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. 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 post–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.
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?