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[97] A Charmed Circle – Anna Kavan

Reading update: I finished reading and taking notes for The Death of the Heart at the juror room yesterday, before I was summoned at 3 pm. That said, I’m only a book away from the finishing line of the Outmoded Author Challenge.

* * *

Marooned in a country house in an ugly manufacturing town is an old vicarage of which expensive improvements have been undertaken. The house sits in the middle of the town where traffic buzz is accentuated by occasional rumbling of passing trams. So much that it is separated by high walls and trees and is encroached by the hustle-and-bustle, it is a lonely ark itself–or at least the occupants intend it to be. Steered by the father’s morbidly morose, withdrawn and sinister nature, the Deanes immerse in a safe, profound secrecy of those in whom no one is interested.

Life is meticulously edited to ensure minimal interruption of routine and to discourage any social intrusion of visitors. Fettered by some mental disability and limitation are the young Deanes who rebel and struggle to leave. Their attempts have always been futile that they fear the long, dull ache to follow when they have no choice but to return home. Amidst the staidness of the house is an unpleasant atmosphere that always seems to arise so easily and suddenly. That they rarely converge together constitutes this perpetual sense of warfare because hostilities are liable to burst out between family members.

The family reaches a tacit understanding that Beryl, who sets her heart on leaving the house, is held responsible for this hostility that reigns the house. Resolved to break free from all the constraints, she never hesitates to cut to the core the misery of being deprived of freedom. Her ability to assert individuality in defiance of Mrs Deane’s disposition, combined with this imponderable vitality, constantly remind her sister Olive of her being a failure. That her life has been a waster plunges her into an interminable distress of which she blames on Beryl, who in return despises her for being mentally dishonest, salving conscience by trying to talk her mother round a more lenient attitude toward Beryl. The grudge that embitters both of them repulses any overture of reconciliation.

A young sculptor from London lets in a glimpse of light to Beryl’s escape. What amazes her more than the job at an exotic hat shop is their increased intimacy made possible by premeditated meals and meetings. That he feels more than an obligatory sense of responsibility for her–the conscious longing, the dread of her absence–touches on his nerve, for the inimical nature of the Deanes has imparted in him a resolution to keep clear of them. In unconscious defense he begins to frame argument against being with her, for he feels his independence being invaded.

A Charmed Circle is so well-written and penetrating, with a cold snap of a sterile voice that accentuates the hostile mood. The long narrative prose that pierces into the mind reinforces an atmosphere that under a superficial geniality runs a sinister current of tension and repression. It delves on the motives, the unspoken words that which justify the actions. Kavan meticulously metes out words that capture the passing thoughts that are often overlooked but are key to the actions. Despite the overall air of revolt and struggle for self-expression, the novel asserts a sense of hope of overcoming mental capitulation.

7 Responses

  1. Heavens to Betsy! Jury duty! Do I read correctly! I can only say, if I were in the box, however trivial or great the offense, I’d rather have a Berkeley man who can parse Dostoevsky than legions of alternatives better left unmentioned. O tempora, o mores! Courage, mon brave! (et Cor Anglais, et Cordon bleu!) You’d better go out with some wonderful company and treat yourself to a little cuisine de le cordon bleu after all that. (Maybe a little Sandy Lam, too!) (that dazzling diva…)

    I finished The Brother’s Karamazov a couple of days ago, by the way. See, your labors are not entirely in vain if such as I work up the wherewithal to revisit this wonderful but daunting work decades after I was required to read it in college. Granted, I put forth the labor, but I am in your debt. Whatever next, The Master and Margarita????

  2. I’m looking forward to hearing what you thought of the Bowen book. I think she was an excellent writer. That is one of my favorites. I have never read Anna Kavan, but I’ve heard good things about her.

  3. Do you have jury duty? civil or criminal courts?

  4. All I’ve heard about Anna Kavan is praise for her prose, and the emotional charge of her writing. And my local library has her. Your post nudges me closer to picking her up.

    Jury duty?

  5. This book is so going on my TBR list!
    Off topic but I just spent the most wonderful time going through your Puerto Vallarta pics. I’m so glad you had a great time. I haven’t been to PV but hopefully one day.

  6. Greg:
    You should definitely read The Master and Margarita. Take a short break from Russian lit and pick it up when you’re charged. 🙂
    The judge kindly dismissed me of jury duty knowing that I’ll be off to Kauai next week when the court proceeding will be in full swing.

  7. Danielle:
    Bowen’s crisp, emotionally charged style is very similar to Anna Kavan. It’s interesting how they cross path via this reading challenge and I happen to pick both of them. Review of Bowen is up soon as I’m still working on the journal entry.

    Isabel:
    It was criminal. I’ve fulfilled my civil juror duty for the year. SF separates the two so each registered voter can be summoned twice.

    Dark Orpheus:
    She’s very prolific writer although most of the books are out-of-print. The library would be the best resource. 🙂

    Iliana:
    Thanks. I recommend both Bowen and Kavan. 🙂

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