Monday, December 3, 2012

The Meeting Place by Mary Hocking

Not an author I'm familiar with but I was going through my list of Virago Modern Classics authors and checking the library catalogue in hope there would be a few hidden away in their archives room when I noticed this title. Published in 1996 it was Mary Hocking's last book and still sits on the library shelf so I brought it home this week and it has proven to be lovely weekend reading.

Once a headmistress, now an artist, Clarice Mitchell considers herself to be a capable, no-nonsense sort of person but she's also aware that, at 69 and with failing health, she has become too reclusive. She accepts an invitation to be part of the Beacon Theatre Company's next production when she realises that the remote moorland farmhouse where the rehearsals are to be held is the place so loved and talked about by her long-ago teacher, Roberta Wilcox.

Roberta's grandmother had been born at this isolated farmhouse. An ancient site which before becoming a farm had been a 15th priory and later an inn. Soon after her arrival Clarice begins to have serious concerns about her health. Not only does she suffer dizzy spells but frequently sees the figures of two women. Who is the middle-aged woman in Victorian dress who watches her? And the wild-haired girl first glimpsed standing in a moorland pool and later on a journey?

It is a time-shift story with the lives of each woman told in alternating chapters. It reminded me of authors like Barbara Erskine and Susanna Kearsley but their books can be 500 - 600 pages long while The Meeting Place is a mere 212 pages. When Clarice starts to look back at the events of her life as well it all seemed too much  for so few pages to handle. Apart from the location I could see no connection between the women and could sympathise with Clarice...
" There is something I'm being told that I don't want to accept, it waits for me, like a patient presence."
Of course, it all makes sense at the end. A very moving ending that saw me shedding a tear or two! So skilfully constructed and with some beautiful prose it reminds us that despite the ever-changing patterns of time on landscapes and people some things remain forever the same. And one of those things is living with the consequences of the choices we make.

I enjoyed The Meeting Place very much and was a little sad to find virtually no mention of it at all, or of Mary Hocking's other twenty-three books, when I googled this morning. She seems to have slid into obscurity which is a great pity.


  1. She's not an author that I have heard of either. I enjoy time-slip novels like this - but unfortunately neither of our libraries have this, or any other novel by her.

    1. There are two VMC in our library archives room which I shall read but she does seem to to be an author who has slipped into obscurity.

  2. I don't usually read time-slip novels, but the moorland farmhouse seems like a very atmospheric setting.

  3. I've seen Mary Hocking compared with Barbara Pym, but this sounds pretty different. I'm intrigued but its not one of the (unread) VMCs on my shelves and my library doesn't have it. One for the wishlist!

  4. I cam across your review as I was writing my own for this book. I am hosting a Mary Hocking reading month over on my blog this month. I so enjoyed the book too, and it is so sad she isn't better known.