Thursday 7 September 2023

A Green Equinox by Elizabeth Mavor #AGreenEquinox #ElizabethMavor @ViragoBooks @lucy_martin20 #BookerPrizeShortlist


Hero Kinoull is an antiquarian bookseller whose sedate life in the picturesque English town of Beaudesert is turned upside down between the spring and autumn equinoxes of a single year. First her quiet but forbidden liaison with Hugh Shafto, the curator of the country's finest collection of Rococo art, comes to an abrupt halt when she develops an adoration for his straight-talking, do-gooding wife Belle.

But this relationship leads to other, even more unexpected feelings for Belle's widowed mother-in-law, the majestic Kate Shafto, who spends her days tending her garden and sailing her handmade boats in the waters of the miniature archipelago she's constructed in a disused gravel pit.

A Green Equinox by Elizabeth Mavor. Shortlisted for the 1973 Booker Prize, this forgotten classic is reissued by Virago on 7 September 2023 after being out of print for decades. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

I was intrigued by the premise of this book. People who are familiar with my reviews will know that I rarely review anything considered to be a 'classic'. I have to admit that I do struggle at times with language that seems a little old-fashioned, or very literary. However, the themes of this story really resonate with me,  and feel so very relevant today, all these years later. I can imagine that at the time of publication, this novel was considered to be groundbreaking, dealing as it does, with female sexuality and the exploration of gender. 

It is a short novel, just under 200 pages and I read it whilst travelling to and from London on the train. Over three hours of totally uninterrupted reading, and whilst, yes, at first, I found it difficult to settle into, I was soon immersed into the world of the lead character: Hero Kinoull.

Hero is a middle-aged woman, living in a small English town. She owns a bookshop and is particularly interested in old books; re-binding them and wallowing in their beauty.  Hero is having an affair with married Hugh Shafto who is the curator of a fine art collection. They share a love of old things, of beautiful things and the preservation of those things. 

Hero has never met Hugh's wife Belle, despite the fact that they all live in the same small town. When, one day, Belle comes into Hero's shop to ask her to put up a poster, she is both appalled, but also intrigued by this woman.  Belle is a person who takes action, whether it be about the H bomb, pollution or race relations, Belle will take up the cause. 

Hero finds herself drawn to Belle, despite Hugh's dismay and soon Belle is the object of her adoration. However, there is another woman, one who is even more intriguing. A woman who lives by herself, sailing boats in a disused gravel pit and tending her garden; this is Hugh's mother Kate, and Hero really has found her soul mate. 

It sounds like a simple plot, and really it is, however, it is the underlying themes that really resonate. The things that some of the characters say and experience are as striking and current today as they were probably unconventional back then. 

It is a 'wordy' book, filled with drama such as typhoid, suicide and a drowning. It can be a bleak read at times, but it is a fine exploration of women's issues, with strong female characters who are beautifully created. 

Born in Glasgow and educated at Oxford, where she was reputedly the first woman to edit the university magazine, Elizabeth Mavor (1927–2013) was the author of five novels and numerous works of nonfiction. 

Drawn to the lives of women who flouted convention, her most celebrated works include two historical biographies: The Virgin Mistress: A Study in Survival (1964), about Elizabeth Pierrepont, Duchess of Kingston, an English courtesan famous for her adventurous lifestyle; and The Ladies of Llangollen (1971), the story of cross-dressing aristocratic companions Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby. 

Mavor was married to the cartoonist and illustrator Haro Hodson, with whom she had two sons.

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