Friday, 28 February 2014

REVIEW: Susanna Johnston - Lettice and Victoria


“This mischievous roman à clef revolves around the interactions of five main characters. Victoria, barely twenty, finds herself acting as amanuensis to Laurence, an elderly man of letters, now blind, who lives in a ravishing house by the sea in northern Italy. Soon after her arrival, she indulges in a heady night of passion with Edgar, a youthful Englishman. Their subsequent union introduces Edgar's pretentious mother Lettice, who is jealous and suspicious of her daughter-in-law's prettiness and her ability to amuse Lettice's intellectual friends. While Victoria struggles to adapt to her new surroundings, Lettice, in a bid to maintain her own social superiority, attempts to thwart her every move in hilarious fashion. Enter Archie, one of the inner circle, whose relationship with Victoria provokes a scandal that threatens to destroy her. Darkly funny and deeply insightful, Lettice & Victoria is not just a love story with a fanciful and flawed female protagonist, but a wonderful portrait of English society.”

‘Lettice and Victoria’ follows the story of Victoria, a young woman who reads and writes letters for Laurence, a blind man who lives in a very nice house in Italy. Whilst there she meets Edgar and, from then on, seems to go from one convenience to another. Her mother-in-law, Lettice, is a fascinating character who seem rather jealous of Lettice and the effect she has on her nearest and dearest.

Although the book focuses on both Victoria and Lettice, for me Lettice is far and away the character who steals the show. She’s very reminiscent of Hyacinth Bucket from ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ (a great TV show). In fact, ‘Lettice and Victoria’ is very much all about keeping up appearances, especially from Lettice’s point of view.

The book seems to be set in years gone by based on communication methods (very letters based), the social habits in the book, and the speech – not to many the choice of names. It’s described as a ‘love story’ but I beg to differ on that part – there’s very little love or romance throughout, it’s all very much relationships for convenience. The book itself is fast paced with short chapters which is my idea of heaven when it comes to a book. I like something that keeps me turning pages and that’s one sure-fire way of getting me to do so! One of the drawbacks to this tempo is that, towards the end especially, the book can feel slightly rushed – as though the author wanted to wrap everything up quickly.

There are a few moments of humour, not enough to make me laugh aloud but certainly enough to get me smiling. The humour mostly comes from Lettice’s reaction to certain situations – she really is the stand out character for me. I love and hate her, all at once.

The relationship between Lettice and Victoria is one that a large number of people could easily relate to. Lettice is very much a person who wants to be the centre of attention and wants to appear as though she’s more than she is (much like Hyacinth Bucket) which results in Victoria biting her tongue at times and going along with things for the sake of it. Within the group of friends in the book, there’s a certain amount of bitching and back-stabbing which all of us at some stage will have experienced.

Speaking of the friendship group – golly, they’re a weird bunch. Their friendships are complicated and, at times, seem like more of a convenience than a genuine like. That being said, people in this book clearly marry for convenience so that’s to be expected, I suppose.

Maybe it’s a generation thing (I feel this book would be better suited to someone a little older than me) but I found their social habits and friendships really weird, but in a good way. I had to keep reading, I needed to know how things were going to end, if the relationship between Lettice and Victoria was going to improve, etc.

The blurb mentions a scandal that ‘threatens to destroy’ Victoria. I got the impression when reading that, for a scandal, it was fairly overlooked. That being said, the fact I’m not sure I’m talking about the right scandal (you’ll know what I mean when you read it) means that it must be a juicy read!

One of my favourite things about this book is the level of description. The setting, the characters, the whole book is so incredibly rich in description it’s easy to picture everything and get caught in the story. It sounds obvious to say but description is so helpful when it comes to setting the scene which, I feel, helps you to get something out of the book – that certain something that the author set out for you to get.

Overall, I liked this book. I enjoyed reading it and I liked the pace it went to. I find the characters slightly strange but in a captivating way. Plus, who wouldn’t like a book that reminds them so much of a great TV show?!

'Lettice and Victoria' is available to buy on Amazon: Kindle - £5.39 or Hardback - £12.99

*sent for review by Arcadia Books*