People sometimes ask me how I can be reading more than one book at a time -- of course the answer is 'easily'. This past week it has been almost a necessity as the one I'm going to write about soon, Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day, was such an intense experience that I could only take it in small chunks and needed something else to fill the gaps. That something else was Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim.
Now this is an author much admired by everyone, but my only previous experience of her was Elizabeth and her German Garden, which for some reason I was not struck by. But I got Vera as a free download from Girlebooks and thought I'd give her another chance. And goodness me I am glad I did.
Vera is quite a short novel but it packs a huge punch. It is the story of young Lucy Entwhistle, who, as the book begins, has just lost her beloved father. She and her aunt, who has helped to bring her up after her mother's death, are shocked and devastated by the suddenness of this event. But on the very same day, in her garden in Cornwall, Lucy meets Mr Wemyss, a handsome middle-aged man, who tells her that he is also recently bereaved, having lost his wife Vera only two weeks earlier. This coincidence of such a powerful kind draws these two people together -- Lucy finds tremendous solace in the comforting sympathy of Wemyss, and in a remarkably short time agrees to marry him, much to the surprise and distress of Miss Entwhistle her aunt.
And so the marriage takes place and soon the two are off on honeymoon. But marriage is not at all what Lucy expected, and Wemyss the married man is not at all the same as Wemyss the courting lover. And when the truth of his relationship with Vera, his previous wife, starts to emerge -- and especially when this is taken in conjunction with the very troubling circumstances of her death -- things begin to look very worrying indeed.
I was completely swept away by this book -- unputdownable is all I can say -- and the ending, which came at me totally unexpectedly, was so sudden and so shocking and so inconslusive that I was awake half the night worrying about Lucy, and her aunt, and the future of it all. In fact Miss Entwhistle in some ways turns out to be the real heroine of the story, and her final confrontation with Wemyss, though it will have absolutely no effect on this truly monstrous man, is in its own way extraordinarily satisfactory.
So -- read it, if you haven't, and if you have, tell me what YOU think is going to happen to Lucy?