Book info

The Camomile Lawn (2006)

The Camomile Lawn (2006)
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Rating
3.83 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
0099499142 (ISBN13: 9780099499145)
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English
publisher
vintage
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The Camomile Lawn (2006)
The Camomile Lawn (2006)

About book: For some time now I do carework for the elderly in the UK. People in their late 80's or even 90's, whose young years play out on the pages of this book. Often they relate to me their war-time experiences, in fact it seems, that - very understandibly - those years left the deepest marks on their lives. It struck me as strange, or weird even, that some of them spoke with quite some relish about the war years (just like Polly does in the novel). Reading this book (haven't finished yet) helps me to understand them on a deeper level. Some reviewers complain here, that the characters are rather flat and mono-dimensional. Strangely, to me this rather well expresses their real complexity. Older generations British people can appear rather one sided, but if you spend time with them, you can sense the depth of - probably not conscious or not expressed - layers of their personalities. Very often you can just do guess work, or if you operate on a more emotional/intuitive level, sense them somehow. The way they talk, their gestures, their vibes when they recall their past, or just the way they exist today gives a lot or clues. There is one thing that I did definitely sense with my clients as well as with the characters moving about on the pages of this book: there is a profound sense of perplexity, a very curious mixture of shame and pleasure. Just imagine the state of mind at the time of the most terrible war of modern Europe: you are in the middle of it, people are dying left, right and centre, including your beloved ones, yet you can't help feeling that this is the time of your life... There is party after party, sex is oozing from the walls together with death, if you are a young woman for instance, you are suddenly out of the confines of your probably strict family and/or school, and from a girl waiting to be married, you fast as lightening evolve into someone with an often vitally important role for your country in war.A client or mine, who comes from a rather poor family, became one of the very few first women to operate the radars for the RAF. She was in her late teens, just out of a boarding school (where she won a grant and probably mostly learnt home economics, etc.) and all of a sudden she was operating radars, then very soon teaching male officers, decades her seniors, the science of radar detection. On the other hand, she recalls her feelings of being instrumental in killing people. One moment her face lights up with thrill, the other moment in terror and there is no way to separate these feelings, really, in the complexity of the experience. And of course this is 50+ years later. I can very well imagine that in those times this all was just too much to deal with, to intricate to go into detail, so you just focused on surviving in a raw and seemingly unsophisticated manner. The book reads very realistic to me on the basis of my experience with member of the war generation.

Contrary to many novels written about WWII England, this book does not explore the sacrifices, altruism or acts of heroism by the general populace, but instead creates a completely different picture of the monied elite. And it's not a particularly kind or generous profile. The writing style is somewhat peculiar as the story is told primarily through reflection of the past and rather stilted dialogue among and between characters. Wesley also uses her characters' thoughts, sometimes thoughts of multiple characters in the same paragraph, to move the story along. Only toward the very end, does she use a degree of description. I wasn't necessarily troubled by her style per se as theoretically, the reader could be given a look deep into each character in the novel. Unfortunately, with only a couple of exceptions, largely ignored by Wesley, the characters were superficial at best, clumsy, grasping and totally self-absorbed. Even the young men who enlisted in the military weren't particularly heroic or sympathetic. Ultimately, I found the story to be dull and repetitive with an absolutely ridiculous ending. BUT, I must say that I was intrigued by the subject matter - the elite in England during the time period. Intrigued enough to get a biography of the author, "Wild Mary." It will be interesting to see if Wesley wrote from her own experience. To be continued...
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Reviews
Petra X
Sub-The Forsyte Saga frippery. This is not a compliment, it doesn't have the depth of characters or development of plot of Galsworthy's epic novel. Sub-Night and Day frippery. This is a compliment, it doesn't have the awful pretension and snobbery that Virginia Woolf could never avoid in her life or her work. So the book is essentially a quite well written saga of some not terribly interesting people who have a lot of sex and a lot of money just like in the two aforementioned novels. The plot is all tied up about with what these characters did in the war related from the viewpoint of 40 odd years later. It reads so much like the author really wanted it to be bought by the BBC for a costume drama that after reading the book I downloaded the mini-series. It was definitely better than the book as the milk & water characters were developed into more interesting personalities by the actors.3.5 stars and I can't think who I would recommend the book to.Read 23 April 2012
B the BookAddict
My appreciation of The Camomile Lawn was fed by three sources; one being the knowledge that this novel was written when Wesley was 72 and it was only her second novel for adults. The second was the novel's authentic immediacy; Wesley does not bother with many descriptive passages and she very quickly sheds the constraints of who said what. Thirdly, in 1984 at 72, Wesley has an amazingly sprite open-mindedness; an astonishingly frank outlook about sex. You might easily get the idea she may be speaking from first-hand knowledge. I have heard the war made people react in ways they might normally not act; whatever the reason, the frankness is refreshing. Set in Cornwall just prior to WWII, London in 1939, and latterly in late 1970s, it is the story of a group of cousins, their parents, uncles and aunts and also two Jewish refugees. Their lives, how they cope and react to the effects of the war; their lives and their loves make for an eye-opening, interesting and entertaining read. This book is second in a sequence of novels; the first being Jumping the Queue, all written in Wesley's later years. Having enjoyed The Camomile Lawn so much, I plan to now read all her novels. I am so glad that a feature of Literary History in one of my GR groups introduced me to Mary Wesley. She is, ever so much, a bit of a feisty dame! 4★P.S. I never knew you could grow a camomile lawn!
David Manns
I saw the TV adaptation of this years ago and finally got round to reading the book. Strangely, I was disappointed. There's no discernible plot and some of the characters, particularly Aunt Helena are hard to like. The book follows a group of cousins and their families through the war years from their last summer together in Cornwall in August 1939. There are also flash-forwards to the funeral of one of the characters in the 1980's, where various story strands get resolved, sort of. The characters are selfish in the main, the younger ones treating the war as some great adventure. Maybe it was. Maybe I can't relate to them. Overall I was expecting something more.
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