The Artificial Silk Girl – Irmgard Keun (tr. Kathie von Ankum)

Inspired by the example of Anita Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925), Keun set out to write the German answer to the bestselling novel from the US (a book I haven’t yet read). That’s how The Artificial Silk Girl was born, first published in the early 1930s in Germany at a time when the Nazis were in power. Not surprisingly, this book, along with many of Keun’s writings, was banned at the time.

The Artificial Silk Girl is narrated in the first person, in a voice that is immediately captivating, fresh and lively – a voice I was instantly drawn to.

Our narrator and protagonist is the feisty Doris residing in a mid-size town in Germany with her parents. When the book opens, Doris finds herself stuck in a staid, stifling job with a legal firm, which requires her to insert commas in the appropriate places in letters. Not only does she not enjoy this role, she is not particularly good at it, something she tries to make up for by flirting with her boss. But it’s a job that pays even if half of her salary goes to her domineering father who wastes it away.

Inevitably, Doris loses her job but through her mother’s connections manages to find an opening in the glittering world of theatre. Theatre life is full of politics and backbiting but Doris is street-smart and carves a place for herself by falsely letting on that she’s in a relationship with the director. Subsequently, a competition with the other girls for a one-line part in the play ensues. Doris bags the part, although she is eventually fired when her lies are exposed. She steals a fur coat from the dressing room and makes her way to the big city, Berlin.

In those first heady days, Doris is dazzled by the grandeur and splendor of Berlin.

Berlin is so wonderful. I would like to be a Berliner and belong here. The Resi, which is behind Blumenstrasse, isn’t a restaurant really. It’s all colors and whirling lights, it’s a beer belly that’s all lit up, it’s a tremendous piece of art. You can find that sort of thing only in Berlin. You have to picture everything in red and shimmery, more and more and more, and incredibly sophisticated.

She has ambitions of becoming a movie star and leading a glittering life filled with glamour and romance. There’s one section where Doris is in conversation with her blind neighbour Brenner with whom she’s possibly having an affair, which is particularly fascinating in the way Doris describes the vibrancy of Berlin. For Brenner, Doris is his eyes for a view of the big city. To his recurring question, “What did you see?”, Doris embarks on a stream of consciousness style narrative that depicts Berlin in a series of dazzling images following one after the other.

“I see – swirling lights with lightbulbs right next to each other – women without veils with hair blown into their faces. That’s the new hairstyle – it’s called ‘wind-blown’ – and the corners of their mouths are like actresses before they take on a big role and black furs and fancy gowns underneath – and shiny eyes – and they are either a black drama or a blonde cinema.

But it dawns on her that the reality is quite different, made all the more apparent when she takes Brenner out for a night on the town. Wandering through the streets and visiting cafes and restaurants, Doris desperately aims to convince herself and Brenner that Berlin has the power to entice and seduce with its myriad diversions.

I just want him to like my Berlin.

But what is visible instead is the grimness of urban life and a sense of existential angst, which seeps through the core of their beings, disillusioning them both. Doris begins to experience these harsher realities in everyday life as well as she struggles to find a place to stay and call home and has to rely on men for money and some company. The only thing she can hold onto is her fur coat which gives her not only warmth but also a sense of self.

In The Artificial Silk Girl, Irmgard Keun has painted a memorable character in Doris, who is both naïve and streetwise at the same time. While Doris somehow has the guts to navigate the tougher side of Berlin, she harbours romantic illusions of making it big as a movie star, dreams that do not come to fruition.

The latter half of the novel particularly takes on a darker undertone, the bleakness of which is blunted to some extent by Doris’ unique and breezy voice. I could not help but think of Jean Rhys’ novels when reading the last section. In a way, while depending on the company of men for money and warmth, Doris bears a lot of resemblance to Rhys’ heroines in Voyage in the Dark and Good Morning, Midnight. And yet, I couldn’t help but think that despite the similar circumstances, the heroine in Keun’s novel is not as defeated as in Rhys’.

But it’s a good thing that I’m unhappy, because if you’re happy you don’t get ahead.

In a nutshell, The Artificial Silk Girl is a wonderful novel that captures Berlin in the Roaring Twenties in all its glitter and grimness, transmitted to us by an unforgettable protagonist.

