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Before the War
     

Before the War

by Fay Weldon
 

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London, 1922. It’s a cold November morning, the station is windswept and rural, the sky is threatening snow, and the train is late. Vivien Ripple, 20 years old and an ungainly five foot eleven, waits on the platform at Dilberne Halt. She is wealthy and well-bred—only daughter to the founder of Ripple & Co, the nation’s top publisher—but

Overview

London, 1922. It’s a cold November morning, the station is windswept and rural, the sky is threatening snow, and the train is late. Vivien Ripple, 20 years old and an ungainly five foot eleven, waits on the platform at Dilberne Halt. She is wealthy and well-bred—only daughter to the founder of Ripple & Co, the nation’s top publisher—but plain, painfully awkward, and, perhaps worst of all, intelligent. Nicknamed “the giantess,” Vivvie is, in the estimation of most, already a spinster. But she has a plan. That very morning, Vivvie will ride to the city with the express purpose of changing her life forever.

Enter Sherwyn Sexton: charismatic, handsome—if, to his dismay, rather short. He’s an aspiring novelist and editor at Ripple & Co whose greatest love is the (similarly handsome, but taller) protagonist of his thriller series. He also has a penchant for pretty young women—single and otherwise. Sherwyn is shocked when his boss’s hulking daughter, dressed in a tweed jacket and moth-eaten scarf, strides into his office and asks for his hand in marriage. But his finances are running thin to support his regular dinners on the town, and Vivien’s promise to house him in comfort while he writes is simply too good to refuse. What neither of them know is that she is pregnant by another man, and will die in childbirth in just a few months…

With one eye on the present and one on the past, Fay Weldon offers Vivien’s fate, along with that of London between World Wars I and II: a city fizzing with change, full of flat-chested flappers, shell-shocked soldiers, and aristocrats clinging to history.

Inventive, warm, playful, and full of Weldon’s trademark ironic edge, Before the War is a spellbinding novel from one of the greatest writers of our time.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
01/23/2017
“Vivien is single, large, ungainly, five foot eleven inches tall and twenty years old.” An intelligent, ambitious illustrator and the only child of Sir Jeremy Ripple, head of a publishing house in 1920s London, Vivien flaunts convention—and conventional notions of beauty—and relies on her mind to fulfill her life and goals. Sherwyn Sexton, a short and egotistical editor at her father’s publishing company, accepts her proposal of marriage with visions of vast sums of money and a mistress or two, but little does he know that a scheme to rise the corporate ladder by marrying the boss’s homely daughter will be more complicated than it seems. After a chance encounter in a stable with what Vivien claims to be the Angel Gabriel, layers of façade and family courtesy fall by the wayside. Featuring a cast of oddball characters and astute observations about courtship, family, and what it means to be human, Weldon’s (Mischief) novel crackles with erudite writing evocative of the time period. This is a complex character study filled with wit and wisdom about family, society, and the restrictions both can place on women. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

"Featuring a cast of oddball characters and astute observations about courtship, family, and what it means to be human, Weldon’s novel crackles with erudite writing evocative of the time period. This is a complex character study filled with wit and wisdom about family, society, and the restrictions both can place on women."
Publishers Weekly

"A romp of a read full of Weldon wit and wisdom, as well as sumptuous period detail, gawky, oversized Vivvie is a wonderfully offbeat heroine while her mother Adela makes a brilliantly ghastly villain."
Daily Mail (UK)

“A wise and witty story about a family that is as dysfunctional as the history of the world in the 1920s and 1930s but filled with sharp observations about life as we live it now.”
The Times (UK)

“A cool, sparkling, delicious book.”
The Australian

"A daredevil combination of farce and satire, pathos and bathos, written in a post-modernist, self-referential style, which effervesces its eccentric way through 300 mesmerizing pages that carry shades of Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh, P. G. Wodehouse and John Fowles.
The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

“Looking down on her cast from amused heights, Weldon punctures their pretensions and double standards with piquant observations [and] keeps a detached eye on the power politics of their relationships”
The Guardian

Library Journal
02/15/2017
At the beginning of this latest novel from Weldon, who wrote the pilot episode of Upstairs Downstairs as well as numerous novels (The Heart of the Country; Wicked Women), a socially awkward but wealthy spinster prepares to propose marriage to a dashing employee at her father's publishing house just after World War I. Readers' hopes for the young woman's happiness are quickly dashed by an omniscient and rather snarky author-as-narrator, who then relates the continuing misadventures of young Vivien and her associates over the next few decades with a consistently irreverent tone. Weldon's witty descriptions of human foibles and humorously self-referential style may be attractive to Downton Abbey fans ready for a break with something a bit lighter than most of the usually billed read-alikes. Weldon determinedly keeps a satirist's requisite emotional distance from her characters throughout, and none of the privileged protagonists are sympathetic figures (or even much fun to root for or against). VERDICT Though a quick read, this novel is likely best suited for only Weldon's most dedicated fans. [See Prepub Alert, 10/3/16.]—Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
2016-12-19
Adela Ripple, last seen in Weldon's Long Live the King (2013), manipulates her daughter and anyone else she can get her hands on in order to preserve her own wealth and status.Weldon (Mischief, 2015, etc.) begins in 1922 with the image of Adela's daughter, Vivvie, "single, large, ungainly" and, "moreover, mildly Asperger's," waiting for a train to London. Vivvie "means to propose to Sherwyn Sexton," an aspiring novelist working for her father, Sir Jeremy Ripple, a socialist publisher and Old Etonian. She very practically suggests that Sherwyn will be wealthy and free to write if he marries her and that he will also be free to have affairs. Sherwyn is presented at first as a selfish, vain man, but as the book unfolds, he becomes more sympathetic, rising to the example of Rafe Delgano, fictional hero of a series of thrillers he goes on to write. He also comes to see with clear eyes that Vivvie is a victim of her self-absorbed father and her selfish, vain mother. Weldon deploys her usual opinionated narrator, who occasionally steps outside the story to offer asides about the characters; Adela, for instance, "turned out not to be a good person at all." Interjections of authorial opinion and wit entertain, the occasional appearance of real historical characters (such as Somerset Maugham) lends an air of reality, and the rotten mother is a literary car crash, impossible to go past without staring.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250121233
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
03/14/2017
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

FAY WELDON is a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. In addition to winning a Writers’ Guild Award for the pilot of Upstairs Downstairs, she is a Commander of the British Empire whose books include Praxis, shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction; The Heart of the Country, winner of the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize; Worst Fears, shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award; and Wicked Women, which won the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award. She lives in England.