The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins

I bought The Tortoise and the Hare not really knowing very much about it, but with the knowledge that it has been admired by several bloggers and by Hilary Mantel. And who could resist that cover? This fifties novel of marital discord turned out to be remarkable and one of my favorite reads of 2012.

Imogen Gresham is in her late thirties, beautiful, elegant and deferential. Gently ignored by her husband, the successful and handsome Evelyn,  and despised by her young son Gavin, Imogen doesn’t feel necessarily happy in her life, but she does feel safe and stable. When the Gresham’s country neighbor, Blanche Silcox, shows an increasing interest in Evelyn, Imogen ignores her intuition and observations, certain that the stout, frumpy Blanche would never be able to attract someone like her suave and sophisticated husband.

The restrained beauty of Jenkins’s writing perfectly reflects the subtle unfolding of this surprising tale. Imogen is a good woman, but she is incredibly passive and meek – painfully so. She can’t demand respect from either her husband or her son and this is ultimately her undoing. She commands adoration from various men because of her beauty, but her fear of Evelyn repels him. It was hard not to be completely frustrated with Imogen, but I had sympathy for her as well because Evelyn is so cold and judgmental.

I really loved Jenkins’s descriptions of the countryside. She excels at creating atmosphere and her secondary characters add humor and depth to the novel.

This was the book that truly broke me out of my reading slump. I read it in three days and longed to read it when I was doing anything else. I don’t reread novels very often, but this is one that I will definitely read again. The plot,  the authentic characters and especially the writing are all perfection.

Have you read Elizabeth Jenkins?

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends! I am thankful for many things in my life, but one of the things I am most grateful for is the connections I’ve made through this blog. Thank you all for reading and supporting my passion for novels!

8 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Well I suppose that shows how much writing can influence – the summary made Imogen sound irritating, and then your thoughts completely changed that. And I have to say that definitely added to the interest I had (a 50s book, yes please!)

  2. The role reversal of the “other woman” being the frumpy neighbor sounds intriguing. I think I’ll have to give this one a try.

  3. That is a lovely cover! I suppose Imogen is on the right, in the turquoise dress? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Elizabeth Jenkins!
    Happy Thanksgiving to you too – I hope you get a nice long weekend, though I think our libraries are open Saturday.

  4. I disliked the cover but so loved the book. I’m reading Harriet at the moment, very good – but not as good as Hare and the Tortoise. The only other one I’ve read is Dr Gully which Jenkins’ own favourite.

  5. I have this one to read in the next month or so, I borrowed it from the library after loving another of Jenkins’ novels (Brightness) earlier in the year. I suspect she has a talent for moralising stories told in interesting ways – Brightness is about two families who have very different attitudes to bringing up their sons and the outcome of the good parenting vs the bad. It sounds quite pushy in summary but the writing was beautiful and the scenario fascinating because of the ways she handled the comparisons between the characters. Sounds like this is similar, can’t wait to get to it!

  6. I liked what you said about the ‘restrained beauty’ of Jenkins’ writing. I loved this novel, too, and I like the way Jenkins hints that the other woman hasn’t ‘won’ there is a suggestion that he will soon move on to someone else. I want to re-read it now.

    1. It is such a wonderful book, one of my favorites of the year. I found the characters realistic and complex – I will definitely be re-reading it at some time in my life!

Thank you for reading and commenting.

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