Love in a Fallen City – Eileen Chang (tr. Karen S. Kingsbury)

Eileen Chang is one of those authors whose books I have been collecting over the years without actually reading them. Until now. As I was scouring some potential reads for WITMonth, I felt the time was ripe to finally delve into some of her work. And Love in a Fallen City published by the ever reliable NYRB Classics is what I decided to go with.

Love in a Fallen City is a collection of four novellas and two short stories offering a fascinating glimpse into the lives of people in 1930s/1940s Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Eileen Chang’s real life itself was quite dramatic and full of upheavals and possibly provided her with some rich material for her writing. Chang’s father was deeply traditional and an opium addict. Her mother, on the other hand, was a sophisticated woman of cosmopolitan tastes. With such a varied outlook on life, her parents eventually divorced and Eileen initially chose to stay with her father. But that experience proved traumatic as she was beaten for defying her stepmother and locked in her room for nearly half a year. She managed to escape. While she studied in Hong Kong, Japanese invasion of the city in 1941 forced her to return to occupied Shanghai where she first published the stories included in this collection, making her a literary star.

So here’s a brief taster of her novellas and some of the themes that are displayed in them…

In the first novella “Aloeswood Incense”, the protagonist finds out that love is not a simple, romantic affair, rather more of a business transaction. In the opening pages, young Weilong visits the residence her wealthy aunt who is otherwise estranged from the family. Weilong’s parents have decided to move to Shanghai but Weilong wants to stay back in Hong Kong and complete her schooling. Thus, she approaches her Aunt Liang with a request that she be given a room to stay in the house. Aunt Liang, at first, is hesitant given her strained relations with the girl’s family. But she relents on the condition that Weilong actively participates in various social gatherings in her home and learns the attributes of being a good hostess. Gradually, Weilong is introduced to a world of fine dresses, parties, flirting and socializing with rich men. When she does actually fall in love, she realizes that it’s not all smooth sailing and she resigns to a pact of compromise.

The second novella “Love in a Fallen City” has a happier ending but not without a sword of uncertainty hanging over the couple’s heads. As the novel opens, our protagonist Liusu has already come back home to stay with her large, extended family. Liusu was married, but having suffered constant abuse by her husband, she is compelled her to divorce him. When Liusu’s family learns of his death, they pressurize her to go back to her married home and assume the role of a dignified, mourning widow.  Liusu flatly refuses and this further strains her relations with her family making living with them quite unbearable. Meanwhile, having given up hopes of Liusui ever remarrying given her age, the family begins focusing on getting her younger sister married off. A suitable match is found – his name is Liuyuan. However, when the family goes for an outing with Liuyuan, it is Liusu who catches his fancy.

The matchmaker offers to take Liusu with her as a companion to Hong Kong. Liusu readily accepts because it also means it is an opportunity for her to meet Liuyuan and also get away from her family. However, when Liusu and Liuyuan regularly start seeing each other, she still remains uncertain of her position in their relationship. Until one day, Japan invades Hong Kong in December 1941.

Family tensions are also palpable in the third novella “The Golden Cangue”, the only one that has been translated by Eileen Chang herself. Our protagonist is a woman called Ch’i-ch’iao who is married into the well-to-do Chiang family. However, Ch’i-ch’iao’s husband is a cripple and Ch’i-ch’iao herself comes from a family of traders (they run a sesame oil shop), a social background that is looked down upon by the Chiangs. Her origins as well as her irascible personality alienate her from the Chiang family and several years later she vents her frustration on her son and daughter.

Ch’i-ch’iao lay half asleep on the opium couch. For thirty years now she had worn a golden cangue. She had used its heavy edges to chop down several people; those that did not die were half killed. She knew that her son and daughter hated her to the death, that the relatives on her husband’s side hated her, and that her own kinsfolk also hated her.

Women are the central figures in the first three novellas but in “Red Rose, White Rose” our protagonist is Zhenbao, who has worked his way up and is a self-made man. Here’s how the novella opens:

There were two women in Zhenbao’s life: one he called his white rose, the other his red rose. One was a spotless wife, the other a passionate mistress.

Coming from a poor background, he becomes an engineer through sheer hard work and secures a good position in a textile company. Zhenbao takes it upon himself to provide for his mother and also fund the education of his brother and sisters. And then he becomes passionately involved with his friend’s wife Jiaorui who is a progressive woman with a London upbringing. Not wanting to damage his reputation and irk his mother with this alliance, Zhenbao ends it and marries a traditional woman called Yanli. But he remains disappointed and the zeal with which he aspires to be a so-called ‘good’ man does not give him much satisfaction. Yanli, for her part, also finds herself trapped in a claustrophobic setting.

