Posted by: Jeanie F | July 30, 2010

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

This is the first of my “book splurge” books that I picked up, and it’s really gotten me off to a great start. I devoured it in a single day, unable to put it down.

This book is a “Persephone Classic”. Persephone Books is a British publisher that reprints “forgotten twentieth century novels, short stories, cookery book and memoirs by (mostly) women writers.” They profess to print books which appeal to “the discerning reader who prefers books that are neither too literary nor too commercial, and are guaranteed to be readable, thought-provoking and impossible to forget.” Best-selling titles were printed as “Classics”. I like to think of myself as a “discerning reader,” so I felt I had to give them a try.

Someone at a Distance was originally published in 1953. It is the story of what today might be an upper middle class suburban family, a happy family comprised of Mr. North, a book publisher who commutes daily to London, Mrs. North, a housewife who is lovingly devoted to her family, and their nearly grown children, Anne and Hugh. This family lives an idyllic life until “old” Mrs. North, Mr. North’s cranky mother, brings a woman from France to be her companion. This woman, Louise Lanier, is well-described in Nina Bawden’s preface:

The serpent that enters this happy family’s Eden is a latter-day Emma Bovary . . . the spoilt, imperious daughter of a bookseller in provincial France. She is escaping to England after a humiliating rejection by her lover . . . who has discarded Louise in order to marry a girl of superior social position.

The reader watches as Louise seduces first old Mrs. North and then her son, laying waste to the quiet tranquility of the North family.

This is not a new story – it’s one that we’ve all read many times. However, Ms. Whipple’s style first pulls you in with a family you can only love and admire, and then slowly and subtly exposes its vulnerability. You can see what’s going to happen but, like the legendary train wreck, you can’t look away. Even with a predictable plot line, the suspense of the story propels you forward.

At times the characters, including the many minor ones, may seem stereotypical, but are written so well that they each have a “strong, independent reality, both emotionally and their actions” (Bawden).  There is something charming about a book where sexual situations are suggested, not graphically described, but in spite of the fact that this book was written  nearly sixty years ago, there is a contemporary feel to it. And, finally, what reader doesn’t love a story with a satisfying ending? I’ll be looking for more Persephone Classics and recommend you give them a try!

Grade: A


  1. Love the sound of this book. I’ve only read two Persephone books myself (both classics), and I’ve enjoyed them thoroughly. That’s definitely a gap in my reading that I’ll be looking to fill in!

    • I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I expected it to be a bit dated, but it wasn’t at all. If you find other Persephone books you recommend, I’d love to know about them!

      • The two I’ve read are Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (Winifred Watson) and Mariana (Monica Dickens). Miss Pettigrew is an incredibly light-hearted feel-good read – the kind of book you just want to curl up with and enjoy with a mug of hot chocolate in the winters, if you know what I mean?

  2. This book sounds so good, I may have to order it. I do love the Persephone Classics for their beautiful design, too. I’m just stopping by on the blog hop–I’m a loyal reader and subscriber;)

  3. @Cookie – I loved the movie “Miss Pettigrew…” – will have to look into the book.
    @Lisa – I love the design and look of Persephone, too. Thanks for subscribing – I’ve been a subscriber to Bibliophiliac for a long time. It’s a great blog!

  4. I found your blog via the hop! I love the header on your site, and I look forward to checking out some more of your reviews. Happy reading!

  5. Hi, There!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog for “The Hop.” You’ve got a great layout here, and I love that you “grade” your books.

    Teaser Tuesday is one of my favorite memes- though I hardly ever manage to narrow down my teaser to just two sentences. =X

    -Adam @ Roof Beam Reader

    • Adam, I’ve never been able to say anything about books in two sentences!

  6. […] […]

  7. I’m adding it to my wishlist.

    Thanks for this great review.

    I’m stopping by via the Hop.

  8. I agree with you –> “Even with a predictable plot line, the suspense of the story propels you forward”
    It was such fun to thoroughly dislike Louise knowing and yet disbelieving what she was up to!

    • Yes, she was a true wolf in sheep’s clothing! Glad to know others enjoyed this book!

  9. Found this as a link from your post and it sounds like a great summer read – thanks.

    • Oh, I loved this book! Hope you do, too!

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