Feeling at home/Not feeling at home


It’s a while since I posted here, for the excellent reason that I have been moving house, and yes of course it is  hard going, and my books are stacked away in boxes, and I can’t find anything. But the outcome will be wonderful, and I like my new house very much.

This book seemed a very suitable one in the circumstances – it is very much about making sure you feel happy in your own home….


Not at Home by Doris Langley Moore

Published 1948





On the step was a woman laden with flowers, a wonderfully smart woman with a white cloth coat, a yellow taffeta turban draped in the newest style, and white wedge-heeled shoes as complex as a Chinese puzzle. Her hair was pale gold and her ivory-coloured face suggested rather than achieved the most extraordinary beauty.


I very much liked the first book I read by Doris Langley Moore, All Done by Kindness, so moved on to this one – as recommended by  Dame Eleanor Hull in the comments and on her own blog, of course with the mention of the white coat and yellow turban. I couldn’t get a picture of the two together, but I did like the idea. Other people have mentioned it to me too - what a compliment it is that people should read about a great outfit and think of Clothes in Books. 

Not At Home has a simple concept, and if formulaic wasn’t seen as an insult you would use that word. Nice, kindly, settled Miss MacFarren has a big house in London, full of lovely things: it is just after WW2, and she takes in a highly-recommended lodger, thinking this will make life easier.

Although Miss MacFarren takes a while to realize, it is obvious to the reader that the satisfying setup must be that the superficially attractive Antonia Bankes is the lodger from hell, and is going to be extremely difficult to shift. This is a light comedy of manners (Antonia is not a murderer), and that’s more or less it, but it is a fabulously inventive and hilarious book, as the appalling Antonia – so nice! So pretty! Such lovely clothes! – finds more and more ways to be the worst tenant in the world. There is a splendid American husband, a noted war correspondent – Miss MacF says ‘I always think of Americans as either Henry James men or O Henry men’.

There is also a nephew in the film business, and the rather marvellous Maxine who hangs around with him:

Maxine was wearing a velvet bonnet trimmed with white swansdown which emphasized quite touchingly her look of dewy freshness and innocence.



 

This isn’t the hat but it’ll do - and if you added swansdown this one too.


Maxine is appearing in a film based on Cranford

‘Is it Mrs. Gaskell’s Cranford?’ [Miss MacFarren asked]. ‘That’s such a favourite of mine.’

‘Then you’d better keep away from the picture,’ said Maxine.

And it is a running joke how very far from the original this film wanders:

‘I’m getting so sick of that drunken sequence from Cranford. They seem to have been cutting it for weeks.’

The film-making scenes put me in mind of similar in John Dickson Carr’s And So To Murder, Lissa Evans’ Their Finest Hour and a Half, and Vesna Goldsworthy’s Monsieur Ka.

The author, speaking through Miss MacFarran (one assumes) takes a swipe at double standards:

What right had Mory to aspire to a virtuous woman? Or, to do him justice, since he had never shown the slightest interest in any such object, what right had his relatives to aspire after virtuous womanhood on his behalf.

Miss MacF wears an amethyst velvet dress for a marvellous night out.

The sight of herself in her amethyst velvet dress, when she studied her reflection in the numerous and spacious mirrors of the ladies’ room, was extremely heartening. The alterations had been a thorough success, and her new corset, a well-justified extravagance, took inches off her waist and hips without discomfort.



 

And – well – it’s not a spoiler to say that there is a long setup of the appalling Antonia’s endless misbehaviour, enjoyably horrifiying, and HOW will it be curtailed? But it is worth it for the final sorting out of everything.

And, as always, how wonderful that the Dean St Press has brought back this gem, along with all the others it finds.

The friend with an antique shop reminded me of the one in some of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s excellent short stories. There is also a very definite similarity with the works of Margery Sharp, you can imagine some of the characters in either book – a very good thing in my view.

Top pictures from Kristine's photostream

Velvet dress: the photograph is from the state library of Queensland's collection, and is featured on Flickr.

Comments

  1. I know all about moving house, Moira! I moved house on 1 June, and we still have plenty of things to do! I hope you'll love your new place, and that you settle in well. As to the book, it sounds hilarious in parts. Those novels that can poke fun like that can be real gems, and I'm glad this one turned out that way for you. And, yes, here's Dean Street and all of other hardworking publishers who are bringing back some of these hidden treasures.

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    1. Oh a fellow-feeling Margot! We have been through the same traumas 😉 - awful isn't it?
      So yes we need to find and recommend nice enjoyable books to share with each other!

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  2. I hope you will be very happy in your new home and will soon have those books sorted. I can talk; I still have some in boxes.

    Dean Street sent me Not at Home when they reprinted it and I loved it. As you say, there's an enjoyable horror in wondering what dreadful thing Antonia will do next.

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    1. Yes it was an excellent plot, she did not run out of ideas for appalling behaviour.
      Thanks for the good wishes. The boxes will be there for a while, we can live with them. I need new bookshelves...

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  3. I know all about moving, I moved a lot during my life though not in the last twenty years where I lived in the worst place ever for me. When we finally got away two years ago, I felt at home right away because I was welcomed, I don't have my children nearby, that's impossible, but my three brothers all live here and we have quite a few friends.

    So, I hope you will find the welcome we got, then it will feel like being at home soon.

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    1. Oh thank you for the kind thoughts and I am glad that you have found the right place. I think we have too.

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    2. That's wonderful. Congratulations.

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  4. Oh, thank you for this! I'm glad you enjoyed the book. Love the picture for Maxine! Good luck/bon courage to you and all the movers in the comments! I moved a year ago and we're still not completely unpacked---many boxes of books remain in the garage, and I'm waiting to find the right china cabinet before getting out my grandmother's china.

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    1. It was an excellent recommendation, thank YOU! and thanks for the good wishes - we are unpacking at a leisurely pace, we will get there.

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  5. This sounds great fun and a good comfort read, which I guess magically carried you away from the horror of moving. You've reminded me of a lovely Victoria Wood send-up of the Cranford/Lark Rise to Candleford type of Sunday evening drama. I expect you could find it online.

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    1. Oh I remember the Victoria Wood, it was fabulous, absolutely hilarious. I would love to see that again, it was so well done. She had such a talent for parodies - I also remember Plots and Proposals, Jane Austen spoof with lovely Alan Rickman.

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    2. Thanks for mentioning that - I have watched it. Wonderful ...

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    3. Victoria Wood was so endlessly inventive and funny - much missed.

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  6. Moving is the worst. I hope you are able to unpack leisurely.

    I have Doris Langley Moore on my mental list. Glad to hear you enjoyed this.

    White clothing is always intriguing - in one of the Betsy-Tacy books, Betsy has a white wool party dress in 1909 that has interested me for years.

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    1. Thanks for good wishes. We will get there, and we are just happy to be settled in new place.

      I very rarely wear white clothes, and bought a pair of cream trousers this summer. I absolutely love them, but they need so much washing! If I want to wear them in the evening I can't wear them during the day because I am sure to spill something...

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  7. This sounds like a lovely book and I will look into the author.

    I hope you have had a good experience with moving house, as good as is possible. I have not moved in a long time and I would hate to have to go through and pare down stuff (which I need to do anyway).

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    1. I think you might enjoy this Tracy because of the post-war setting, as well as because it is very entertaining!
      We hadn't moved for a long time, and now that we have, I can see it is a good thing to do because it makes you sort things out...

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