I have had this book for almost a year and I kept putting off reading it. Not because I wasn't interested or didn't think I would enjoy it but because I have a bad habit of hoarding books I think I am going to particularly enjoy. I am not sure why I do it, it isn't as if once it is read it can never be read again. I just enjoy the anticipation and tend to want to save these special books for a special time. I don't want to read them in a hurry while making dinner and yelling at kids to get their homework done. I want to read them while resting in a hammock with a large glass of iced tea and a constant supply of snacks. There should be a beautiful garden to gaze out upon while contemplating character development and no one should ever interrupt me with demands for food, transportation, or clean laundry. No, I didn't achieve that nirvana recently (one can only dream) but I did have a quiet weekend with the kids at my parents which left me with plenty of time to read. So I curled up on the couch with an afghan and a hot cup of tea and dove in.
Family Roundabout is the story of two families, the Willoughbys and the Fowlers, who live in the town of Bellington between the wars. Each of the families is overseen by a widowed mother. Mrs. Willoughby is domineering and rules her family with a rod of iron. She is described as "eagle-eyed, eagle-beaked, built on the formidable lines of a dreadnought." She loves them but is convinced that she always knows what is best. The family submits to her rule, showing up when required and consulting her on all decisions big and small. Mrs. Fowler is a quiet, peaceful woman who is content to let her children make their own way through life as best they can. She loves them dearly but does not feel motivated to interfere in their lives. The lives of the two families become interwoven beginning with the marriage of Mrs. Willoughby's son and Mrs. Fowler's daughter. The novel visits the characters over the course of some years and shows how the characters and their lives have changed.
I was immediately drawn to Mrs. Fowler and some of my favorite quotes revolve around her. I thought this quote gives such a clear picture of her.
"Her name was Millicent, but Henry who liked diminutives, had called her Milly. She always thought of the quick-witted , quick-tempered girl who still existed somewhere within her as Millicent and Henry's wife as Milly. "Now, Millicent...' she would say to herself warningly, as she bit back some trenchant comment, some shrewd rejoinder."
I could so relate to this quote.
"She had put a little pile of books on the table by her chair and was looking forward to a long quiet afternoon. Peter used to laugh at her habit of selecting a number of her favourite books to 'dip into' whenever she had an afternoon or evening free for reading. Other people, he said, just had a book and read it through till they'd finished it...
'I get the same sort of gloating feeling that misers get, I suppose,' said Mrs. Fowler. 'I think I have all afternoon and evening and I can just--wallow.'This is one of those quiet books where not a lot happens and even when things do happen they happen in a quiet way. It feels like an observers book. We observe the families, observe the characters, observe their interactions. And in many ways, the characters observe themselves. Mrs. Fowler realizes something important here.
"Sometimes she wondered if he came to her hoping for some help that he never received. She had this feeling of uncertainty and inadequacy with all her children. She shrank from bringing pressure to bear on them in any way or obtruding on their privacy, and so, she suspected, she often failed them. They wanted help and advice, and she had none to give....Her thoughts went to Mrs. Willoughby. She can always give people advice. I'd be better if I had more of her in me. A little smile twitched her lips. And perhaps she'd be better if she had more of me in her...."
This is just the type of book I like, a quiet book, a book where, in a way, not much happens. A book full of characters more than events. But at the same time an insightful book, a thoughtful book, and a book that bears reading again.
I'll leave you with one last quote. I think Mrs. Fowler would have completely understood my desire for a good book and a hammock.
'Having come to the conclusion that there was so much to do that she didn't know where to start, Mrs. Fowler decided not to start at all. She went to the library, took Diary of a Nobody from the shelves, and, returning to her wicker chair under the lime tree, settled down to waste what precious hours still remained of the day."
I reviewed this book for the Classics Club. You can see the rest of my list here.