In these stories, the one theme that stands out is the limited opportunities available to women in Chinese society in the early 20th century. Having a career, in the way we understand it today, was pretty much unheard of. The only way to climb up the society ladder and attain financial security was by marrying a well-to-do man. For instance, in “Love in a Fallen City” when Liusu can no longer stand the presence of her family, she realizes that a good marriage is the only way she can escape their clutches and that too quickly rather than finding a job and establishing herself, which will turn out to be a slow, painstaking process.  

Married men having mistresses is rampant and the women in Chang’s world can’t do much about it. But if it’s all about the money, even mistresses can attain financial means. This is apparent in “Aloeswood Incense”, where Weilong’s aunt is financially secure simply because she was well provided for despite her status as a mistress.

And yet, despite such a constrained environment, the women in Chang’s novellas are not necessarily doormats. Even in such confined circumstances, they harbor ambitions of getting ahead.

The other striking feature in Chang’s novellas is the prevalence of sexual politics. It is vividly described in conversations when couples are either flirting or courting seriously. A simple declaration of love is not taken at face value but is only an indication that there is something more simmering under the surface.

Chang’s novellas also bring to the fore a blend of traditional and modern values. Men, who have been abroad for a while and have seen something of the world, are fascinated by traditional Chinese women back home. And yet, divorces, although probably looked down upon, were not entirely non-existent in early 20th century China.

Difficulties of being an offspring with a mixed heritage are also hinted at in this conversation between Weilong and a girl called Jijie whose origins are an amalgamation of Arab, Indian, Negro, Indonesian, Portuguese with a dash of Chinese.

“I’m mixed-blood myself and I’ve been through it all. These mixed-blood boys are the ones we’re most likely to marry. We can’t marry a Chinese – we’ve got foreign-style educations, so we don’t fit in with the pure Chinese types. We can’t marry a foreigner, either – have you seen any whites here who aren’t deeply influenced by race concepts? Even if one of them wanted to marry one of us, there’d be too much social pressure against it. Anyone who marries an Oriental loses his career. In this day and age, who could be that romantic?”

I really liked the flavor of the four novellas in this collection accentuated by the fact that Eileen Chang’s writing is elegant and incisive with a lovely way of describing things.

It was a humid spring evening, and the Hong Kong hills are famous for their fog. The white Liang mansion was melting viscously into the white mist, leaving only the greenish gleam of the lamplight shining through square after square of the green windowpanes, like ice cubes in peppermint schnapps. When the fog thickened, the ice cubes dissolved, and the lights went out.

She has a flair for painting a detailed picture of the social mores of the time and well as for her perceptive depictions of the inner workings of her characters’ minds. And she also highlights the subtle differences between Hong Kong, which has more of a British essence, and Shanghai which is more Chinese.

Ultimately, there is something tragic about the men and women (the latter particularly) in her novellas, a sense of melancholy that leaves its mark on the reader.

A Month of Reading – July 2020

July 2020 was another excellent reading month. I managed to read seven books all of which were very good. My favourites were Earth and High Heaven, Look At Me and The Weather in the Streets.

Here is a round-up of the seven books with links provided for those I have reviewed in detail separately.

Earth and High Heaven – Gwethalyn Graham

Earth and High Heaven is a wonderfully absorbing novel the focal point of which is a love affair between a Gentile woman and a Jewish man portrayed against a backdrop of racial prejudice.

The novel is set in the city of Montreal in Canada in the early 1940s when the war was still raging in Europe. The implication of racial prejudice is a big theme of the novel, particularly the danger of making sweeping generalisations.

Erica Drake, an English Canadian born to a wealthy family, falls in love with Marc Reiser, a Jewish man with origins in Austria. Erica’s parents are highly opposed to this relationship because of their deep-seated prejudices against the Jews and they refuse to cast them aside and see Marc as an individual. Will the couple surmount all odds and eventually marry?

Earth and High Heaven is a brilliantly immersive novel. Graham’s writing is sensitive and intelligent and many of the discussions and arguments between Erica and her parents and Erica and Marc are tense but riveting.

Look At Me – Anita Brookner

At a little under 200 pages, Look At Me is a compelling and searing portrait of loneliness and wanting to belong.

