reading about the main character. It would put him at a distance, except that we have his own words in his reminiscences, which bring him to life. We learn about his early life, how he came to a career in politics, and how his "Pronto" persona developed. I didn't like Pronto much. He does everything with calculation and an eye to its effect. He is an apple-polisher and brown-noser par excellence. Miles doesn't really like him either, and in fact he almost seems to have developed a split personality. Pronto is in charge most of the time, while Miles watches (and disapproves). Only with his accident and long recovery does Miles emerge. In writing his memoirs, Miles seems to be struggling toward an integration of the Miles-side of himself and the Pronto-side. It is very interesting to watch, and I thought Margaret Kennedy handled that story really well.
But how she chose to end the story is another matter. It's well done, but it's just wrong. It's her story of course, and she was free to end it as she pleased, as she felt it should end. But it's still wrong. And I just need to accept that, and let it go. Or maybe try writing my own ending. Meanwhile, I'm off to read Mary Stewart, because I still need happy endings (a dolphin has just been rescued, and that dolphin better live happily ever after).
I've been longing to read another Margaret Kennedy, after meeting her last year ... but maybe not this one?ReplyDelete
It's really well done, and interesting. I'm glad I read it, but I'm also glad it wasn't my introduction to Margaret Kennedy. I might say put it further down your reading list?Delete
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,ReplyDelete
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
(don't mind me, I'm just excited that you're reading This Rough Magic)
Oh yes, and enjoying it very much! I think I'll have to find a copy of The Tempest as well. I've seen it on stage (in Stratford, no less) but I don't think I've ever read it.Delete
Oh, how maddening. I've read a rave review of this book, I knew it had won the John Tait Black Memorial Prize, and so I was saving it for Margaret Kennedy Day.ReplyDelete
Dolphins sound much more fun, particularly as I'm sat in an office with the sun shining through the window and wind blowing through the trees that will take the temperature right down when I step outside.
Jane, I thought I remembered reading it had won that prize, and I can see why. It's very good - I should have said so more clearly in my post. I don't want to discourage anyone from reading it, and I'd be particularly interested to see what you thought of it.Delete
I still have a couple of books ready for Margaret Kennedy Day!
Oh, This Rough Magic! The perfect cure to a traumatic reading experience. Have you read The Moonspinners? It might be my favorite.ReplyDelete
I haven't read The Moonspinners, but I loved My Brother Michael - which might be my favorite :)Delete
I knew about the ending before I started the book, which I think helped. Knowing what was in store, I was able to enjoy how Kennedy got there and I loved the journey. Certainly my favourite of her books that I've read so far.ReplyDelete
I think I will appreciate this book more on re-reading, now that the shock is over. It's partly the stupidity of how it happened (not on Miles's part).Delete
But I love family papers! That sounds amazing! What happens at the end that's so bad it makes the rest of the book not worthwhile???? (I believe you, I am just sad about it.)ReplyDelete
Oh, it didn't ruin the rest of the book at all - it's really well done. But it made me sad & mad. I sent you an email with the details (probably more than you wanted to know), to avoid spoilers for those who don't read the end :)Delete