The Feast by Margaret Kennedy

It would have been Margaret Kennedy’s birthday today and she is the next author to be featured in Jane’s Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors. Having only read three Margaret Kennedy novels – The Constant Nymph, Lucy Carmichael and Troy Chimneys – I still have a lot of her books to choose from, but I decided on The Feast for this year’s Margaret Kennedy Day as I’ve seen several people name it as a favourite. Now that I’ve read it myself I can understand why!

The Feast was published in 1950 and is set three years earlier, in the summer of 1947. The novel follows a week in the lives of a group of guests who are staying at Pendizack Hotel on the coast of Cornwall. The week will end in tragedy when part of the cliff collapses on the hotel, killing everyone inside. This is not a spoiler because the book opens with a prologue in which we see the Reverend Bott attempting to write a sermon in memory of the dead. We also know that there will be some survivors – but the identities of those who will live and those who will die won’t be revealed until the end of the book.

The hotel is owned by the Siddals, although it’s Mrs Siddal who does all the work while her lazy husband does nothing at all and their three sons, now adults, make their own plans for the future. The housekeeper, Mrs Ellis, is a bitter, resentful woman who spends most of her time gossiping about other people, so the Siddals are relying more and more on the maid, Nancibel, a friendly, kind-hearted local girl.

The guests are a varied and not particularly pleasant group of people. They include Sir Henry Gifford, his selfish wife and their four children (three of whom are adopted); Mrs Cove, a cold and heartless woman who has very little affection for her three neglected daughters; the Paleys, a couple whose marriage has been strained since the loss of their child several years earlier; bad-tempered, overbearing Canon Wraxton and his long-suffering daughter Evangeline; Anna Lechene, an unscrupulous, irresponsible writer who is working on a new book about the Brontës, and her chauffeur, a handsome young man called Bruce who tells lies to make himself sound more interesting.

I was aware before I started the book that Margaret Kennedy had based the personalities of some of her characters on the Seven Deadly Sins and this added an extra layer of interest as I matched up different characters with different sins as I read. There are some obvious villains in the novel – Mrs Cove, Lady Gifford and Canon Wraxton are particularly nasty – but others have a mixture of good and bad qualities. I knew which characters I wanted to survive and which I didn’t, but life is not always fair and people don’t always get what they deserve, so there was still an element of suspense as the story moved towards its tragic conclusion.

I loved following the lives of the Siddals, their guests and their servants. Bearing in mind that the whole story takes place over the course of just seven days, there’s an impressive amount of character development with people making life-changing decisions, searching for happiness and taking control of their own futures. With over twenty characters all playing important roles in the novel, some authors would have struggled to make each man, woman and child different and memorable, but Margaret Kennedy succeeds and the result is a really enjoyable and absorbing read. It’s probably my favourite of her books so far – although I did love Troy Chimneys as well!

Margaret Kennedy Day: Lucy Carmichael

For this year’s Margaret Kennedy Day, hosted by Jane at Beyond Eden Rock, I decided to read Lucy Carmichael, Kennedy’s tenth novel, published in 1951. With so many of her books still unread to choose from – I’ve previously read only The Constant Nymph and Troy Chimneys – I had no real reason for picking this one over the others, but it’s one of Jane’s favourites so I hoped I had made a good choice!

Lucy Carmichael, as you would expect, follows the story of Lucy Carmichael who, as the novel opens, is preparing for her wedding to Patrick Reilly. It should be one of the happiest days of Lucy’s life, but instead it is one of the worst: Patrick doesn’t turn up, the wedding doesn’t take place and Lucy is left devastated. As she tries to come to terms with what has happened, she decides that if she is to move on with her life she needs to get away and start again in a place where nobody knows about her past. And so she jumps at the chance to take a new job at an arts institute in another town, which sounds like just the sort of change she needs.

Settling into her new home and new job in Ravonsbridge, Lucy makes new friends, forms new relationships and becomes a valued member of the community. Eventually she will even have the chance to love again, although it will take her a while to get to that point as she now has different priorities and more experience, and wants to get things right this time. Apart from the drama of the opening scenes this is not a very dramatic story, but there is still a lot going on in Lucy’s life and I won’t delve into the plot in any more detail as I wouldn’t want to spoil any little surprises for future readers.

Margaret Kennedy shows a lot of understanding and sympathy for Lucy’s situation; being jilted at the altar is, thankfully, not something I have experienced myself but if it did happen I hope that I would have the strength to react the way Lucy does, with dignity and resilience, rather than allowing her heartbreak and humiliation to destroy the rest of her life. Lucy is also lucky that she has a close and loyal friend – Melissa – who keeps in touch with her after she leaves home, and although the story of their friendship is told mainly in the form of letters, it was one of my favourite aspects of the book.