By day, our narrator, Frances Hinton works in a medical library and in the evenings spends time in solitude in her large flat, writing. However, one day the charismatic doctor Nick Fraser and his equally dynamic wife Alix appear on the scene and Frances finds herself in their company thoroughly enjoying herself. Until something terribly goes wrong and Frances finds that the Frasers are no longer interested in her.

Look At Me then is quite a fascinating but heartbreaking account of a lonely woman who can never really belong to the social circle she wants to be a part of, having to contend with the role of an outsider.

Brookner’s writing is brilliant. Her sentences are precise and exquisitely crafted and she captures perfectly Frances’ mental state as she is drawn towards the allure of the Frasers and then cruelly cast aside. 

The Invitation to the Waltz – Rosamond Lehmann

Invitation to the Waltz is the first of the Olivia Curtis novels. When the book opens, Olivia has turned seventeen and there is a family gathering to celebrate and present her with gifts. The novel charts the emotions of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood – the anxiety as well as the excitement of making a good impression at the dance, hopes for a schedule full of dance partners alternating with the fear of being left alone.

Lehmann’s prose is lush and beautiful and I was immediately struck by her impressionistic writing style. Set in the 1930s, she also subtly brings to the fore the class differences prevalent in the society at the time.

The Weather in the Streets – Rosamond Lehmann

Set ten years after Invitation to the Waltz, The Weather in the Streets revolves round the doomed love affair between Olivia Curtis and the married Rollo Spencer who is first introduced to readers in the final few pages of the first novel.

Olivia is the narrator and she is now residing in London, in cramped quarters with her cousin Etty and is leading a bohemian lifestyle with her artist set of friends. While on a trip to the countryside to meet her family, particularly her father who is down with pneumonia, she starts talking to Rollo Spencer on the train and they hit it off.

From thereon Olivia and Rollo embark on a passionate affair that is played out behind closed doors and shrouded in a veil of secrecy.

Lehmann brilliantly captures the stages of the affair as it pans out from Olivia’s point of view – the first heady days of the affair gradually when the world is seen through rose-tinted glasses, and then followed by moments of desperation as Olivia endlessly waits for Rollo’s call.  

Lehmann manages to turn the ‘done-to-death’ tale of an extra-marital affair into something entirely new, and her sensitive portrayal of Olivia’s plight is truly heartbreaking and evokes the sympathy of the reader.

The Hours Before Dawn – Celia Fremlin

“I’d give anything – anything – for a night’s sleep.”

Thus begins Celia Fremlin’s wonderful novel The Hours Before Dawn. The protagonist Louise Henderson is an utterly exhausted housewife. Her newborn son Michael insistently wails every night at an odd hour thereby disrupting her sleep. So as to not disturb her husband Mark and her daughters Margery and Harriet, Louise often takes Michael to the scullery to calm him down as soon as he starts crying in the dead of the night.

The lack of sleep is debilitating for Louise because for a larger part of the day she is trying to complete the household chores in a dazed state leaving her very tired. The day is busy as she has to juggle her daughters’ school activities, meals for the family and keeping the house clean, all of which begin to take a toll on her physically and mentally.

Louise has to do it all single-handedly. Her husband Mark is not much of a support. Michael’s night crying annoys him. And his meager attempts to show concern for her only ends up stressing Louise more.

Moreover, the neighbours are of no help either. They are judgmental, they consistently complain about the noise the children make, and Louise finds herself apologizing all the time. Louise is also wracked with guilt and inadequacy as she struggles with all the multi-tasking expected of her.

Into this household, comes a new lodger to stay – Vera Brandon. When Louise shows Vera the room, she accepts it without asking any questions which surprises Louise but doesn’t particularly distress her at the time since the family needs the extra income with a new baby born.

Things begin to get sinister when a friend of Louise’s, Beatrice, makes a chance remark that Vera had approached her husband Humphrey to enquire about the Hendersons. This unsettles Louise since she is under the impression that Vera had responded to the Hendersons’ advertisement in the newspapers.

As Louise’s suspicions about Vera grow, so do her exhaustion levels so much so that there are times when her dreams begin to merge with reality.

This is a wonderful novel, which besides having shades of a psychological thriller, also has moments of black comedy thrown in. In a world where it is taken for granted that motherhood is only full of joys, Fremlin provides a realistic portrayal of how challenging being a mother can be and how society is not always kind in understanding this.  

