The Finest Type of English Womanhood is a wonderful piece of storytelling, the tale of two very different women whose lives become entwined: Laura Trelling and Gay Gibson.
As the story opens Laura is seventeen years old and living a quiet life with her parents in the Sussex countryside. Her life changes when she meets and swiftly marries a man she meets at a party. He takes her to his home in pre Apartheid South Africa, but life there is not at all what she imagined. And nor is her husband.
Laura is quite beautifully written. She is bright, engaging and honest, but she is inexperienced and cannot quite comprehend what is going on around her. Her narrative drws you in, and does not let go.
Gay is a few years older than Laura. She has a very different upbringing in Birkenhead, where she dreams of becoming an actress. Those dreams, and her determintion, take her to south Africa too.
Gay is a wonderful creation too – based on a true life character – and though she has a smaller share of the narrative she makes a very strong impression.
It is in South Africa that the two Englishwomen’s lives become entwined – with dramatic consequences.
It would be unfair to much more than that about the story though – this is a book that you really must live through as you read.
What I will say is that the this book holds a fine supporting cast, many wonderful scenes and incidents, perfectly evoked settings, and just enough plot twists.
And so many themes explored: from gardening and disfunctional families to politics and racial divides.
All held together by the story of the lives of two fascinting women.
I read The Finest Type of English Womanhood much more quickly than I expected and stayed up much later than I had planned, compelled to keep turning the pages.
What greater recommendation could there be?!