Westwood by Stella Gibbons

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Westwood by Stella Gibbons

Buy Westwood by Stella Gibbons at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: The story of a young woman learning to live with the emergence of new feelings and the development of a career she was never sure she wanted – all against the backdrop of a war that makes everything uncertain.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: August 2011
Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 978-0099528722

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I was instantly attracted to this novel as it's set largely in Hampstead and Highgate, which is territory I'm fortunate enough to be familiar with. I was also instantly attracted to Margaret – a young woman with the worries of the world on her shoulders. Continually concerned with politics and the impact of war on those far away as well as close by, Margaret has genuine warmth and concern for her fellow human beings, and this pulls the reader into her story straight away.

But some of Margaret's unhappiness can be linked to her friendship with Hilda, a flirtatious, attractive girl who is never short of admirers. As the two find themselves living close by in wartime London, Gibbons gives a faultless examination of Margaret's personality and how she is affected by being friends with such a person. Although Gibbons' prose is largely gentle in style, there are occasional biting observations that leave us in no doubt of Margaret's predicament. Having been told from the outset that Margaret is a plain girl who has been disappointed once, and knowing that she does not possess Hilda's ability to attract the opposite sex, it's still shocking to have it phrased as bluntly as she had yet to learn the plain woman's lesson; that a pretty woman will always make men lose their dignity willingly and with pleasure.

As the story develops, Margaret finds herself experiencing feelings for a range of men, but the most painful exercise for her is her liking for Mr Challoner, a poet who impresses her a good deal. Though the effects of war are clearly seen throughout the novel, Mr Challoner moves through it as he moves through life in general; as if he were far removed from it and, in his view, simply too good for it. There is a certain inevitably about the conclusion of Margaret's liking for him, but the events along that path are so acutely observed, there is no less enjoyment in moving towards the predictable.

However, it's Hilda who ultimately becomes more likeable as the novel goes on. Margaret seems lacking in gumption at times, and her dreaminess becomes almost as annoying for the reader as it is for her mother, who, with some experience of being let down by men, is also waiting for the day that Margaret is finally disillusioned. This was not as harsh as I feared it would be, but Margaret is definitely different by the end of the book.

There is a large assembled cast throughout the book, perhaps a little too large in the middle stages. However, the detail of the players who made up Margaret's and Hilda's lives at that time are important, and some of the smaller characters do provide further insight into the main ones. Gibbons clearly had the knack of writing a luxurious and detailed novel, rich in description and bursting with tactical observation; which, combined with compelling characters, makes a relaxing but satisfying summer read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

FURTHER READING SUGGESTION: The Ghost of Lily Painter by Caitlin Davies or the book for which Gibbons is best-known Cold Comfort Farm

Buy Westwood by Stella Gibbons at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Westwood by Stella Gibbons at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Westwood by Stella Gibbons at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Westwood by Stella Gibbons at Amazon.com.


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