A small book named Hetty Dorval by an author named Ethel Wilson. It maybe doesn’t sound too promising? Rather old fashioned?
But fortunately Hetty Dorval has been sent out into the world in a dove grey Persephone Books imprint. A sign that it is really something rather special.
The story opens in a small town in British Columbia. Thirteen-year-old Frankie Burnaby had gone to the station to look out for trains coming in and to catch the first glimpse of a new arrival – Mrs. Dorval.
The scene is gently and quite clearly evoked.
Frankie is drawn to Mrs. Dorval, and Hetty welcomes her. Hetty Dorval is beautiful, wealthy and charming.
But, while Frankie is enchanted, her parents disapprove of the friendship. It could just be parental concern about an adult who does not follow the normal rules, but there are hints that it is something else.
Hetty is certainly unconventional, and she may well be immoral too. But what she may have done wrong is not clear, and is never fully explained.
Mrs. Dorval quickly moves on, but Frankie encounters her again at intervals over the years. And her childhood perceptions and responses change as she becomes an adult.
Ethel Wilson writes simply, effectively and beautifully.
Every character is perfectly formed; every scene is set out seemingly effortlessly and with wonderful clarity.
Hetty Dorval is a simple story, but it grips from beginning to end.
Why? Because it is a story of built on characters, and though it is set in the past its themes still resonate today.
This is a book definitely worthy of its dove-grey cover and beautiful endpapers!
And I will be writing more about Persephone and giving two books away later in the week.