Ellen North lives at Netherfold with her publisher husband Avery. Her children live away from home; Hugh is in the army and Anne is at school, but they visit during breaks and adore their parents and their beautiful home. Their grandmother, Mrs. North, lives quite close by and is bored and lonely so she engages a bitter and sophisticated French girl, Louise, as her companion. As soon as Louise enters their lives their happy landscape is changed. She brings out the haughtiness in Mrs. North, causes Ellen to doubt her own attractiveness and ultimately tears the family apart when she starts a bold and dangerous affair with Avery. When the affair is discovered, all the joy and closeness they’d enjoyed is suddenly shattered.
Dorothy Whipple doesn’t bring us an original plot in Someone at a Distance – there are countless books about happy families being ruined by home wreckers. What she does bring is a heightened sense of feeling and drama to the familiar storyline. I felt the pain that Ellen endures when she loses her husband, her panic over how to support herself financially, her concern and despair over how her children will come through the betrayal. Whipple doesn’t minimize the small, everyday changes that are caused by divorce and heartbreak – her books are so achingly real. And that’s why I like them. I like that I can relate to her characters, to their foolishness, pride, fear and pettiness. And I can also relate to the tender mercies that make their lives better and bearable.
Someone at a Distance is really a very sad book, but it is one that is brilliant in its characterizations and in outlining how a very happy marriage and home can slowly be destroyed by tiny omissions and the subtle maneuvering of one very lonely and misunderstood young woman.
Have you read Someone at a Distance? What is your favorite Whipple novel?
Save the Date: Mary Stewart Reading Week will be September 15-22, 2013!