Book Review for “The Marble Staircase” by Elizabeth Fair.
Summary: “Charlotte Moley, long brow-beaten by her rather stodgy grown daughter Alison and very traditional mother, has been brought to the coastal town of Nything by an unexpected inheritance. The flamboyantly larger-than-life Mrs. Gamalion, who many years before had swept into the newly-widowed Charlotte’s recuperative holiday on Lake Como (“bursting through the little crowd as if she were made of a harder, more penetrating substance”) and transformed it, has bequeathed her ramshackle, overcrowded house to Charlotte. Alison dismisses her mother’s impractical desire to visit the house, but once there Charlotte finds the past returning-particularly that liberating time in Italy-and wonders if the pattern of her life might after all be changed.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary/Historical; UK – fictional locations near London and the Lancashire(?) coast; Italy – Lake Como; Other Categories: Novel, Vintage, Lost Manuscript, Coming of Age, Romance, Humor.
In addition to the above summary, this novel has also been described as “an elegant tale of second chances and the ways in which the past can echo and inspire the present,” and I agree with all of this. Furthermore, this book “was written in the late 1950s but never published. Long thought to have been lost, it was rediscovered by Elizabeth Fair’s heirs in 2021, and Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press are thrilled to finally make it available…” Well, I was thrilled to read it! You see, from time to time a lost manuscript by a popular author will come to light, but it isn’t that often that we get one so fully finished, or as delightful. To be totally frank, sometimes there’s a good reason why a novel went unpublished, and in this case, there was apparently no market for it at the time. That’s a shame, but I’m glad that nostalgia for 20th century authors and novels is being so lovingly revived, and we can enjoy this today.
What struck me the most about this novel was Fair’s prose style. While not highly poetic, it was still very evocative, in a very calm and gently flowing way. It felt almost like she was speaking to her readers in a slightly hushed voice, the type you use when you have a touch of mischief to talk about, but are trying to be discreet at the same time, and hope that the listener gets your drift. In other words, the humor here wasn’t obvious, but it was absolutely there at practically every corner. Don’t get me wrong; Fair tells this story with non-judgmental insight, totally free of arrogance. It has a level of innocence as well; as we get to know these people, we feel we are laughing with them, even though we sometimes laugh at them. There was one turn that I found so funny I actually slapped my knee in a terribly bad theatrical manner!
That said, Charlotte is also a bit of a loner. Widowed at a young age, we soon find out that her husband wasn’t the famous “love of her life” at all. So, while she’s filled the years with raising her daughter mostly on her own, she’s also taken time for herself, and the memories of her travels to Italy and the friendships she made on these trips, kept her from being lonely. Furthermore, while it is described as a romance, the romantic parts are truly secondary, if not tertiary, which suited me just fine. In fact, I only had a small inkling that Charlotte had two suitors, because Fair describes Charlotte’s interactions with them both without even the tiniest bit of angst or indication that something emotional was developing for either of them. It was therefore a bit of a surprise when we find out what Charlotte decides to do with her future, especially since she continues to wrap herself in bits of her past. In addition, we see Charlotte move from being passive to proactive as the story unfolds in a typical coming-of-age manner. I think this quote says it all. “Looking back, she could not remember when she had settled down to mere existence, no longer expecting any changes in the pattern – let alone something as extraordinary as Mrs. Gamalion’s legacy.”
When I was getting towards the end of this novel, I was almost certain that it would get a minimum of 4.5 stars, since it made me smile, giggle, and laugh. However, the last paragraph brought tears to my eyes, and I realized that Fair had sneakily made me fall truly in love with Charlotte, and enamored with all the other characters as well. Because of that, I can find absolutely no reason not to very highly recommend this wonderfully enjoyable novel, and award it with a full five out of five stars. Thank you to the Elizabeth Fair Estate, Dean Street Press, and Furrowed Middlebrow for finding and publishing this book!
Dean Street Press will release “The Marble Staircase” by Elizabeth Fair on August 1, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel.