Reviewed by Janine Cobain
This mischievous roman à clef revolves around the interactions of five main characters. Victoria, barely twenty, finds herself acting as amanuensis to Laurence, an elderly man of letters, now blind, who lives in a ravishing house by the sea in northern Italy. Soon after her arrival, she indulges in a heady night of passion with Edgar, a youthful Englishman. Their subsequent union introduces Edgar's pretentious mother Lettice, who is jealous and suspicious of her daughter-in-law's prettiness and her ability to amuse Lettice's intellectual friends. While Victoria struggles to adapt to her new surroundings, Lettice, in a bid to maintain her own social superiority, attempts to thwart her every move in hilarious fashion. Enter Archie, one of the inner circle, whose relationship with Victoria provokes a scandal that threatens to destroy her.
Darkly funny and deeply insightful, Lettice & Victoria is not just a love story with a fanciful and flawed female protagonist, but a wonderful portrait of English society.
This is the fabulous tale of Victoria, shy with a quick mind and engaging view on life and how her life is shaped by the fanciful Lettice and I struggled to write this review simply because I couldn't find the words to do it justice. The writing brings each colourful character to life with such (I suspect autobiographical) clarity that you connect with them as people and enjoy the fascinating way in which they are pulled together.
The most emotive parts of the story are written stoically and, although strange at first, I found that by not describing the protagonist’s feelings it allowed me to feel the appropriate emotions, thus drawing me in closer.
I feel smarter just for reading this adorable book and Susanna Johnston’s writing style tickles the intellect without being taxing. Lettice & Victoria is the literary equivalent of ‘High Tea’ - indulgent, classy and over far too soon. I want second helpings!
An adorable tale, full of three dimensional characters and a plot that surprises.
I'd like to thank Karen at Arcadia Books for sending Janine a copy of this book to review.