In my earlier post on Persephone a few days ago, I said that I wondered how I managed before this publishing house arrived and after reading Patience by John Coates I will say it again. We all know what it is like to come across a book which beguiles us, leaves us unable to put it down and have a lovely satisfied feeling when it is over. It has happened to me many times, but I have had this experience on more occasions with Persephone books than any other.
Patience is a Catholic and, therefore, Sin looms large in her life. As a Catholic myself, though not a very good one, and an ex-Convent schoolgirl, I am all too familiar with Sin. The nuns at my school were very hot on this subject I can tell you now and it made for some muddled thinking so I can fully sympathise with Patience's dilemma. The book starts with her brother, Lionel, who seems even more down on Sin, comes to visit her and informs her that her husband Edward is being unfaithful to her and she should confront him about it. She is reluctant to do so and it seems as if Lionel feels she may be to blame "A wife has a duty in these matters...she has to preserve the marriage. If by refusing to submit to her husband she drives him out of the house for satisfaction elsewhere, she must accept some responsibility for the Sin"......'I know' said Patience feeling there were very few people who could teach her about submission"
Edward is a husband who likes his life nice and orderly, comes home expecting his dinner, calls Patience 'old girl' and slaps her on the bottom. He is quite fond of their three daughters but would rather like a son and, in the eyes of the world, would be regarded as a good husband. Considering that she was told by her mother that married people 'got into bed together for one primary purpose - to have a baby' she finds herself more puzzled than upset over Edward's infidelity 'extraordinary was the mere fact that a woman should love Edward like that, so that she slept with him when she wasn't married to him and consequently needn't".
By this stage I was giggling away on the sofa and agreeing with Maureen Lipman, who wrote the preface, and called this book 'delicious'. It certainly is and it goes on and on becoming more and more delicious. At a dinner party given by her sister, Helen, who had left her husband and therefore, in Lionel's eyes was steeped in Sin, Patience meets Philip and by the end of the evening they are madly in love, she goes to bed with him and decides to divorce Edward and marry him. Philip seems more than happy with this despite the fact she has three children and has discovered that she is expecting a fourth. The pair of them are delightfully dotty and touching and it is this newly discovered love and her sexual awakening that makes Patience determined change her life.
"The six and a half years had been with Edward doing her duty and so it hadn't been very nice and the last half hour had been spent with Philip in a state of Sin, and had consequently exceeded anything she could have possibly imagined about the pleasurableness of the sins of the flesh"
The newly determined Patience waits until Edward is asleep and steals the keys to his desk and unearths not only evidence of his current mistress, but letters showing that this is nothing new. She also discovers that his first wife is still alive - Edward told her he was a widower when they married. It transpires this was an honest mistake on Edward's part, his wife had left him and gone to the USA and was reported dead. Edward had divorced her so there was no legal bar to him marrying Patience and then she turns up alive and kicking. Patience worries about this - surely if Edward married her when Betsy was alive, though he thought she was dead, he was not a widower, he was only divorced and the Catholic Church did not recognise divorcees and in the eyes of the church she was not married to Edward at all, their children were bastards and she was living in Sin and should leave him immediately......... 'phew'
As a Catholic I understand this train of thought completely and fully comprehend its mad logic. I am a double divorcee but in the eyes of the Catholic church neither of my marriages would be recognised as they both took place in Register Offices. My children were born out of wedlock and if I wanted to remarry at some stage and decided I wanted a Catholic church wedding, they could not say me nay as according to their law, I am a spinster and always have been. Yes you work that one out.....
Oh dear poor Patience, now that she has found her love, knows what sex is all about and wants lots more of it, she sets about getting shot of Edward and does it in a thoroughly devious way. She has pangs of conscience, yes, but she has got the bit well and truly between her teeth and nothing is going to stop her now.
I am not going to give any further details away as I so want you to get hold of this book and read it for yourselves. Sheer delight from start to finish, witty, amusing, touching and sad, I read it straight through in one sitting. I pay this book the compliment of saying that I was very sad when I had finished Patience, and that feeling of discovering something wonderful and new was gone left me feeling a bit lost. However, I am pretty certain I will read it again and again as its subtle style of writing and humour will benefit from another look.
Absolutely staggering that this book is written by a man, so spot on is he on the the feminine thought process and attitudes. I repeat what I have already mentioned above, Maureen Lipman calls this book 'delicious' and evnies those of us who have yet to read this book. She tells us to 'savour it' and I did - every single word of it.
And be prepared for a most matter of fact statement of an ending that took me totally by surprise.
Wonderful wonderful wonderful.
No need for me to say that, as ever, it is an extra pleasure to hold a Persephone book with its wonderful dove grey covers and to see the gorgeous end papers and matching book mark.