The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks

In London, in the late 1950s, society did not look kindly upon unmarried women who fell pregnant.

Jane was nobody’s fool.

She had been an actress, with a touring company, and she was doing well. She didn’t have much money, but she managed, she was happy doing what she wanted to do with her life.  But Jane got on the wrong side of a difficult actor, and was ‘let go’.

She was too proud, too independent, to go home  and so she took a job in a cafe. And she made a success of it, working diligently and intelligently, standing her ground against a boss who would have been all too ready to take advantage of her,  and rising above the gossiping customers who wonder why the actress is working in a cafe.

Jane went home to her father, a reserved man who had raised her alone, at the appointed time and she found a good job in hotel management. She made a success of it.

But then she met an old friend from her theatre days. A friendship becomes something more, but the romance quickly fades and Jane isn’t sorry when he leaves to go on tour.

It was a little later that she realised she was pregnant. And her father threw her out.

Jane is still proud, still independent. She finds a place to live.

“There wasn’t much to be said for the place, really, but it had a roof over it and a door which locked from the inside, which was all I cared about just then. I didn’t even bother to take in the details; they were pretty sordid, but I didn’t notice them so they didn’t depress me–perhaps because I was already at rock-bottom.”

The l-shaped room. A dingey, grubby, awkward space in a run down boarding house.  Jane could have afforded something better – she had savings, she still had her job – but she chose not to.

She planned to keep herself to herself, to keep her baby, and eventually to bring up her child alone.

But she knows she won’t be able to hold on to her job for too long, and she doesn’t know how she will cope when she has to give it up.

Jane doesn’t intend to mix with the other residents of the boarding house, but they are curious about her and in time she is drawn out of the shell she constructed for herself.

She forms friendships. With John, the affable musician who lives in the room next to hers. With Mavis, the elderly spinster who lives in the room below hers.  And with Toby, a struggling writer, who could maybe become more than a friend.

But Jane has to deal with the consequences of her pregnancy. And she can’t hide forever.

I was engrossed by Jane’s story. She was real, and I understood her, I cared about what might happen to her, and so it was wonderful to watch her coping with everything that life through at her, with new and old relationships, with her advancing pregnancy.

This is a very human, character driven story. Lynne Reid Banks does characters so very well. Each and every one is a three-dimensional human being, with a life story, with a rounded character, with strengths and weaknesses …

That made the story so very, very real.

There were moments, particularly near the end of the book, when things fell into place a little too well. But I was caught up by them and so I accepted it.

At times Jane seemed to have a little too much good luck, but things never went entirely to plan. And I think she earned some good luck. By working. By coping. By standing on her own two feet.

This is, after all, just one woman’s story. Others, in the same situation at the same time, must have encountered far more difficulties.

The important thing was that Jane grew up. I met a proud and independent young woman, I followed her though many ups and downs, and I saw her mature and become wiser, and more understanding of the people and the world around her.

In the end she had to leave the l-shaped room that she had made into a real home.

I loved this book when I read it first, in my teens, and I love it still.

I’m curious to remind myself what happens to Jane next. I really don’t remember. But I recall not liking the two sequels as much as this book the first time I read them, so maybe it’s better to go on wondering …

20 responses

  1. I’d forgotten the details, but I’m so glad I picked this one up again. It takes something special for a book like this to work for a treenager and an adult.

  2. This is so weird – our reading synergy continues. I read this as a teen too and I bought myself a copy last year and I (this is true) picked it up off my shelf this weekend and vowed to read it again really soon.

    Glad that it still appeals as an adult too.

  3. I love this book so much. I’ve read it three times (I was 14 or 15 the first time, I think) and it’s like coming home to much loved characters. I just adore it. But I have to admit I wish I hadn’t reread the sequels last time around (my first reread of them) as they weren’t as good as I’d remembered. Still good, but I really, really missed the L-Shaped Room and the dynamics of the house.

    Lovely review, Jane.

    • I’m sure seeing this one in your sidebar was what made me pick it up when it appeared in the library. Thank you for that!

  4. I know lots of women who went through this same experience, though their families abandoned them to a lesser degree. I always find it heartbreaking to read about. I hope things work out better for Jane than for other women. This does sound like a fascinating read!

    • it is fascinating. And you have just made me realise that my grandmother was in the very same position some years earlier. She gave my mother up for adoption, and my mother considers her adaoptive mother to be her “real mother” and so I hadn’t made the connection.

  5. It’s been years since I read this book and I think it would be interesting to reread it as an adult. I remember enjoying the film too although, again, it’s been years since I saw it.

  6. I’ve heard so much about this book but this is the first time I’ve actually bothered to read the synopsis. The story sounds wonderful and the sort I love. Must try and get a copy.

    • I have – it’s interesting… the story is there, but the atmosphere is completely different. Also have no idea why they made Jane French. It’s quite a good film, but it doesn’t have the lovely feel of the novel.

      • I haven’t seen the film, but I really should look out for it. But I do think this one is best on the printed page.

  7. I just read this book the other day — I enjoyed it and thought the characterisations were well done. Good review – you raised some points that I had not thought about, so thanks for that.

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