Thursday, February 19, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: Norah Lofts's Hester Roon

Norah Lofts is one of those historical writers on whom one easily stamps a romantic image: mansions, young, slightly devilish counts, shy virgins, angry mother-in-laws... When I started Hester Roon, one of Lofts's later novels (it's from 1982), I got fast rid of my presuppositions: the book begins with a woman giving birth at an attic of a roadhouse, thinking that if it's a boy, she'll give it away, if it's a girl, she kills it. It's a girl and the mother doesn't have the nerve to kill it. She promises the inn-keeper that the child won't get in the way of her work and keeps the baby tied up in her bed for the first two years of her life.

The tone is set and everything that follows is very grim and reeks of misery. Which would've been very nice, but the book really doesn't go anywhere, and at the end I was left wondering what Lofts wanted to say with her novel. If it's only "keep your chin up, everything will turn out okay", I don't think it's a good enough reason to write a novel. The ending has more romantic clichés than the previous 400 pages, which was a pity, since the preceding grimness was much more interesting. There's no kiss between the love couple, though - and actually the love aspect is only hinted at.

I have a stack of other Norah Lofts novels waiting for me, but I'll have to read Alex Haley's Roots first. Reason: I'm editing a reference book on historical writers with two friends of mine and I'll have to write about Lofts and Haley, two writers I hadn't previously read.
(My contribution to this week's Friday's Forgotten Books series, hosted by Patti Abbott.)


David Cranmer said...

I've never read a book by Lofts but after checking your link I've seen two movies based on her work: The Witches and 7 Women. Neither of those really stand out except the last was directed by John Ford.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Wow. Never heard of her before. Thanks.

Juri said...

I'll be commenting - maybe shortly - on the other books by Lofts once I get through them. Some of her earlier work sounds interesting, at least slightly fantastical BLESS THIS HOUSE (1954), which tells the story of a house in different centuries.

Todd Mason said...

I'm always surprised when I learn of someone pretty widely read in a field bluntly noting, "I've never heard of X." Even more statled when it's a fairly prominent writer doing so, such as Philip "William Tenn" Klass's ignorance of Robert Bloch's career before it fell to Klass to work as editor with Bloch on "That Hell-Bound Train" (as Klass notes in his essay in a recent issue of FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION). Ah, well, there are always gaps...but I'm often surprised how large they can be.

Juri said...

Well, Todd, there are always gaps. For example, I'd never heard of Richard Yates before the film came up and the novel was translated in Finnish for the first time. Had Yates been translated in the fifties or the sixties, I would've come across him, I'm sure.