Monday, 5 July 2010

Mother and son (Compton-Burnett) 394

I've never read any Ivy Compton-Burnett, and am glad to have had the chance to experience her through my Virago venture, as she is quite an eminent writer, and one whom fellow blogger Simon from Stuck-in-a-book enthuses about. In fact it was Simon who kindly lent me a Virago copy of Mother and Son. Mother and son is also one of the VMCs that won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, so seemed as good a place to start as any.

It's the story of a family, centring around the matriarch Miranda. We meet her in search of a companion, interviewing but not finding favour with one Miss Burke. Miss Burke is then dispatched by the family cook to another household, this time of two spinsters, where she may be suited. The two households become linked, and the story provides a chance for Compton-Burnett to explore questions about family relationships.

I most liked the domesticated setting of this novel - reminiscent of good Persephone books - although the book purports to be set in the late 19th century, as the introduction points out, it seems to reflect more the time in which it was written (1950s) with its emphasis on shortages and disquiet surroundinmg excessive consumption of cake. What I did not like so much was the endless stream of dialogue between family members which threatened to take over the narrative. I'm not yet won over by ICB, but since I have three more of her books to sample on my Virago reading list, I may yet be. This has been published just once, with an italic green cover.


  1. To enjoy ICB you definitely need to give in to the endless stream of dialogue. Not always easy.

  2. hello, just thought i'd pop over and ay hello. I have this book and tried to read it a while ago, but it just didn't grab me. I may have to try again soon. I love your blog by the way, and I'm incredibly jealous that you own so many viragos that I dont!

  3. Thomas - I think you may well be right - is that characteristic of ALL of her books.

    LE - I don't own ALL of the Viragoes that I've reviewed, I've borrowed quite a lot from friends and the library. But I do own a good hundred or so...