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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!

28 Comments

  1. I have never read one of her novels – and I only learned about her since I started blogging. Which do you think is the best for a new reader?

  2. I’ve yet to try any Whipple but am pondering where to start. There’s a 24 hour readathon coming up in April and I think a few new-to-me authors would be a great way to celebrate! Where would you suggest I begin with her works?

    • Greenbanks is a great place to start with Whipple. It was the first of hers that I read and it really made me a fan. It is a wonderful family saga.

  3. This is the only Whipple book which I have read and I quite enjoyed it although I was annoyed by Ellen’s attitude. I would have shaken Louise warmly by the throat, but then that would have been a very different story!
    Looking forward to the Mary Stewart week.

    • Oh,yes, I wish Ellen would have wised up much sooner and listened to her intuition. She trusted Avery way too much. Louise needed a good shake, for sure!

  4. I’ve seen the cover but not actually read about it before now. I love Persephone books, though, and what you’ve said about the details fits with the few I’ve read so far – in that you can be sure of a good book if they’ve published it. Beyond that however I like the idea of the details and not minimising, it makes me think this must be quite complex and very much worth the read. Yay for the scheduled week, looking forward to it!

    • It is very complex! Whipple’s stories seem simple on the surface, but are really layered and intricate.
      I’m looking forward to Mary Stewart reading week, too!

  5. Miss Bibliophile

    The only book by Whipple I’ve read is The Priory, which I really enjoyed. That one has a few darker undercurrents but a lot of humor and satire as well. Sometimes I tend to shy away from books with sad or painful stories in favor of ones with at least chance of a happy ending, but I’ve heard many good things about this one so I”ll have to give it a try.

    • This does have an ambiguous ending – it could very well turn out happy! I liked the Priory, too, but I enjoyed Someone at a Distance more. It seemed more mature and wise.

  6. JoAnn (Lakeside Musing)

    I loved this book, as well as some of Whipple’s stories. The Priory and They Were Sisters are on my shelf…

    • I have Because of the Lockwoods on my bedside table and want to order They Were Sisters for my birthday present next month. She is a great writer.

  7. I chose this title for the Dorothy Whipple on my Classics Club list but haven’t read it yet. I’ll have to buy it as her books don’t seem to be available here.
    Glad you enjoyed it!

    • This Whipple is owned by my library and that is a shocker! I was so surprised we had it. We don’t buy things like this, at all. I will have to purchase her others from Persephone.

  8. I haven’t read anything by Dorothy Whipple yet but I’m looking forward to reading this book. It’s one of the Persephones I’ve been interested in reading for a long time and just can’t seem to get round to it. I can’t wait for the Mary Stewart week!

  9. Joan Hunter Dunn

    It was a book that really stayed with me after reading it, and reading your review brings the story & emotion back.

  10. I’ve read High Wages and Greenbanks, and I loved them both. This one is in my collection but I’m saving it for a time when life is a little less busy. It takes a special author to make the ordinary and everyday as special as Dorothy Whipple does.

    • It really does! I don’t think it is easy to write about domestic issues and make them as interesting or life-affirming as she does. She really is unique.

  11. I have not read anything by Dorothy Whipple and now would love to after your recommendation. I hope you will keep us posted about the Barbara Pym centenary and any reading activities scheduled for that. I know that you love her books as much as I do!

  12. vicki (bibliolathas / skiourophile)

    I have this on my TBR – it sounds like another excellent ‘domestic’ Persephone.

    • I do love domestic novels above any others so this was right up my alley – thanks to Persephone for publishing all of these great novels!

  13. jessicabookworm

    I haven’t read anything by Dorothy Whipple but the more I hear about her the more I think I should be!

  14. I’ve only read this one and it is very good, but oh that little French madamoiselle annoyed me!

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