Virago Modern Classic #149
Ellie Parsons, the heroine of The Doves of Venus, captivates from the very first page. Early in the 1950s she is at the point in life where everything seems possible and she is walking, maybe dancing, home across London.
She has left her home and her conventional mother and sister for a bedsit in Chelsea.
She has a job in the art world – painting “antique” furniture.
And, best of all, she has Quentin, her middle-aged lover.
It is soon clear, though not to the besotted Ellie, that Quentin is not such a wonderful catch. He has a history of short term relationships with young girls and, while he is charmed by Ellie, he certainly isn’t going to get too involved with a penniless girl living in a bedsit.
Quentin’s life is complicated by the return of Petta, his estranged wife. She has fallen out with her new lover and has attempted suicide. Now she has decided she wants to settle back into her own life and though Quentin does not want her back he cannot quite let her go.
Eventually though, and without making the break absolute, Quentin does disappear from Ellie’s life. She slowly comes to terms with his loss and, with the resilience of youth and an undiminished faith in life’s possibilities she moves on. Ellie makes new friends, and she discovers new worlds and new possibilities. And maybe, just maybe, she will eventually find her place in the world.
The Doves of Venus is pack full of themes and ideas, about youth, about ageing, about how to life, and much much more. Yes, it is busy, but it is a joy to read.
London, in all of its colours, is brought to life on the page, and the world, caught between the conventions of life before the war and new and exciting possibilities, is wonderfully evoked.
Olivia Manning writes beautifully, and with great understanding of the inner life of all of her diverse cast of characters.
And, best of all, there is Ellie. She matures before your eyes without ever losing her vitality and charm.
It was lovely to meet her.