Love Unknown, by AN Wilson

We follow the lives of three women who share a student flat in the 60's(?), now in middle-age and still friends.

This was a really well written book. I have read it before but couldn't remember it at all. It reminded me of Margaret Drabble (I must read some more of hers). Wilson has a very fluent style and writes really well without it seeming to have required any effort.

Richeldis is outwardly the most conventionally successful of the three, with a happy and stable marriage to Simon. But in fact Simon is not so perfect as he appears, and unknown to Richeldis has pursued a string of liaisons (not really affairs) without feeling that he's doing anything particularly wrong. The descriptions of Simon's motivation and inner thoughts are really good I thought.

But there are many characters who are all drawn very convincingly, including Bartle the failed priest, and Madge, Simon's mother, who is going senile but has patches of lucidity.

Couple of bits I wanted to remember:

It happened that, at the very moment all this was going on, Madge Cruden was suddenly getting older. Ageing is not a gradual process. We continue in long ageless stretches to be more or less unaffected by the passagfe of time. Then we suddenly swoop or cascade or splat on to the next stage. A young woman all at once finds that her hair has coarsened and that she has a double chin. By a similarly cruel alchemy, a middle-aged woman of bustling vigour and strength falls ill, and, when she emerges from the illness, she is old.
and, when one of the characters is in love with Simon, but he's fallen out of love with her, she sits and remembers a conversation they had while looking at a painting:
Then she added, 'Just because everything is demure on the surface does not mean that underneath there isn't a swirling tempest.' She pointed with her free hand to the demure wife. 'She's swirling, just a little.'

Then Simon had leant close and whispered in her ear, 'I'm swirling a little, too'.

Ouch, ouch, ouch. If only she did not have such total power of recall. She could remember every word spoken, every glance which they had ever exchanged. She could remember the intensity of these early moments with him and compare them with the last visit to London. Her eyes no longer quite met his. His protestations of adoration came a split second too late to be believable. But, by now, she was abject. She would accept him on any terms, however false or however cruel he chose to be.

Really good - I'm not sure why I've not read more by AN Wilson.

Completed : 09-Jun-2012

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