Saturday, 2 August 2014

Aren't We Sisters by Patricia Ferguson: Part 2

published 2014










[She] shrugged herself out of the shapeless raincoat and nondescript hat, and handed them over, revealing a very neat beautifully fitted suit of fine dark-red wool. Then she took off the heavy spectacles, shook her dark hair back into place, and flashed Rae a quick hard glance of startling silver-grey.

It was instantly clear to her that Mrs Bright was in fact a person with her own species of glamour, her own formidable style. Rae was frightened for a second, watching as Mrs Givens carefully hung the terrible old coat on a hanger, understanding that it was a sort of costume or disguise….

Rae stared up at her. ‘Nice suit… It’s not Molyneux is it?’

Mrs Bright raised her delicate eyebrows. ‘Why isn’t it?’

‘Sorry.’

‘It’s okay,’ said Mrs Bright, with a little shrug. ‘It’s fake Molyneux. Via this place I know round the back a Victoria Station.’

‘Oh. Well it’s a jolly good fit.’





observations: In an earlier entry on this book I said how much I liked it, even more than an earlier book by Ferguson. In both novels, there are themes of photographs, eyes and vision, and nursing – all play a huge part. She looks, for example, at the way a photograph can have meaning put on it afterwards: so if you title something ‘July 1914’ then you are saying Before, even though no-one in the picture knew what was about to happen to their world - for the UK, 100 years ago on Monday.

There are moments of beautiful writing – ‘I have opened the heartbreak-box, she thought, remembering Pandora’ and of head-shaking strangeness: Freddy playing the piano for a silent film, although he is blind and has to have the events on screen described to him. His sister Alice’s form of revenge later, as she sits with him in her pearls, hat and high heels – an image that will live with me forever. I loved Rae asking this question: ‘Gosh – don’t you wish you were the sort of person who had a dear old nurse, Lettie? I know I do’ – don’t we all.

The keepsakes from the Foundling Hospital give the reader an extraordinary moment of unexpected love and sadness.

And then of course there is a lot of interest in clothes.

The trouble some women got into, wearing clothes that didn’t back them up, that actively contradicted them! If you meant yes and your dress said no, how was a man to find his way? Different sort of trouble the other way about. Fact was, men only saw the obvious. Or only the stronger signal. A lot of women did too.
There’s the doctor’s wife with her extraordinary hat ‘of sleekly tucked and feathered velvet, perched sideways on her head as if ready to take flight all by itself.’ Like this one by Lanvin?




Then there's the Vionnet coat with the ‘discreetly splendid cuffs’ – like this one from 1930?




Ferguson is a writer unlike any other, but the nearest contemporary comparison would be Sarah Waters (Night Watch on the blog here), and she is right up there with Waters in quality too.

Ferguson says the suit in the extract was inspired by a real one – so maybe it was the Molyneux suit in the picture. The Vionnet coat came from the same source, Dovima is Devine.

12 comments:

  1. 'Molyneux' is such a wonderful word - just saying it triggers all sorts of delightful images, to which I can now add that suit. Gorgeous.

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    1. Yes I agree with you, it rolls off the tongue nicely doesn't it....

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  2. Moira - Oh, if I could have that suit, perhaps in a lovely turquoise or perhaps navy! Gorgeous indeed! This sounds like one of those books that's quite poignant in at least some places without being maudlin. That's hard to do well. And the characters really do sound well-rounded.

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    1. I think we could all do with a suit like that, in different colours to suit our own colouring. And yes, really good book.

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  3. I love that suit. When I was in a doctor's waiting room a year ago or so, in walked a woman wearing a suit like that with a matching hat and coat, and high heels with a thick sole and thick heels. I was fascinated and talked to her.

    All of her clothes are vintage, and while she used to visit vintage sales shops, now she buys them online from etsy and others.

    Imagine walking around dressed as if one came right out of a 1940s movie! Rosalind Russell had nothing on this snazzy dresser!

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    1. Rosalind Russell was great though, wasn't she? I always associate her with those little hats perched at an angle on the top of her head. I admire anyone modern with the patience to seek out those clothes...

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  4. I'm captivated by the pictures and your take on this book. As you say it is only 'before' now; an odd perspective. I particularly enjoyed the section about how the women had to dress both to attract a mate but repel assumptions being made that weren't correct.

    http://cleopatralovesbooks.wordpress.com

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    1. Yes I thought that was a striking comment, in that when you read it you think it is very true, but it's not something I had seen expressed like that before.

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  5. The author sounds interesting, the book sounds interesting. I will have to add it to my list.

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    1. I think you would enjoy it Tracy, it was a truly interesting and unusual novel.

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  6. Hand on heart I'm not going to be reading this, but if I did let my guard down I might enjoy it, maybe.
    Playing word association with MOLYNEUX, gives me Wolverhampton Wanderers, they play at MOLINEUX.

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    1. I think I can pretty much guarantee you that there is no mention of Molineux in the book, nor of any kind of football....

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