Saturday, 18 October 2014

My Friend the Swallow by Jane Duncan

published 1970








[Percy is a young woman staying with narrator Janet and her husband Twice on the Caribbean island where they live]

On the morning of the regatta, Percy came down in navy slacks, white shirt and navy canvas shoes, her pony tail tied back with a fluttering bow of navy blue ribbon.

‘Pretty, isn’t she?’ Twice said to me on the veranda steps.

‘Very pretty,’ I agreed and added: ‘That hair ribbon is what Monica would call a Suivez-moi-jeune-homme and some young man is going to obey it one of these days.’…

He and Percy watched the sailing from the Peak Cliff in the grounds of the hotel, but the sailing was a secondary consideration for the regatta… was first of all a break in the routine, an opportunity to talk to people… Percy herself resembled a butterfly, swooping and loitering over a flowerbed, as she moved from one group of people to the next.



observations: This marathon series of books is lumbering towards a conclusion: I read them as a teenager and have been re-reading them all over the past 15 months. They drive me mad, but I also enjoy them greatly – though now I can’t imagine what I saw in them as a young person, they seem designed much more to appeal to someone of my current age.

The last one – The Hungry Generation – was a weaker entry and marked time somewhat. This one I remember very well from first time around, because something very dramatic happens in it, and the final pages of the book are startling (even on a second read). Given a storyline where a beautiful young woman has made friends with an older, childless couple, there are many directions in which the plot might predictably go. And as the book bumbles along with the usual picture of life on the island of St Jago, Twice and Janet benignly watching the goings-on of the young people, you do wonder what will happen. There is some love and romance and every so often a fill-in of someone’s backstory. But the final pages I found unexpectedly moving and unsentimental, with a haunting note of unvarnished truth about them.

Percy herself - you only find out late in the book why she has such an odd name, what it’s short for, (though you can guess) and it has been carefully planned - is an excellent character, very far from the stock figures Duncan sometimes creates. She reminds me of the figure of Northey in Nancy Mitford’s Don’t Tell Alfred.

It’s a great shame that no-one else seems to read Jane Duncan any more – she was a huge bestseller in her day. I would love to find someone else who had read the series recently, so I could discuss the books, but no-one seems to…. Click on the label below to read about the rest of the series.

The picture, from the Library of Congress, shows the crowd watching a regatta off Hains Point, which is in Washington DC.

10 comments:

  1. Moira - Even from that bit you've shared, it already feels as though it's the calm before the storm - as though something is going to happen. Interesting! And from the other posts you've done on Duncan, I have to say I do like her writing style. These posts have also got me to wondering how some series do stay popular and some, like Duncan's novels, fall more by the wayside, so that they're not widely read.

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    1. I know, it's an enigma isn't it? I keep hoping that my posts might rout out someone who knows more about the author and series than I do, or just someone else who reads them! No luck so far. But I have covered far more obscure (to my mind) books on the blog and had much more of a reaction...

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  2. I don't know how I could have missed (from earlier posts) that the husband's name is Twice. Or he is not the husband but might as well be? Very unusual name.

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    1. It's a weird nickname: the character's actual name is Alexander Alexander, so he is called Twice because he has the same name twice. And well-remembered - they act as if they are married, but in fact they are not because he cannot get a divorce from his starter wife.

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  3. The French term for "follow-me-lads" - a mid-Victorian term for the fluttering ribbons that streamed from the back of hats! How marvellous!

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    1. It's such a great phrase isn't it, with a lovely swing to it - I love it.

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  4. Glad you liked it, but not for me thanks. I still need to find a "Jane" to read.

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    1. I'm going to have to think of one for you - there must be one somewhere....

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  5. I love the Jane Duncan books and have read all I could find. I own a couple of them and have never known another person who has read them. I would love to talk about them with you because I have puzzled and pondered over them for years. I don't know how to post this comment because I don't have any of these accounts--I'll try anonymous, but I don't really want to be anonymous.

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    1. I'm sorry you had trouble posting, I would hate to discourage the only other person who has read Jane Duncan! They do demand to be discussed, don't they? You could always email me clothesinbooks@hotmail.co.uk

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