Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Full House by M.J.Farrell (Molly Keane)

I was delighted to find Full House hidden away on the shelves of a secondhand shop. I'd already bought a copy of Good Behaviour to read for the Classics Club but as this was published earlier decided to read it first.

Molly Keane wrote under the pseudonym M.J.Farrell  because the Anglo-Irish society she came from, and depicts so vividly in her books, "despises girls who like to read and sees reading as a waste of time." That her characters would have often been formed from real people is likely another reason she chose not to use her real name.

The setting for the story is Silverue, a gracious Irish mansion....

" Between the hills and the sea this house called Silverue had been built. Groves of birch trees came chasing down the feet of the hills nearest the sea. Chasing because birches are forever in flight, maidenly and unsteady as maidens are. Springs burst up among them, wetting the rocks and soaking the dark mosses. These groves  were quiet and drenching and full of the sea-mists."

Silverue is the home of Sir Julian and Lady Olivia Bird and their three children but life revolves around the whims of vain and selfish Olivia. Her besotted husband indulges her behaviour, her children loathe her but find it difficult to break away from her domination.

Olivia's longtime friend, Eliza ( quietly in love with Julian) arrives for a visit on the same day that eldest son, John, is returning from an absence that ended in his 'going quite mad' and spending time in a mental hospital. Nobody is sure how to handle confronting this 'tragedy' but his presence will expose everyone's insecurities and be the catalyst that force secrets into the open.

The story is really a series of events and that capture the daily lives and inter-relationships of this very dysfunctional family. With a mix of lovely descriptive prose and sharp perception into human behaviour even the smallest incidents come to life. Sheena and Rupert take the dog for an evening walk and the dog disappears. Anyone who has had the same experience will not fail to recognise themselves in the ensuing panic.

" And presently a brown dog that had once been a white dog came hurrying down from the hills, dropped into the road and came mimbling and mambling towards the car - covered in shame and confusion and penitence - an evil and cursed little dog and nusiance, but with all that, a lost dog that was found again." 

Tennis afternoons, the Big Day of the garden party, dinner at home and evening parties - nobody seems to do anything worthwhile or fulfilling so it's not surprising that with such a pointless existence they are all unhappy. 

The most memorable character is Miss Parker, ' the furry creature', the governess who has no place in the world of either the servants or the family and suffers the humiliation of being used by Olivia for everything from picking flowers to walking and deworming the dogs . Molly Keane's portrayal of the painful loneliness of her existence is heartbreaking.

A captivating read and I loved it - I do hope I can find more of Molly Keane's work


  1. I'm always so thrilled to find those green spines in a bookstore - they are all too rare and almost always wonderful! Molly Keane is an author I've heard of but never read.

    1. They're very hard to find here in NZ - I would have said impossible but I'm learning to search the hidden corners of secondhand book shops. I hope I find more because I'm loving the type of story they tell.

  2. I love Molly Keane, but I have yet to read this one. West Coornwall os anexcellent hunting ground for older books so I've picked up most of Molly Keane's books over the years and now I am very tempted to pull one off the shelf.