Brightness – Elizabeth Jenkins (1963)

Elizabeth Jenkins picThis was a fantastic read and I enjoyed every moment of reading this story. It’s a quiet domestic drama, middle-brow and set in a small town in the English countryside. The time period is uncertain, but it’s definitely set when cars and TVs were still new and too expensive for most people to own. There are also clear class differences within the town’s inhabitants, but that’s not too helpful in placing it in time as it seems that there are still some differences to this day.

This is also a story about family love and how it can evolve into very different forms with dramatically different conclusions. Two neighbors, Una Lambert and Marion Sugden, have a somewhat fractious friendship – Una finds Marion to be gauche and nouveaux riche, but represses her true feelings in the time-tested English fashion.  (Marion is a pretty insufferable character, TBH). Una is a widow and has less money than Marion’s family, but they both feel rich as each woman has a son of whom they are each individually very proud, different though they are.

Una’s son, Richard, is quiet, studious and thoughtful whilst Marion’s son, Derek, is brash, showy and spoilt. The character differences come to the fore in the final third of the novel when tragedy strikes the two families. Throughout the novel is an ongoing thread about Christianity – not enough to repel non-believers, but enough to make the point of Good versus Bad, the issue of forgiveness (who should forgive whom? When?) and in a rather “Agatha Christie” way, there are old vicars with small village congregations and who each have a little black Morris to drive around the countryside.

As I think about it some more, it’s clear that the church plays a pivotal role in that it’s a place where people interact with each other – a neutral space to meet, in a way.

I’ve read another book by Elizabeth Jenkins before (The Tortoise and the Hare), and recall not being particularly impressed by it. However, now I am more experienced with middle-brow domestic dramas with a sharp edge to them (e.g. Brian Moore’s Judith Hearne or perhaps Muriel Spark’s books), I wonder if I would like her other work as much.

I will definitely be reading more of Jenkins’ fiction in the future. I loved this read.

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