Lolly Willows, by Sylvia Townsend Warner

coverI expected to like this book (or I wouldn’t have read it), but I did not expect to like it as much as I did. I suppose that was because I was put off by some slight peculiarities in the language: a way of ordering information that sometimes tripped up my eyes. But I was sold on it within pretty short order, because this novel is straight-up insane!

First of all, go and look at the Amazon reviews for the book.  Most of the reviews are good, but they all are like, “Oh, it’s a pretty slow, meditative novel. It’s kind of cozy, blah blah blah.” While the bad reviews just call it straight-up boring. Both of these comments are so wrong!

So much stuff happens in this book!

It’s the story of a 28-year-old unmarried woman, Laura Willows, who’s been living with her father and keeping house for him (in the period before the Great War). And then he dies. And she’s got to go and live with her sister in London. The first third of the book is a description of her family history and her tastes and her family’s tastes and the nature of life in London. It’s all pretty interesting stuff, actually. It’s about this woman’s emotional development. Out there at her father’s rural home, she’s somehow alive with something. And that all just goes into abeyance when she comes to London.

Okay, below this there are going to be spoilers.

Doo de doo.

Alright, then twenty years pass in the course of one page! And the War happens! And people die! And the manner and tenor of life changes! Women acquire a new role in society! The old world is brushed away! The family’s traditional way of life begins to disintegrate! And that all happens in like ten pages. And meanwhile Laura (nicknamed Lolly by her now-grown nieces and nephews) sort of putters around, being 48-year-old and dried-up and spinsterish and living uselessly in a tiny extra room. And then she walks into a grocery store and something happens! Some movement of the spirit!

And she goes home and pulls down an atlas and starts reading it and eventually finds this tiny village in Binghamshire (wherever that is) called Great Mop (population: 227). And she up and moves there! Her sister and brother-in-law aren’t happy about that! They try to forbid it! But she’s like f*** that and goes anyway!

And she slowly integrates into the life of this town and makes friends with her landlady and with this other guy who keeps roosters and she goes on long walks in the country and starts to recover a sense of herself…starts to feel like she’s somehow building towards something.

And then her nephew decides to move to the town too. OH NO! He’s a nice guy and everyone in the town soon falls hella in love with him. But he’s ruining the whole place for Lolly. She can’t even quite articulate why and how it’s being ruined for her:

Once, as they stood on the ridge that guarded the valley from the south-east, he said: “I should like to stroke it”—and he waved his hand towards the pattern of rounded hills embossed with rounded beech-woods. She felt a cold shiver at his words, and turned away her eyes from the landscape that she loved so jealously. Titus could never have spoken so if he had not loved it too. Love it as he might…his love must be a horror to her. It was different in kind from hers. It was comfortable, it was portable, it was a reasonable appreciative appetite, a possessive and masculine love. It almost estranged her from Great Mop that he should be able to love it so well, and express his love so easily. He loved the countryside as though it were a body.

Yeah, Titus, go away! To you this is just a game, but to your aunt it’s a matter of life and death! She eventually gets so annoyed at him being around that she walks out alone into the forest and screams for help! And although she gets no answer, she knows the forest has heard her.

And when she comes home, there’s this ferocious little kitten in her cottage and he scratches her. And, in a flash, she decides that the kitten is her mystical familiar and that he’s been sent to her to seal the bargain she’s just made with SATAN.

Yes, Satan!

Keep in mind, we’re 2/3rds of the way through the book at this point. There’s been no mention of the supernatural. So the obvious inference is that she’s insane and that this is some “Yellow Wallpaper” type shit going on.

But she’s not crazy.

Because SATAN ACTUALLY APPEARS!!!!

Satan literally appears and drives away her nephew and then (after taking her nephew to the train station so he can leave) she sits down with Satan in a local cemetary and has a nice long chat with him about the oppression of women and stuff!

This should not work at all, but it completely does. You’re like, Oh, of course Satan belongs in this novel. And then you close it and the novel is done. Only like 60,000 words! 250 pages! You should read it.

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