The Tortoise and The Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins

Originally published in 1954, this was Elizabeth Jenkin’s sixth novel. It tells the story of Imogen, the beautiful much younger wife of Evelyn Gresham, a QC who is successful, self-assured, and expects his wife to have everything he needs at all times.

Their son Gavin is oblivious to his mother and lives an idyllic life in their lovely country home.

Everything changes for Imogen when her husband Evelyn begins spending increasing amounts of time with their neighbour Blanche Silcox. Initially, Imogen has no fears whatsoever of her husband falling in love with her -after all, Blanche is dowdy, and nowhere near as attractive as Imogen.

What Imogen fails to realize though is that Blanche has many other attributes that are very attractive to a man such as Evelyn. She is wealthy, has great taste, is an organizer extraordinaire, and can do most things to which she sets her mind.

As the novel progresses we begin to understand the motivations, rivalries, jealousies and desires of the three main characters.

The characterization in this novel is sublime. Hilary Mantel was a fan and said of it:

“A subtle and beautiful book . . . Very few authors combine her acute psychological insight with her grace and style. There is plenty of life in the modern novel, plenty of authors who will shock and amaze you – but who will put on the page a beautiful sentence, a sentence you will want to read twice?’ HILARY MANTEL, Sunday Times.

A slow-burning study of one woman’s slow descent into despair as she watches on helplessly as she loses everything she holds dear. This novel packs a powerful punch and is beautifully told. It’s not full of action, so if you prefer your novels fast-paced, this will not be for you. Rather it is a psychological study of a marriage and the fragility of happiness.

I found it a very poignant novel, especially the ending. I felt sympathy for Imogen as well as frustration that she didn’t stand up to the indomitable Blanche (who was in my view the worst kind of woman.)

I highly recommend this novel.