Book / Art Pairing: The Town in Bloom, Dodie Smith

It occurred to me the other day that although I like both books and art, I only ever talk about one of them here. Perhaps I am not the only person around the blogosphere of whom this is true.ย  Hence, I’ve decided to try a new thing with some of my book posts where I pair the book with a piece of art that I’ve liked. Please let me know in the comments what you think about this idea for a new feature: Good? Indifferent? Hopelessly pretentious?

The Town in Bloom, Dodie Smith’s third adult novel, was a gift from the kind and good Jessica of The Bluestocking Society. It’s the story of an aspiring actress called Mouse in 1920s London, her friends Lilian and Molly and Zelle, her attempt at an acting career, and her love affairs along the way.

The wonderful Leaves and Pages read The Town in Bloom recently, engendering in me a desire to revisit it. I read it years ago in a postโ€“I Capture the Castle frenzy, and I thought I might perhaps have done it an injustice by reading it in that context. You could hardly expect Dodie Smith to be as great as I Capture the Castle every single time. Besides which, the copy Jessica sent me matches to my copy of The New Moon with the Old, so I knew I’d feel happy about that when I looked at the book, even if I didn’t end up loving it.

I didn’t end up loving it. Alas! Dodie Smith sighs balefully in heaven about the vast choruses of people who complain that she never did anything as good as I Capture the Castle, but I am indifferent to her complaints.

The problem with The Town in Bloom for me was the utter rigidity of the characters, and the fact that I didn’t find any of them nearly as charming as Dodie Smith seemed to. Molly’s affectations maddened me; Lilian felt awfully entitled to affection for how much of a bitchy, conniving prude she was; and I got tired of Mouse’s ingenuousness, which quickly began to feel disingenuous.

If I may be permitted a quick spoiler, I had slightly more positive feelings about the book for the first three-quarters of it. But I was furious that a book with this degree of casual sexual permissiveness ended up suggesting that it was totally fine, even admirable, for Lilian to have tattled about Zelle’s sexual history to Zelle’s (potential) paramour. You know, to save him. From maybe marrying a girl who had had an affair with a married man. Keep in mind this action is taken by a girl who is currently engaged in an affair with a married man. Gag.

Good news is, I do feel happy every time I look at my matching copies of The New Moon with the Old and The Town in Bloom, and I do tend to like books better when I reread them, so I haven’t lost all hope. The Town in Bloom has lots of interesting bits about a life in the theatre in the 1920s, which I quite enjoyed, and maybe time will help me to find Mouse less annoying. (She’s a ghastly mix of Cassandra and Rose, if you’ve read I Capture the Castle, which produces very poor results.)

Anyway, on to the art pairing! I’ve picked one of Roy Ritchie’s photographs (his website here), as I absolutely love the costumes and the atmospheric lighting in this series. This one reminds me of Zelle, the one character in the book I didn’t semi-loathe. Zelle upon her arrival in the girls’ lives is unspeakably elegant and unspeakably bored. She keeps wanting her life to be different and doesn’t (initially) know what to do about changing it.

Screenshot 2014-04-18 18.44.00

Make sure to look at the other photographs in this series when you’re over at the website! You naturally must want to see more of them, right? Since they’re so pretty?

  • Book + art pairing = inspired! I would love you to do this. Pairing is a really interesting way of looking at both books and art. I’d never heard of Roy Ritchie before I read your post so I am now Enriched more than usual – Doubly Enriched! ๐Ÿ™‚

    While I’ve enjoyed the dalmations books, I’ve never dared read any of Dodie Smith’s adult novels other than ICTC because I couldn’t believe they were as good. But that’s a bit limiting, isn’t it? It sounds as if there are good things here too, even if it’s not top notch. And I think you reviews The New Moon with the Old so I’m going to have a look in your archives…

    • Gin Jenny

      Gosh, thanks! You are so encouraging! I will do another one then — I’m finding I have very little to say about Andy Weir’s The Martian, but I can think of a totally good art pairing to go with it.

      It’s not SO limiting. You aren’t missing THAT much. I am fond of The New Moon with the Old, but I recognize it’s not great.

  • I like the art pairing lots, and I um…didn’t much like the book either. Though the scene where Mouse turns the play into a farce has stuck with me like glue (in a good way).

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahaha, oh that scene. I couldn’t believe that after all those years, Mouse still didn’t admit that she’d messed up the play!

  • I like pairings of all sorts – books and tea, books and food, books and art. I’m not clever enough to do it myself, but I love reading posts by those who are! :–)

    • Gin Jenny

      Oo, do people still do that meme that’s like tea and books? That one? You remember that? I feel like I haven’t seen it in ages. (It’s wasted on me because I don’t drink tea.)

  • Alas, poor Dodie. You are quite right – she didn’t ever write anything to match I Capture the Castle. And I advise you never to read a biography about her, as her own love life would not make you happy. Better than you never know. Still, the new editions of her other novels ARE immensely pretty and soothing to look at. That has to be a good thing.

    • Gin Jenny

      I know, bless her. And honestly, I never expected she had a happy love life. She doesn’t give the impression of being clever about relationships.

  • I like the idea. I haven’t a clue about the book other than what you’ve written here, but it’s enough to ‘get’ the pairing, and maybe also to put me off reading the book for a bit as I loved I Capture the Castle too much. Great photo, I like the style a lot. Pair away ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahaha, okay! You got it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I love this idea, and I love the photo you chose. I have yet to read The Town in Bloom, but I’ve been awfully tempted ever since I read I Capture the Castle last year.

    • Gin Jenny

      Well, it’s kind of garbage compared to I Capture the Castle. None of her other books (that I’ve read so far) touched ICtC. But of the ones I read, I preferred the New Moon with the Old. By a bit.

  • I find pairings contrived, in general. I liked looking at the photographs and think about the characters you describe, though.

    • Gin Jenny

      YOU’RE CONTRIVED.

    • Gin Jenny

      Don’t worry, I handle criticism with great maturity. :p

      (No, you’re right. It is contrived. But it can still be sort of fun.)

  • I love pairings of all kinds! I’d love to see other art/book pairings from you.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yay, okay! I have a second one in mind.

  • Riv

    I also think this is an excellent idea. It’s always interesting to see how other people’s imagination goes when it comes to pairings and combinations like this.

    • Gin Jenny

      I made a big file! Of all the art I’ve been enjoying, so that I will have plenty to choose from. I just need to remember to keep doing it periodically (until y’all all get sick of it and beg me to stop :p).

  • Definitely make this a permanent feature! I’ve not read anything by Dodi Smith except ICTC, I’m nervous about reading any more in case – like you – I am disappointed by what I chose next.

    • Gin Jenny

      If you do read anything else by her, just go into it without any expectations. I think that’s your best bet to avoid disappointment. Because her other books just aren’t very good.

  • I’m all for more paintings with reviews, a lovely idea!
    I enjoyed the first half of this, but found the ‘romance’ stuff so tedious that I went right off by the end…

    • Gin Jenny

      Yep, I felt the same. It was much better before she began insisting that she was in love with the theater manager.

  • Katy

    Have you read It Ends With Revelations? That’s my favorite one after I Capture the Castle.