Posts Tagged ‘Mary Wesley’

A Few More Older Novels Written by Women that Are Too Good to be Forgotten


These are all novels that got my highest rating when I read them. For this article, I have intentionally steered away from novels and authors that have been discussed often recently already.


‘The Sin Eater’ (1977) by Alice Thomas Ellis (1932-2005) – The Welsh writer Alice Thomas Ellis had a dark and strange sense of humor. ‘The Sin Eaters’ tells of family strife as they all come for a final visit to their ailing patriarch.



‘Tirra Lirra by the River’ (1978) by Jessica Anderson (1916-2010) – Here is an Australian novel about a woman escaping a selfish sanctimonious husband and a failed marriage by relocating in London. The year it was published, the Washington Post said “There may be a better novel than Tirra Lirra by the River this year, but I doubt it.”


‘During the Reign of the Queen of Persia’ (1983) by Joan Chase (1936-2018) – No, this does not take place in ancient times in the Middle East. It is the story of a family in rural Ohio during the 1950s. It should be easy to find since it was reissued by NYBR in 2014.



‘Three Paths to the Lake’ (1972) by Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) – OK, this is a collection of five stories, not a novel. Each of the stories is a portrait of an Austrian woman trying to make a go of it in a male-dominated society in the 1960s.



‘Invitation to the Waltz’ (1932) by Rosamond Lehmann (1901-1990) – I am enormously impressed by most of the writings by Rosamond Lehmann, and I could have mentioned several others here. ‘Invitation to the Waltz’ is a good example of her work. It is the story of a young woman preparing for her first society dance.



‘The Widow’s Children’ (1976) by Paula Fox (1923-2017) – Here is a powerful novel that takes place during a single night while a family goes out to dinner. Most of the novel is intense dialogue.




‘A Dubious Legacy’ (1994) by Mary Wesley (1912-2002) – An English novel about a bizarre marriage. While stationed abroad during World War II, a man marries a complete stranger at his father’s request. When the war is over, the man brings his bride back to his estate. Upon her arrival, she punches him in the eye and marches upstairs to her bedroom where she will stay for most of the time afterwards.


All of the writers mentioned here are worthy and deserving of being remembered by future generations.



‘Jumping the Queue’ by Mary Wesley – A Malicious Wit


‘Jumping the Queue’ by Mary Wesley  (1983)  – 217 pages

Why am I drawn like a magnet to novels which are described as “maliciously witty”?

I first discovered Mary Wesley in mid-career with ‘Sensible Lives’, and I read her novels as they came out from that point. However I had not read her first adult novel, ‘Jumping the Queue’, which got Wesley’s career jump-started in 1983 when she was already a young 71 years old. ‘Jumping the Queue’ was first turned down by several publishers for being too scandalous and quirky for their tastes.

In ‘Jumping the Queue’ we have outrage piled on outrage: screwing around, mother murder, incest, and eating the family dog. I kind of like it. Many of the incidents in the novel seem to be taken from the sordid stories one finds in tabloids.

Do you realize I killed my mother?” he said gently.

Of course. Lots of people long to. You just did it.”

Here’s the opening plot of this black comedy. Middle-aged Matilda is standing on the bridge, ready to kill herself by jumping or walking into the sea in a manner similar to what Virginia Woolf did. Her unfaithful husband is dead, and her children are all grown and moved away. She really doesn’t want to live through her inevitable decline. Before she left her house she sold her pet gander Gus to a breeding farm so he could have some fun.

However, on the bridge, Matilda is interrupted by 35-year-old Hugh, the matricide. Yes, Hugh murdered his mother with her own silver serving tray, and the police have an all-out search for him. He also wants to kill himself in the sea.

However since these two have interrupted each other and spoiled their suicide plans, Matilda takes the polite Hugh back home with her. Soon the gander Gus returns home too.

All this happens during the first few pages, and ‘Jumping the Queue’ only gets more hysterical from there. This is a wild and raunchy novel.

Along the way we have set pieces about the faux-country life outside of London, going to an expensive stylish London hairdresser, shopping in London boutiques, attending a London concert, and just walking the streets of London. Mary Wesley makes ironic fun of everything.

And that is why I read Mary Wesley.


Grade:   A



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