Monday, March 5, 2012

{review} mrs. miniver

Jan Struther Mrs. Miniver (1939)

She rearranged the fire a little, mostly for the pleasure of handling the fluted steel poker, and then sat down by it. Tea was already laid: there were honey sandwiches, brandy-snaps, and small ratafia biscuits; and there would, she knew, be crumpets. Three new library books lay virginally on the fender-stool, their bright paper wrappers unsullied by subscriber's hand. The clock on the mantelpiece chimed, very softly and precisely, five times. A tug hooted from the river. A sudden breeze brought the sharp tang of a bonfire in at the window. The jig-saw was almost complete, but there was still one piece missing. And then, from the other end of the square, came the familiar sound of the Wednesday barrel-organ, playing, with a hundred apocryphal trills and arpeggios, the 'Blue Danube' waltz. And Mrs. Miniver, with a little sigh of contentment, rang for tea.
Mrs Miniver had me from the moment I read that perfectly contrived description of an idyllic English "tea". This book offers a perfectly worded and eminently quotable gem of propaganda-worthy hearth-and-home sentiment on almost every page. This could prove somewhat glutinous (especially given that, unlike her peer The Provincial Lady, Mrs. Miniver is financially secure in her world), except that Mrs Miniver is leavened by an often quite startling commentary on these idyllic pictures.

When Mrs Miniver has described the post-Christmas scene ("The room was laced with an invisible network of affectionate understanding"), this is cut with the comment that,
This was one of the moments, thought Mrs. Miniver, which paid off at a single stroke all the accumulations on the debit side of parenthood: the morning sickness and the quite astonishing pain; the pram in the passage, the cold mulish glint in the cook's eye; the holiday nurse who had been in the best families; the pungent white mice, the shrivelled caterpillars; the plasticine on the door-handles, the face-flannels in the bathroom, the nameless horrors down the crevices of armchairs; the alarms and emergencies, the swallowed button, the inexplicable earache, the ominous rash appearing on the eve of a journey; the school bills and the dentists' bills; the shortened stop, the tempered pace, the emotional compromises, the divided loyalties, the adventures continually forsworn.
Astonishing, isn't it? 

Rating: 5/5. Loved it.

If you liked this... I don't think Mrs. Miniver will overtake The Provincial Lady for top place in my affections. There are less laugh-out-loud moments (except those swans: "Conceited brutes. They always look as though they'd just been reading their own fan-mail"). Must watch the film again. I retain the impression that I didn't like it.

That is a truly horrid cover.

2 comments:

  1. Oh, this sounds fun! I like that she doesn't fit the cookie cutter perfect homemaker mold. Based on that, I think I might enjoy this one more than Provincial Lady.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It was a fun read, Aarti, though a little cloying in parts.

    ReplyDelete

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