The Echoing Grove is a story about two sisters in love with the same man, one of the sister’s husband. Rickie is an unlikeable fellow. A philanderer, too. I have no idea what the sisters (or anyone) sees in him, but he’s also the least interesting character in the story.
The sisters are very different from each other. One is straight-laced and rather dull. The other is vivacious but rather unstable.
They are estranged from each other and only meet 15 years after their last meeting at their mother’s funeral.
This is a strange book. The story did not grab me at all – I can’t stand love triangles – but then it took an unexpected turn and became all about the characters rather than about a tragic romance.
Lehmann’s writing is exquisite as always but in this book she took to writing in a stream of consciousness flow of flashbacks told from each of the characters’ points of view. The choice of style made it difficult for me to follow the actions and thoughts of the characters but as the book is all about memory, the style worked for the story. Still, as you may know from my rants about Virginia Woolf’s works, I’m not keen on stream-of-consciousness narrations.
From a little bit of reading around this book, it appears that many reviewers seem to believe that the story was in part influenced by Lehmann’s affair with Cecil Day Lewis, who left both her and his wife for another woman.
I can see how this may have inspired certain aspects of the book, but I don’t know whether connections between the characters and people involved in real life should really be drawn. I hope that furhter reading into Lehmann’s biography will help to gain more of an insight but I would also like to think that as with the other books I have read by her, she was just imaginative enough to draw these life-like characters rather than to copy them.
Because when it comes down to it, the reason I have kept on reading this particular story is that the characters seem very real. None is wholly good or bad, none is victim or perpetrator, all seem like very people who have faults and foibles.
So, while this is not my favourite book by Lehmann, I’m still enthralled by her writing skills.
When all was over I broke down and said: ‘I wish she’d known we were here together. Do you think she might have known? Surely she must have.’ Dinah, also in tears, doubtless thinking me hysterical and childish, went on holding my hand but did not answer. We were reconciled.