How could I have gone all these years without reading a Fay Weldon? After reading Before the War, I've got no answer for this as it was a wonderful book. How did I manage without her for so long?

Before the War is the first in a new series The Spoils of War, and has connections with an earlier series (which of course I haven't read) the Love and Inheritance series. Before the War tells the story of awkward gawky, Vivvie, untitled princess and forthright daughter. Finding herself unexpectedly pregnant she persuades one of her father's employees, ambitious writer-to-be, Sherwyn, to marry her. Unfortunately the likeable Vivvie is not going to last long in the novel, but her influence will permeate the lives of the other characters including her own orphaned twins throughout the book.

I found Fay Weldon's writing style quite hard to get into at first. She never lets you forget that you're reading a book. Any flights of imagination are soon stamped on by a firm authorial foot. At first I found this quite irritating, but after a while it proved to be rather endearing. It's rather comforting to realise that you're not the only person who wonders what happens to characters after the book ends, and worries about them stuck out in the non-cyber land of imagination. Curiously too as the novel developed it also made the characters rather more real - you knew that they had another life in other books, in some strange way this seemed to affirm them.

The novel also sat very well with some recent favourite TV viewing of mine. The BBC have been running a popular history series Further back in time for dinner recently. A fairly typical British family "time travel" their way through the first half of the twentieth century exploring food, social conventions, hobbies and politics along the way. The two decades that really enthused me were the '20s and the '30s. My parents lived through both decades, with my father having a particularly tough life as the son of a miner in the South Wales coalfields of the Depression era. It had never struck me so forcibly before, how much of a difference class could make. Further back in time for dinner showed an era for the middle-class that I would absolutely have loved. Great music, a wonderful period for adventure and travel (as was touched on by another recent read The road to Oxiana), huge advances in society and the role of women. A great era to be young. And this all struck me afresh in Before the War. Rather than just being a moribund decade stuck between the two great bookends of the twentieth century - the First and Second World Wars, there was so much that was positive about these two decades. All progress sadly stopped in its tracks by the rise of Fascism.

I found Before the War an enchanting read, even if it did take me a little while to get into it because of the novel approach. There will definitely be more Weldon in the future.


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