(All Persephone Books are in grey jackets, where they differ is the end papers which feature designs from the year of publication or thereabouts. This is the 1932 design of a printed dress fabric by Madeleine Lawrence used for Cheerful Weather for the Wedding.)
Category: Fiction/Novella – Paperback: 70ish pages – Publisher: Penguin – Source: My own shelves
First Published: 1932
Although I’ve linked to Persephone and included an image of the PB endpapers above, I actually read this in an older, Penguin edition where it was paired with An Integrated Man. It’s been on my shelves for years and I’d never read it so I was rather surprised when I took a look and saw that this story was just 70 or so pages in this edition (it’s 120 in the smaller format PB with an introduction etc). So I picked it up and swooshed through it last weekend.
The whole story takes place on one day, the day of Dolly Thatcham’s wedding, and is set at their grand house which happens to be in a very picturesque setting – up on the cliffs, looking out to sea and next door to a pretty little chapel where the wedding will take place. Dolly’s mother is appalling, her ex is present and tormented by their past together, her fiancee wants her to give up everything and go to live with him in South America (a lifestyle change that she is totally unsuited for), her family are squabbling, the guests are due and she has a bottle of booze that she’s drinking *way* too much of…
The story follows the action of the day: getting everything ready, bickering, hiding secrets, reminiscing. Things that should be said; things that shouldn’t. Will the wedding take place?
It’s a great setup and has so many possibilities for how it might play out and yet the story, short as it is, drags. I really couldn’t find a quote to share with you as so much of it feels like surface undercut with very heavy symbolism. Although there’s deeper, darker stuff going on under the surface it never really made much impression upon me and to be honest I can’t really feel too sorry for Dolly who has two unsuitable men to choose between but would rather get drunk than deal with it or even go out and find a third, more suitable one. She’s somehow depressing and un-engaging rather than vulnerable or lost.
In fact, I am sure it is the setting and the premise that are being borrowed for the film rather than the original story which is being fleshed out. Joking with another reader on Twitter I suggested it’s probably 30 minutes of plot and dialogue and 60 minutes of shots of pretty dresses, the house it all takes place in, the pretty little church next door, atmospheric shots of the restless sea and the timeless cliffs… And then I read the interview with the screenwriter which I linked below which says they switched out one very straightforward house-based scene with a rather inexplicable barn dance. Hmmm.
I’m not sure I can recommend either the book or the film to those who have similar tastes. I’ve linked to a handful of reviews below and you can see that they really range from 10/10 to ‘meh’. To this very divided chorus I can only really give it a slightly underwhelmed 6/10.
Rating: 6/10 (Book Review Scale)
Other Thoughts: Interview with the film’s screenwriter, Stuck in a Book, Reading 1900-1950, Bibliolathas (redux), Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, The Captive Reader, We Be Reading, Chasing Bawa, Sam Still Reading, The Worm Hole