“Sometimes, but not often, a novel comes along which makes the rest of what one has to review seem commonplace. Such a novel is Every Eye.”
Those are the words of John Betjeman, writing for Daily Telegraph in 1956 when Every Eye was first published.
It was republished by Persephone Books a few years ago. Their edition is, of course, quite beautiful and it comes with with an introduction by Neville Baybrooke, the author’s widower. He writes with such clarity about his wife and her writing and his love for her shines through. A wonderful start.
Every Eye is the story of Hatty. She is a piano teacher who has married late in life, and as she and her husband are departing for a belated honeymoon in Ibiza she receives news of her aunt’s death. Her thoughts turn to the childhood and upbringing that brought her to this point.
The story moves smoothly between past and present.
Hatty never really felt at home in her own family. She had a lazy eye, and maybe that made her see the world differently.
She was a talented musician with a dream of becoming a concert pianist, but her straightened circumstances, her lack of confidence and her family’s failure to understand put paid to that dream. Hatty takes the line of least resistance and settles for a quiet life.
But now, it seems, she has reached a turning point. She is thrilled by the experience of travelling across Europe and she is steadily becoming more comfortable and confident in her new life. And when she reaches Ibiza she makes a startling discovery that sheds fresh light on her own past.
Every Eye is a quiet novel with very little incident, and yet it contains so much. Isobel English’s writing is flawless and you must read every single word, otherwise you will definitely miss something.
Hatty’s inner life is wonderfully created, the period is vividly evoked, and places and characters are perfectly observed.
An immaculate miniature.