Who Among Us? – Mario Benedetti (tr. Nick Caistor)

This is a story of an unusual love triangle where the reader gets to see the perspective of all the three participants.

Miguel and Alicia fall in love when they are teenagers and their relationship proceeds simply until the charismatic Lucas turns up on the scene. Miguel sees the spark grow between Alicia and Lucas as they have passionate discussions on various topics, and he assumes that he and Alicia have no future. And yet, Alicia chooses to marry Miguel, and Lucas fades away. After eleven years of marriage (and two kids), Miguel somehow comes to see their union as a mistake. Thus, he persuades Alicia to meet Lucas whence a chance for a trip to Buenos Aires turns up.

Miguel’s perspective on the events is in the form of undated notebook entries as he analyses in deep detail the nature of the relations between the three of them. Through his entries, it becomes apparent that Miguel is a passive man who considers himself second-rate. We see Alicia’s perspective in the form of a letter she writes to Miguel which casts a different light on what we have read in Miguel’s account. Alicia loved Miguel but acknowledges that their marriage has deteriorated and largely blames him for it. Lucas’ viewpoints are displayed to us in the form of a short story, including footnotes, which explains the text and how it relates to the reality of what happened.

At less than 100 pages, Who Among Us? is an absorbing novella that explores the themes of love, missed opportunities and misunderstandings.

Solea – Jean-Claude Izzo (tr. Howard Curtis)

I had read the first two books in Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles trilogy – Total Chaos and Chourmo – a few years back. Billed as Mediterranean noir, these books featured the cynical, beaten-down cop Fabio Montale and his attempts to solve the crimes surrounding his best friends Manu and Ugi killed by the Mafia and cops respectively.

What also stood out in these books is the vivid evocation of Marseilles, its sights and smells, various mouth-watering descriptions of food and drink. It also highlighted the uglier side of the city – the poverty, crime, racism towards immigrants and the crippling corruption.

Both of them were very atmospheric books but for some reason I completely forgot about the third installment in this trilogy – Solea.

In Solea, Montale’s former lover and investigative journalist Babette is on the run from the Mafia as she is about to publish some shocking details about the organization. The Mafia wants Montale to find her for them. To show that they are dead serious about it, two people very close to Montale are murdered.

That’s the basic premise of the plot and I won’t reveal more. But Solea is also suffused with Montale ruminating a lot about his past and the level of growing corruption and extremism in Marseilles and on a larger scale in France. In that sense, the novel is quite cynical and bleak.  While Solea is a solid book, I somehow felt that it was not on the same level as either Total Chaos or Chourmo.

That’s it for July.

I intend to devote August entirely to Women in Translation (WIT Month), and have begun my reading with Olga Tukarczuk’s novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and Eileen Chang’s collection of novellas Love in A Fallen City, both of which I am enjoying.

Invitation to the Waltz & The Weather in the Streets – Rosamond Lehmann

Lately, I have been drawn a lot towards the writing of 20th century female authors, a lot of them I had not heard of previously. I have made some wonderful discoveries – the novels of Elizabeth Taylor, Muriel Spark, Barbara Pym, Barbara Comyns to name a few. Then I came across Rosamond Lehmann. After seeing a lot of love for her on Twitter, I picked out two of her 1930s novels which garnered considerable acclaim during her time – Invitation to the Waltz and The Weather in the Streets – both focusing on the protagonist Olivia Curtis. And, with these two books, Lehmann has turned out to be another wonderful discovery.

So here are my brief thoughts on both the novels…

Invitation to the Waltz

Invitation to the Waltz is the first of the Olivia Curtis novels. When the book opens, Olivia has turned seventeen and there is a family gathering to celebrate her birthday and present her with gifts. We are introduced to Olivia’s parents, her elder sister Kate, her younger brother James and their uncle Oswald. Olivia’s parents gift her a material of flaming red which gives Olivia considerable joy. She can now get a dress stitched for her very first social event – a ball at the residence of the wealthy Spencers.

Nowadays a peculiar emotion accompanies the moment of looking in the mirror: fitfully, rarely a stranger might emerge: a new self.

It had happened two or three times already, beginning with a day last summer, the languid close of a burning afternoon; coming from the burdened garden into the silent, darkened house: melancholy, solitary, restless, keyed up expectantly-for what?