But although I did enjoy this book – very much so – I couldn’t quite love it. I thought the story lost its way a little bit during the second half of the book and while Lucy’s work in the community was still interesting to read about, I wasn’t as absorbed as I was at the beginning. Last year for Margaret Kennedy Day I read Troy Chimneys, which turned out to be one of my books of the year; of all Kennedy’s novels, I suspect that was the perfect one for me and that I can’t expect the others to satisfy all of my personal reading tastes in quite the same way. Still, it was lovely to meet and get to know Lucy!

Have you read Lucy Carmichael or anything else by Margaret Kennedy? Are you taking part in this year’s Margaret Kennedy Day?

My Commonplace Book: June 2016

A summary of this month’s reading, in words and pictures.

commonplace book
a notebook in which quotations, poems, remarks, etc, that catch the owner’s attention are entered

Collins English Dictionary



“Do you know what, that does interest me. Not the fact that he was popular before he was arrested. He’s a good-looking man, there’s nothing remarkable in that. What fascinates me is the number of women who, by all accounts, write to him in prison. Why would they do that, do you think?”

“All notorious killers have a fan club,” he says.

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton (2016)


Oh, there was pomp and pageantry and all the splendour of trumpets and gold brocade and wine flowing from the conduits, but there was something more that I can only think of as passion – the passion of a queen for her people and of the people for their queen. Already Elizabeth had the gift of investing the most ordinary action with an almost symbolic nobility, and, conversely, the ability to draw a touch of humanity from the most solemn ceremony.

The Virgin Queen by Maureen Peters (1972)


At heart he could not abide sense in women. He liked to see them as silly, as light-headed, as vain, as open to ridicule as possible, because they were then in reality what he held them to be, and wished them to be — inferior, toys to play with, to amuse a vacant hour, and to be thrown away.

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë (1849)


Katherine of Aragon

Katherine thanked him, drew the curtains and huddled back into her furs. She had found Prince Henry a little disturbing. He was a handsome boy, with undeniable charm, and even in those brief moments he had dominated the courtesies. Arthur had been reserved and diffident, and she could not stop herself from wondering how different things would have been had she been betrothed to his brother. Would she have felt more excited? More in awe? She felt disloyal even thinking about it. How could she be entertaining such thoughts of a child of ten? Yet it was so easy to see the future man in the boy. And it was worrying to realise how effortlessly Arthur could be overshadowed by his younger brother. Pray God Prince Henry was not overambitious!

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen by Alison Weir (2016)


He claims to be himself the author of the nickname. Signor Pronto, he says, was a character in a popular farce, — a most obliging person who always turned up in the nick of time to arrange matters for everybody. The catch word of the farce was: Pronto will manage it! Some great lady was lamenting the difficulties of arranging charades at her country house party; ‘But,’ she cried, ‘I expect Mr. Lufton tomorrow and he will manage it for me.’ At which Crockett, who was present, said: ‘Oh ay! Pronto will manage it.’ After that they all called Lufton Pronto behind his back.

Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy (1953)



Catrin woke and stared round in the dim light of a flickering fire. Her heart was pounding from the horror of the dream. The dream she had shared, did she but know it, with another woman; a dream she had dreamt recently, at home in Sleeper’s Castle. But she wasn’t at home. She pulled her cloak around her, shivering, confused as to where she was. Then she remembered.

Sleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine (2016)


She had not come to God with her wreath or with her sins and sorrows, not as long as the world still possessed a drop of sweetness to add to her goblet. But now she had come, after she had learned that the world is like an alehouse: The person who has no more to spend is thrown outside the door.

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (1920)


Favourite books this month: Kristin Lavransdatter, Daisy in Chains and Troy Chimneys

Margaret Kennedy Day: Troy Chimneys

Margaret Kennedy Day

My first taste of Margaret Kennedy’s writing came in 2014 when I read The Constant Nymph as part of a reading week hosted by Jane of Beyond Eden Rock. I enjoyed it – enough to want to read more of her work – but I had a feeling that there might have been another book that would have been a better choice. And I was right. For Jane’s second Margaret Kennedy celebration I decided to read Troy Chimneys – and it was the perfect book for me!

Troy Chimneys Troy Chimneys is set in Regency England and tells the story of one man with two very different sides to his personality. To society he is ‘Pronto’, an ambitious young politician who is always charming, obliging and eager to please. To his family and close friends he is simply Miles Lufton, quiet, serious and inclined to disapprove of Pronto and his actions. Lufton thinks of Miles and Pronto almost as two separate people and his inability to reconcile his public persona with his private one will lead to disappointment and tragedy.

The story of Miles Lufton and Pronto unfolds when one of his descendants – a gentleman living in the Victorian era – decides to amuse himself by delving into his family history. After corresponding with some Irish cousins, he receives a set of letters, journals and memoirs and begins to piece together the details of his ancestor’s life. There may have been hints in the correspondence at the beginning of the book as to the course Miles Lufton’s life would take; I’m not sure because once I started reading his own account in his own words, the framing story started to fade away and I was there, in the England of the early 19th century, experiencing events through the eyes of Miles and Pronto.

