Time After Time by Molly Keane

In Time After Time Molly Keane extends an invitation to an Irish country house. It’s an invitation that I am very glad that I accepted.

The house was once beautiful, but it has fallen upon hard times. The kitchen still offers a welcome, but the cooks and kitchen maids who brought it to life have long since departed, and even the Aga is losing the will to go on.

The kitchen is Jasper’s domain. Well actually the whole house and estate is his, but he has to share it with his three elderly sisters. One widow and two spinsters, all left a right of residence by darling Mummie, whose wishes none of her children would ever question.

He’s an aesthete and a dreamer, and he’s also bright enough to know that whoever rules the kitchen rules the house. Well they would if they didn’t have to contend with his sisters.

April, the only one to have married, is now widowed, and in her mind that places her way above her siblings. But her husband is long gone and now her life centres around her clothes, her beauty treatments, and her home comforts…

May’s life is filled with domestic arts. She is president of the Flower Arrangers’ Guild for year, she is a dab hand at making pictures from scraps of tweed, wool and sprigs of heather…

And Baby June is the practical one, managing the farm, always outside, always with something important to do…

Each of the Swifts has a cross to bear: Jasper lost an eye, April is stone deaf, May has a deformed hand, and Baby June, well Baby June is rather slow… And each of them tries to fill their lives with the important things they do, with possession, with the cats and dogs who are so cosseted in the absence of children. They live together, bickering like children because they are unhappy with their lives.

The portraits that Molly Keane paints of the Swift siblings as they move through their lives are so rich, so vivid and so wonderfully detailed.

Grotesques. Realism. Comedy. Tragedy. Only Molly Keane can balance all of those elements to such fine effect.

I laughed, I cried, and I wanted to scream at them to admit that they were unhappy, that there lives didn’t have to be ruled by what their mother had thought in a different age, that they could change their lives. But I knew that they wouldn’t have listened, and that even if they had they wouldn’t have believed me.

The pictures change when cousin Leda comes to visit. As a child she was that little bit different, and the Swifts didn’t know quite how to react. To pay court or to close ranks. And it is just the same now that Leda is a widow and has lost her sight. How like children they all are.

Leda says things, does things, crosses lines that the Swifts never would. And of course there are consequences. When finally she leaves they realise that life will never be the same again.

It’s still comic, it’s still tragic, it’s still grotesque, and it’s still real.

Now that I have left too I miss the whole household. As is so often the case with Molly Keane’s creations, I really wouldn’t want to meet them but they are quite wonderful to observe.

A wonderful entertainment!

28 responses

  1. Oops, except that I had her confused with another author. I’ve not read any Molly Keane! I have several of her other books (published as M.J. Farrell), but I don’t have this one. Well in any case, I can see I can look forward to discovering another new-to-me author.

    • Laura, you really must try Molly Keane. There’s a clear-sightedness to her writing that I think – I hope -you will like.

    • It’s a later book – one of the few VMCs that had its first publication after the list began – and so it missed out on the green cover that a lot of Molly Keane’s books got. And maybe it suffers in comparison with the much praised Good Behaviour that came just a year or so earlier. Read it!

  2. Pingback: Virago Round Up: Day Two! | Book Snob

    • Much as I love Molly Keane I have to spread out her books and pick the right moment. And the severity of her observation is balances with real understanding. Not many authors can do that.

    • When i read Molly Keane in my twenties I was underwhelmed, but now I love her. Maybe you’re just too young, and she’ll grab you a few years down the line.

  3. Gorgeous cover and you had me at the description of the kitchen! This whole Virago Reading Week extravaganza is going to seriously add to my book wishlist!

    • It was the Aga that got you, wasn’t it Darlene?! I should maybe tell you that a strong smell of wet dog was also mentioned …

    • Definitely worth a try. Pretty much all of her books are in print, and if I had to pick just one I’d say go for The Rising Tide.

  4. I have only recently discovered Molly Keane, and Time After Time was the first one I read. Your review reminded just how wonderful a book it is, and why I have since devoured two others (The Rising Tide and Good Behaviour) and have a third waiting in the wings (Devoted Ladies). It’s a great skill to write so many books on more or less the same theme, and yet make each one memorable and full of enthralling characters. Thanks for the review!

  5. You’ve very kindly returned the favor! This is on my shelf (has been for a long time) and now I want to read it sooner rather than later. I’ve enjoyed discovering your blog!

  6. I’ve picked up the new Molly Keane covers in charity shops but put them down again. I wasn’t sure that I’d like her but you have convinced me otherwise… again 🙂 I should try to read one soon… could you recommend a particular title as a starting point?

  7. I just saw your review on GoodReads, so I came over to comment here. I bought this one blindly and cheap in a book store solely based on the VMC logo. I am very glad that I did after reading your review.

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