I’m always bitching about e-readers. “If we could get back to the book…”
By the time we got to Woodstock… I was too young for Woodstock.
I’m not averse to e-readers. I have a Nook. It is my friend, in a way. It doesn’t surf the net very well…thank God. It allows me to read out-of-print books I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. How many free books have I read from Project Gutenberg?
One of the best things about having an e-reader has been Bloomsbury Reader, the independent publisher Boomsbury’s collection of out-of-print novels now available as e-books. If possible, the list is better than the list of Viragos and Persephone: Monica Dickens, Angela Huth, Dirk Bogarde, E. M. Delafield, V. S. Pritchett…
I should have written about Haines’s Men on White Horses earlier. The problem with e-books, or at least with my Nook, is that if I don’t write about it right away, I can never find anything afterwards. Highlighting and bookmarks? Maybe newer e-readers can tell you exactly where you highlighted that passage.
So here goes. And I hope I’m remembering it accurately.
Men on White Horses is an intelligent, beautifully-written coming-of-age novel. it reminds me slightly of E. M. Delafield’s Consequences and Humbug: A Study in Education, though I think Haines is a better writer.
It is divided into three parts: 1907, 1911, and 1920. As a young child in 1907, Edwina is musical, but her mother, Helen, doesn’t take it seriously. When Uncle Frederick arrives, he notices Edwina’s intensity and persuades Helen to arrange music lessons.
Edwina loves her mother’s Bechstein piano, which no one plays.
But now surely it was Edwina’s piano? It was she who loved it. She’d found it, stroked the keys, struck them—what joy that first day when they’d sprung into life. Looking over now at the piano, silent, she could feel right down inside the terror of delight it had given her. It had come from her fingers, no, from inside her, no, from inside the machine, the wooden frame.”
No one in her family appreciates her. Her cruel mother regards her as a nuisance. Whether Edwina wants to study piano or Italian, her mother undermines her, telling her life is already mapped out for her.
Convent school saves her. At boarding school, she quickly carves out a place for herself. Edwina makes friends with the most popular girl in the school, Fanny, an outrageous non-conformist who paradoxically says she wants to be a nun. These two rebels are always together, which some of the others resent. They even spend holidays together, usually at Fanny’s, because it’s a more accepting household. When Edwina and Fanny go to Bay, a fishing village, to visit Fanny’s cousins, Edwina falls in love with Ben, a fisherman. They have an inter-class romance.
But the war comes…there are bombings… there are deaths…Edwina’s mother becomes hysterical and an alcoholic…Edwina is not allowed to go to London to study piano…and we feel the terror and grief.
In 1920, Edwina and Fanny go to Italy to visit Uncle Frederick and his late wife’s family. Both young women are in turmoil: they have lost people in the war, and the loud, coquettish Fanny embarrasses Edwina. It is the flapper era, and though they’re not flappers, Fanny wants to have fun to make up for the past.
Edwina just wants to study piano, but it’s obvious she is expected to marry.
The point is Edwina’s passion, brilliance, talent–and her problem fulfilling herself.
Really well-written. I loved it. I look forward to reading more novels by Haines.