by Lynn Freed
Plot; Agnes La Grange is a beautiful young woman who emigrates to South Africa, alone, after World War I. She is strong, determined and set on making a proud future for herself, husband or no husband.
She finds work as a housekeeper to an old Jewish family, and while life downstairs is as it should be, of a night, upstairs, Agnes finds new pleasures in the arms of her employer, in front of the mirror.
Then alone again, with a child, Agnes begins her life as a hotel manager and embarks on her life of coming and going guests, troublesome business partners, social climbers and a head strong young daughter.
My Thoughts; This book is enjoyable enough, but I wouldn't race to buy it. I found this book on a "chuck-out" pile at the markets and I think this is the best situation in which to buy this book, at a cheap price for the decent entertainment it returns.
The female protagonist, Agnes, is satisfying. How lovely it is to read about a single mother in the 1920's who is strong and determined and is making her way, all on her own. I'll admit, she isn't the most likable person. If I was to meet her, I probably wouldn't like her too much, but you cannot help but respect her and respect the future she is building for herself.
The one thing I do not like about the character is the relationship between her and her daughter. They seem almost disconnected. This is fair enough, what teenage girl does get along swimmingly with her mother, but it is almost as though Agnes is indifferent towards her daughter at times. This does not sit well, that a mother who dedicates to much of her time towards her daughter can turn her back and then not care at other times.
The rest of the characters are just, okay. None of them are portrayed as being likable, and I think that is suitable, because they aren't likable. The "Newspaper Man" is the only character who you really could come to enjoy, but then even he is weak.
The story flows easily enough, and is simple to follow without too much thought. It is nice to hear the story purely from Agnes' point of view with little snaps and goes at those she doesn't like too much.
There is one thing about this book which did annoy me; "said I". By no means does this book use old and proper English. You don't have any Shakespearean prose and you don't have Professor Higgins trying to teach Eliza about "the rain in Spain". It is, in almost all respects, casual. It is as though a new friend is telling you her life story. Yet, in almost every conversation, Freed uses "said I".
I think authors try to find ways around simply using "I said", but most of the time I find their replacements out of place, to the point of being irritating. There is no problem with using good old "I said" and I wish authors would trust in that.
All in all, it isn't bad entertainment. This is the type of book which you should pick up for a bargain and read on a rainy Sunday. Or you may even like to read it as a bit of light entertainment between reading two more epic volumes.
I cannot see it being a book for men but, as always, I would love to hear the male opinion. I would suggest it more towards single mother's, only because it is good to see a struggling single mother come good, especially in times when such things were looked down upon.