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"Now we'll have to work up a schedule. And fustest, you must write to your pore little Sam ebbly week and tell how 'tis tuh hum; and second, you must keep a record of the birds and hanni-miles wot visit Tohoga House..."
Maybe you can read that for hundreds of pages, but I can't. I ended up just skipping the passages where the father speaks to his children.
Stead's most common strategy for character development is for her characters to give long lectures out loud (either to themselves or to an audience), and these lectures are tedious and repetitive.
And finally, if you do get the book, don't read the introduction by Doris Lessing until you're done with the novel. Apparently the publisher decided it was all right to provide an introduction that gives away key events in the story.
That's why it gives away the plot.
I have no idea why the idiot publisher put it first this time.
Anyway, while it takes some patience to get through Sam's babytalk and Henny's rages, there is gold all the way through. The inner life of a house and family is conveyed as in few other books, with vividness and specificity.
Just don't expect to like any of the characters, and you will be rewarded with high drama and deep insight.
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Letty is a young woman in Manhattan living during wartime largely by her wits, and the beginning twenty pages--detailing her move into a new apartment in the Village--is so marvelous that your readerly expectations become raised to a very high degree. Stead dashes them, however, once you move to her life's narrative, which mostly details a series of women in her extended family depending on men for both money and affection, and doing nearly everything they can think of doing to acquire these things. Some of her ideas are brilliant, and the sentences read gorgeously--but you keep wishing for someone to step in and cut all the repetitions. Readers may find their patience tried by the 600-some pages of very little action, and yet Letty herself remains a very memorable achievement, an addition to a gallery of heroines of such questionable scruples as Defoe's Moll Flanders or Cary's Sarah Monday.
The novel simply refuses to live - the situations don't make much sense, the characters are phoney, and the words are spewed out too easily to seem anything but insincere. A figurative undertow of the novel, nagging away at the 'realism', comes from the world of folk and fairy tales, horror and the supernatural, especially in the last third, with brief hallucinatory interruptions; but each time the otherwordly threatens, the unreal everyday comes crashing in like the heroine's ceiling.
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