Molly Keane – Full House


I stumbled upon this book in a second-hand bookstore, and fell in love with the cover. It’s also my first green Virago Modern Classic, and I was quite excited to begin this journey… luckily, it didn’t disappoint, which is nice, as my last two reads haven’t been exceptionally good, by any standards.

Set in the backdrop post the Great War, Full House introduces us to one of the most frightening mothers in literature, Lady Bird, and her family which is undergoing all kinds of transformations. John, the oldest child was on the brink of insanity, and was sent to a hospital. He is now returning home, much to the delight of the entire family, and Eliza – a friend to both, Lady Olivia Bird and Sir Julian Bird – has come to their magnificent home, Silverue, to share this momentous occasion with them.

However, while the early pages of the book deals with John’s return, the story quickly develops into an account of the Bird children, their governess – Miss Parker, as well as the adults: Eliza, Julian and Olivia.

There’s Mark, the cruel albeit adorable child, who is the apple of everyone’s eyes, and everyone is completely captivated by his beauty, so much so that no one wants him to grow up. There’s his older sister, Sheena, who is in love with a boy, but their engagement has been delayed due to their age. John, of course, is the oldest of the three, and his return home is the catalyst for the rest of the story, which includes posh tedious tennis parties, a garden tour for fundraising which exhausts everyone as Olivia pushes them to do her bidding, broken hearts, new loves, and changed lives. Questions are asked about total honesty, about doing what’s right, and about loyalty. More questions are raised about true love, happiness, and friendship.

And of course… there’s Lady Bird. A funny name, if there was one, but a formidable character, nonetheless. Cruel, girlish, and more focused on being an “older sister” to her children, than acting as their mother, Lady Bird is accustomed to getting her own way, and Julian indulges her. Her children don’t have the nicest things to say about her, and despite threatening to leave, they never really intend to. Yet, she never registers her children’s true opinion of her, as she focuses on looking “oppressively young”, creating fantastic flower decorations, and contemplating a Swiss governess for her youngest son.

The inconsequence and the obviousness of all her posturings and nonsense. How could she blind herself to the fact that they could not deceive her reasonably intelligent and spiteful offspring. They did not see even the shadow of her pretended self, only her pretences. And in her affections she was most sincere. She had nothing else except her beauty, and that cold not affect them at all.

Words cannot do justice to the depth of this story. The writing is beautifully vivid, and the Birds are one of the most enchanting families I have across in the world of books. As the past catches up with the present, as old secrets emerge, and as despair overtakes some members of the house, one cannot help but share the emotions: sympathise, love, regret, shed tears, and hope for a happy ending, after everything the “poor dears” have been through.

This book was originally published in the 1930s, and the dialog is fantastic; full of “dears”, “sweets” and “darlings”. Terms of endearment and thrown about carelessly, as are aspersions cast. For instance, little Markie, at the age of seven, calls his sister “bitch”. I was fairly taken aback there. Yet, hopeless romantic that I am, paragraphs like the below did make me smile and wonder where the times have gone? Where the innocence and tranquility has disappeared to? And maybe… to an extent, I am glad we don’t talk like this anymore…..

“Eliza, look at me. Darling, you’re so wonderful. Why didn’t I know before you cared about me. Darling, tell me. Don’t be so obstinate. Oh my god, I love you so much. I think I do, don’t I?”

“How can I tell you if you love me, sweet one? I only know about myself.”

In a nutshell, I loved this book. The candid opinions, the selfishness, the adorations and the affections.

Rating : A

PS : I am trying out a new rating system, linked above. Please let me know what you think of it – does it work, or not so much?

19 Responses to “Molly Keane – Full House”

  1. I’m adding this one to my list.

  2. 3 adevotedreader

    I’ve been meaing to try Molly Keane, but have been put off by not knowing where to start. I will look out for this as it sounds wonderful (although yes, I am glad we don’t speak like that anymore!)

  3. I wrote you a comment last night, and the computer ate it. (WordPress having decided to unilaterally log me out.) Yesterday, of course, I wrote a word perfect comment of unsurpassed excellence, but today’s will just be my usual plebian offering. That’s the way it goes…

    Excellent review! This title is going straight onto my second-hand/charity shop ‘lucky dip’ list. I hope I find it soon! I think Random Reflections recently reviewed a Molly Keane… On the strength of both your and her reviews I think I will snap up any Molly Keane I find.

    I love your new rating system. Informative and humourous, both!

    • WordPress logging me out is one of the most frustrating things – specially when I’m mid-way writing a post or something. Tough luck there, and pity I missed out on the oh-so-perfect comment.

      Your plebeian offerings aren’t quite as plebeian as you make them out to be, which is a good thing. Best of luck in snapping up that Molly Keane. I really do hope you enjoy it, and am already looking forward to reading the ever insightful reviews.

      Thank you :)

  4. I didn’t enjoy the first Molly Keane I read, but I also picked this one up second hand as I’m a sucker for a green VMC. Anyway, I’m quite looking forward to reading this one now.

  5. Yes Molly Keane is wonderful and I greatly enjoyed Full House too. The Rising Tide is marginally better in my opinion; another brilliantly cruel portrait of a matriarch in there too. Look out for it!

  6. I haven’t heard of this one, but I have started buying any green viragos I see. I am pleased to hear that this is a good one and will keep an eye out for it.

    I like your new rating system, but am not sure how it is different from the old one? Have you just replaced letters with numbers or is there more to it than that?

    • Cool, I’ve pretty much just started doing the same. Hope you find this one, and if and when you do, I really hope you enjoy it.

      Well, it’s the letters, but I got the letters expanded into something more “meaningful”. It’s marginally juvenile, but, creating it was entertaining, and, I don’t know… it feels more “expressive” than numbers. The rating now links to the new “ratings” page I created as well, and I love the pic on that page as well (which has absolutely nothing to do with ratings, but what the hell?!)

  7. Oo a twisted family saga, how can anyone not love the intricate workings of a disturbed family?

  8. I haven’t read anything by Molly Keane, but now you have me interested. The description of Lady Bird as “one of the most frightening mothers in literature” coupled with that book cover makes me really want to read this.

    I like the new rating system, especially E for Eeeeeeeeeeeeek!

    • The book cover is gorgeous, isn’t it? If you do read it, I really hope you like it.

      The “E for Eeeeeeeeeeek” stands testimony to my extensive vocabulary :) Thank you!

  9. I definitely understand how you fell for that cover! :)

  10. Oh gosh, I have this book but have yet to read. I think I managed to mooch it on bookmooch. Thanks for the fabulous review. I’ll definitely be moving it up my To-be-read pile. I’ve been collecting green viragos for over a year now but have only read a few of them.

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