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Good Behaviour: A BBC 2 Between the Covers Book Club Pick – Booker Prize Gems (Virago Modern Classics)

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Aroon is almost entirely devoid of insight and self-reflection, and so frustratingly dim that we forgive her only because most of those who surround her are, living in a Big House known as Temple Alice, worse. Take Rose, the redoubtable housemaid-turned-cook-turned nurse, who tirelessly cared for Aroon’s father, bedridden (minus one leg) and virtually helpless after a stroke, and who was not above giving him a bit of sexual relief under the blankets. I definitely seem to have different tastes to the rest of my book club (although that said, most of them didn't like any of the characters in this, either, so maybe we were in sync this time).

Keane’s friend and contemporary Elizabeth Bowen often drew successfully from this fertile ground for her own work. In the pages that follow she will make her case, reminiscing about her youth among the hunting-and-fishing classes of Ireland, a faded aristocracy dedicated to distraction even as their fortunes dwindle.

I stepped up to my reflection, then away from it, and I could find only surprise and delight in what I saw. She is right, of course, but her assertion that ‘the heroine is also the narrator, yet has no idea what is going on’ seems wide of the mark. and young adulthood, during which bosomy Aroon’s physical being is at odds with the aesthetic of the 1920s but she allows herself to have hopes of her brother’s friend, Richard.

We get milk stinking of mice, clothes reeking of paraffin and horse’s sweat, the musty odour of armpits and the ‘heavy smell’ of a body beginning to rot from bedsores.

Aroon's father is crippled during the Great War, her mother too distant and cold to bring her along in social naturalness.

Her insistence on having things her own way in that first chapter as well as some of the events in it make her decidedly unappealing. A cowardly child was a hidden sore, and a child driven to admit hatred of his pony was something of a leper in our society. It’s the sixth Molly Keane novel I have read so far – and in some ways it is pretty familiar – but there is more of the black comedy to this novel – and the characters are brilliantly conceived.Keane’s fascination with these “excellent women,” who were expected to toil socially while suppressing all private feeling, aligns her with Barbara Pym, Muriel Spark, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and the other British grandes dames of spinster lit—many of whom were themselves spinsters and widows.

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