Thursday 21 November 2019

Great Granny Webster

Finished November 4
Great Granny Webster by Caroline Blackwood

This short novel was shortlisted for the Booker, losing out the Paul Scott's Staying On. Philip Larkin cast the deciding vote, calling the book too autobiographical. The author herself remarked years later that it was "probably too true".
The narrator of the story is a girl and then a young woman, who was sent to stay with her great grandmother for the healthfulness of sea air as she recovered from an operation and the diagnosis of anaemia. Great Granny Webster is a severe woman, who sat in a hard chair most of the day doing nothing. There were car drives along the seafront with the window slightly opened, and occasional ventures to the library for the purpose of getting the girl books, but otherwise they never left the house. She was a well-trained girl, who tried to get along, and so she did what was expected of her: sat quietly, ate what she was served, read while sitting with her older relative, and hoped that this period of her life would soon be over.
She goes on to talk a bit about the experience with her father's sister Lavinia, a woman who lived for her own enjoyment, but enjoyed the support of many who knew her. A woman who was deeply lonely. And she learned more about her grandmother, a woman who lived in her own world, and has been put into a mental institution years before. The narrator's father died in the war, and she remembers only a bit about him. She talks to one of his best friends of his impressions of her family, and begins to learn a bit more about them.
This is an intensely felt novel, a novel of family and class, and how there is often a difference between how we see ourselves and how we are seen by others.
Blackwood was from an aristocratic family and was married to the poet Robert Lowell, for who she was often a muse.

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