[She] shrugged herself out of the shapeless raincoat and nondescript hat, and handed them over, revealing a very neat beautifully fitted suit of fine dark-red wool. Then she took off the heavy spectacles, shook her dark hair back into place, and flashed Rae a quick hard glance of startling silver-grey.
It was instantly clear to her that Mrs Bright was in fact a person with her own species of glamour, her own formidable style. Rae was frightened for a second, watching as Mrs Givens carefully hung the terrible old coat on a hanger, understanding that it was a sort of costume or disguise….
Rae stared up at her. ‘Nice suit… It’s not Molyneux is it?’
Mrs Bright raised her delicate eyebrows. ‘Why isn’t it?’
‘It’s okay,’ said Mrs Bright, with a little shrug. ‘It’s fake Molyneux. Via this place I know round the back a Victoria Station.’
‘Oh. Well it’s a jolly good fit.’
observations: In an earlier entry on this book I said how much I liked it, even more than an earlier book by Ferguson. In both novels, there are themes of photographs, eyes and vision, and nursing – all play a huge part. She looks, for example, at the way a photograph can have meaning put on it afterwards: so if you title something ‘July 1914’ then you are saying Before, even though no-one in the picture knew what was about to happen to their world - for the UK, 100 years ago on Monday.
There are moments of beautiful writing – ‘I have opened the heartbreak-box, she thought, remembering Pandora’ and of head-shaking strangeness: Freddy playing the piano for a silent film, although he is blind and has to have the events on screen described to him. His sister Alice’s form of revenge later, as she sits with him in her pearls, hat and high heels – an image that will live with me forever. I loved Rae asking this question: ‘Gosh – don’t you wish you were the sort of person who had a dear old nurse, Lettie? I know I do’ – don’t we all.
The keepsakes from the Foundling Hospital give the reader an extraordinary moment of unexpected love and sadness.
And then of course there is a lot of interest in clothes.
The trouble some women got into, wearing clothes that didn’t back them up, that actively contradicted them! If you meant yes and your dress said no, how was a man to find his way? Different sort of trouble the other way about. Fact was, men only saw the obvious. Or only the stronger signal. A lot of women did too.There’s the doctor’s wife with her extraordinary hat ‘of sleekly tucked and feathered velvet, perched sideways on her head as if ready to take flight all by itself.’ Like this one by Lanvin?
Ferguson says the suit in the extract was inspired by a real one – so maybe it was the Molyneux suit in the picture. The Vionnet coat came from the same source, Dovima is Devine.