Although Lufton’s memoirs do touch on Pronto’s career in politics, the focus is mainly on Miles’ personal life: his family background; the rural community in which he grows up and the relationships between the different classes of people who live there; his time at university; the friendships he forms with the eccentric Ludovic, Lord Chalfont, and with an American farmer called William Hawker; his romantic entanglement with a young French girl and his later love for Caroline Audley. There are funny moments, but sad ones too and because Kennedy makes us care so much for Miles, we share in his emotions and feel for him when things don’t turn out as he had hoped.

Troy Chimneys Vintage I was so impressed by the writing and by Margaret Kennedy’s grasp of the period (or periods, as there are really two) in which the story takes place. The Victorian letters felt authentic and Miles Lufton’s own narrative style felt so much like the voice of a Regency gentleman that I could easily forget I was reading a book written in the 1950s and by a woman. Kennedy never overwhelms the reader with period details, yet there is never any doubt as to the eras in which the novel is set.

I am nearly at the end of this post and still haven’t even mentioned the Troy Chimneys of the title! Troy Chimneys – the name comes from the French Trois Chemins, meaning Three Lanes – is a house in the Wiltshire countryside which Miles buys but doesn’t actually live in himself. He plans to retire there when he is older, after he has achieved all there is to achieve in politics and can say goodbye to his alter ego forever. It’s going to be a house for Miles, not for Pronto: a representation of the life he really wants to lead and the kind of person he really wants to be.

In case I haven’t made it clear enough, I loved this book! It’s nothing like The Constant Nymph and that makes me even more curious about the rest of Margaret Kennedy’s novels.

The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy

The Constant Nymph This week Jane of Fleur in her World has been hosting a Margaret Kennedy Reading Week. Margaret Kennedy is a new author for me so I could have chosen to read any of her books (they all sound intriguing in different ways), but I decided to go with The Constant Nymph, as I’d received a copy from NetGalley a while ago. The Constant Nymph was published in 1924 and is probably Margaret Kennedy’s best-known book.

At the beginning of the novel, Lewis Dodd, a talented young composer is on his way to the Tyrol to visit his friend and fellow musician, Albert Sanger, who lives in a chalet in the Alps with his large family. Sanger has seven children – with three different mothers – and they are known collectively as ‘Sanger’s circus’. Lewis has been a frequent visitor to the chalet for years and the children consider him almost part of the family, but for fourteen-year-old Teresa (Tessa) he’s something more than that: he is the man she has loved for as long as she can remember. Lewis loves Tessa too, but as he is more than twice her age, they don’t tell each other how they feel.

When Albert Sanger dies unexpectedly, Sanger’s circus is broken up; the two eldest children, Caryl and Kate, decide to start new lives elsewhere, while Sanger’s current mistress, Linda, moves out of the family home with her young daughter, Susan. Tessa’s sixteen-year-old sister, the wild and free-spirited Antonia, marries her lover Jacob Birnbaum, so that only Tessa and her two younger siblings, Paulina and Sebastian, remain. Their relatives in England come to the rescue, with the children’s cousin, Florence Churchill, setting off for the Alps to see what she can do to help.

Florence is a well-educated, beautiful and refined young woman of twenty-eight and is shocked by the Sangers’ unconventional, bohemian lifestyle. She immediately makes plans to bring Tessa, Paulina and Sebastian to England and send them to school. Before she leaves Austria, however, she finds herself falling in love with Lewis Dodd who is still at the chalet. Despite his feelings for Tessa, Lewis is also drawn to Florence and the two are soon married.

It may seem that I’ve given away a lot of the plot here, but all of this actually takes place in the first half of the book. The remainder of the novel describes the marriage between Lewis and Florence, which as you might expect, is not a very successful one as Lewis really wants to be with Tessa – who is still in love with him. The viewpoint shifts from character to character so that we can understand the emotions and motives of all three (I never managed to warm to Lewis at all, but loved Tessa and had some sympathy for Florence). As the story starts to move towards the final chapters it’s obvious that things aren’t going to end happily for all of them – and maybe not for any of them. The ending, when it does come, is unexpected and not very satisfying. I felt that the characters deserved a better conclusion to their story.

I was also a bit disappointed that so many of Tessa’s other family members and friends disappeared in the middle of the book; Kennedy had gone to so much trouble to introduce us to Caryl and Kate, Linda and Susan, the Russian Trigorin and others, it seemed a shame not to develop any of their stories any further (though I’m aware that there’s a sequel, The Fool of the Family, where we might meet some of them again).

I did enjoy The Constant Nymph, though! The book hasn’t aged very well in some respects (the portrayal of Antonia’s Jewish husband, for example) but then, I read a lot of older books and can accept that sometimes they do feel dated. I loved the setting, the characterisation and the elegant, engaging writing style and am looking forward to reading more of Margaret Kennedy’s books. Thanks to Jane for hosting the reading week and introducing me to an author I might never have thought about trying!