21 March 2015

The Angel in the Corner by Monica Dickens


The first few paragraphs of The Angel in the Corner are set in a cosy nursery; tea is about to be served and a coal fire glows in the fireplace. A flowered china clock strikes the half-hour.  So far, so lovely, so I paid my dollar and was happy to have a book with such cosy atmosphere on the shelf.  Well, as it turns out, this book is not that...not by a long shot.  Damn you, Monica Dickens.

Within a few pages Virginia's mother and father have gone their separate ways in post-war London and the house with the cosy nursery is long gone.  As the editor of Lady Beautiful Virginia's mother can afford both a lovely flat in a Bloomsbury mews and her fondness for Dior.  But...

'On Helen's side, their equality was tainted with rivalry.  At forty-eight, she though she was better looking than Virginia was at twenty.  As an unattached woman, she considered herself still in the running for any men who came along, even if they were nearer her daughter's age than her own.'

When a single young neighbour, who also happens to be a doctor, shows an interest in Virginia her mother insinuates herself.  When Virginia signs up for writing classes at Latimer College, Helen is crystal clear that it doesn't mean a job for her daughter at the plush surroundings of Lady Beautiful.  

While at a small gathering with friends in Chelsea, Virginia meets Joe Colonna.  From that day, as the two form a relationship, a hellish routine of abuse and placating begins.  Through it all, Virginia remains hopeful, optimistic, and full of tenacity as Joe breaks promises, belittles, drinks to excess, and bruises her.  Usually such a scenario would frustrate me no end but I found myself as invested in this story as Virginia was in her marriage.  Did she want to prove her mother wrong?  Was another broken marriage in her life out of the question?  Was Joe a replacement for the father she hadn't seen since she was twelve?  There were other avenues to take, means of escape, people she could turn to.  At one point Virginia does return to the house from her childhood...

'Virginia went slowly down the steps, and stood in the muddy garden, looking at the house.  The windows were closed and dirty, and all the curtains were gone.  She could see into the front room, which had once been her nursery, it was bare, and the fireplace was full of rubbish and sweepings.'

Far from the cosy nursery scene at the beginning of the book.  And then it gets worse.

Published in 1956 The Angel in the Corner is a no holds barred exploration of mental and physical abuse as well as ignorance, complacency, and shortfalls within some support systems.  There is a reward to be had though for wading through the discourse and I was cheered by the ending.  Definitely not a gentle read but thoroughly engrossing.


Bloomsbury Mews Cosmopolitan
(Wallpaperspace)

11 comments:

  1. That sounds good, Darlene. I read loads of Monica Dickens years ago because my mum used to like them, but I don't think I've read this one.

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  2. Sold! I've just ordered it from the library. One copy in the entire system, so let's hope it's not gone AWOL between 1956 and now.

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    1. Fingers crossed but just say the word and I'll pop my copy into my luggage!

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  3. I'm sorry to go off topic, but that's an actual wallpaper pattern?? Want!!!

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    1. Yes, Audrey! Imagine the hours of fun you could have decorating the front doors with various fanlight designs. Although, this would be highly frowned upon by decorators and homeowners. And really? I spend an hour and a half at the kitchen table composing a review and you mention the picture...you're a riot!

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  4. I've never read Monica Dickens and don't think this would be the place to start. Well done for getting through it is my response! Nice review, though. And yes, gorgeous wallpaper.

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    1. Not even One Pair of Hands?! Which I think is probably a lovely place to start with Monica's books...not that I did. It's languishing on my shelves.
      I did take a moment, here and there, to contemplate what I would do to Joe given the chance. The scoundrel...

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  5. I have just ordered a copy ... have not ever read one of her books ... silly really ... Cdn Anne in England waving to a fellow Cdn

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    1. I hope you enjoy it, Anne! And lucky you getting to live on the other side of the pond. Welcome to my blog...

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  6. One of hers that I have not read, thank you for the review. I wonder if I shall be
    brave enough to read it?

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    1. I think mums all over the country were hiding this book from their daughters in the fifties! Be brave, Toffeeapple....and then watch lots of video featuring puppies and kittens afterwards.

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