She looked in the glass and saw herself…Well, what was it? She knew what she looked like, had for some years thought the reflection interesting, because it was her own; though disappointing, unreliable, subject twenty times a day to blottings-out and blurrings, as if a lamp were guttering or extinguished: in any case irremediably imperfect. But this was something else. This was a mysterious face; both dark and glowing; hair tumbling down, pushed back and upwards, as if in currents of fierce energy.

The novel charts the emotions of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood – the anxiety as well as the excitement of making a good impression at the ball, Olivia’s hopes for a thriving schedule of dances, which alternate with the fear of being left alone.

The novel is divided into three sections – the first two portray Kate and Olivia’s anticipation and preparations for the dance, while the last section is entirely devoted to the ball.

The ball itself is beautifully presented with vivid details as Olivia manages to get her share of dancing partners while at the same time is also let down by one or two. The dialogues between Olivia and her various dance partners sparkle and through them we are given a brief sketch of various characters.

Lehmann’s prose is lush and beautiful and I was immediately struck by her impressionistic writing style. Set in the 1930s, she also subtly brings to the fore the class differences prevalent in the society at the time.

The Weather in the Streets

Set ten years after Invitation to the Waltz, The Weather in the Streets revolves round the doomed love affair between Olivia Curtis and the married Rollo Spencer who is first introduced to readers in the final few pages of the first novel.

Olivia is the narrator and she is now residing in London, in cramped quarters with her cousin Etty and is leading a bohemian lifestyle with her artist set of friends. The Curtis sisters could not have turned out more different. Kate, who in the first novel, gives the impression of being sassier of the two, eventually ends up taking the traditional path of marriage, children and settling in the countryside. It’s Olivia who shifts to the big city choosing to lead an independent life with a failed marriage behind her.

While on a trip to the countryside to meet her family, particularly her father who is down with pneumonia, she starts talking to Rollo Spencer on the train and they hit it off.

An invitation to a family gathering of the Spencers follows. And from thereon Olivia and Rollo embark on a passionate affair, snatched moments played out behind closed doors – in wretched hotels, stuffy cars and Olivia’s tiny rooms interspersed with a couple of getaways, all of it shrouded by a veil of secrecy.

It was then the time began when there wasn’t any time. The journey was in the dark, going on without end or beginning, without landmarks, bearings lost: asleep?…waking…Time whirled, throwing up in paradoxical slow motion a sign, a scene, sharp, startling, lingering as a blow over the heart. A look flared, urgently meaning something, stamping itself for ever ever, ever…Gone, flashed away, a face in the train passing, not ever to be recovered.

There was this inward double living under amorphous impacts of dark and light mixed: that was when we were together…Not being together was a vacuum. It was an unborn place in the shadow of the time before and the time to come. It was remembering and looking forward, drawn out painfully both ways, taut like a bit of elastic…Wearing…

Lehmann brilliantly captures the stages of the affair as it pans out from Olivia’s point of view – the first heady days of the affair when the world is seen through rose-tinted glasses, and then gradually followed by moments of desperation as Olivia endlessly waits for Rollo’s calls. Olivia begins to fall in love with Rollo even though it is evident right from the start that their affair has no future.

Besides the two of them coming from different social backgrounds, one of the main obstacles to the affair ever blossoming is the strict moral codes of the time. Status and social standing is critical as is keeping up appearances. There is simply no room for divorce.

Lehmann’s prose in this novel is incredible turning the ‘done-to-death’ tale of an extra-marital affair into something entirely new. Her sensitive portrayal of Olivia’s plight is truly heartbreaking and evokes the sympathy of the reader. One striking aspect of Lehman’s writing style is the shift in narration from the first person to the third in the space of a few paragraphs. Indeed, it feels that at one point we are inside Olivia’s head as she experiences the turmoil and the anguish of the affair, and at the same time we are the observers watching Olivia’s fate from a distance. This instantly reminded me of Damon Galgut’s wonderful novel  In A Strange Room where Galgut effortlessly switches from the first person to the third in a single paragraph and pulls it off with aplomb.

While Olivia and Rollo are the focal point of the novel, it is also peppered with some wonderful set pieces that paint a picture of Olivia’s bohemian and vibrant friend circle.

In the afterword of my Virago Classics edition, Elizabeth Day highlights how the novel was quite ahead of its time, more so because certain developments described were perhaps shocking for audiences in the 1930s. However, Lehmann stood her ground and ensured that the novel was published the way it was intended to be.

The Weather in the Streets was one of my favourites last month and easily one of the highlights of my reading in the year so far.