Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Possession of Delia Sutherland by Barbara Neil

published 1993









[Delia Sutherland has moved to the north of Scotland, and is hearing from her solicitor what is going on in her family home. Curtis is the butler.]

‘The last time I went down to stay over, like I used to with you, dear old Curtis served the two of us dinner in full evening dress.’ He was silent.

I realised he thought he’d finished and that it was my turn to speak. ‘Nothing wrong with that.’

‘A lady’s evening dress, Delia. A lady’s one. Long, blue jewelled bodice and full skirt…. In and out he sailed with the courses. I didn’t know where to look.’

Making out the view from the window was all of a sudden more interesting than what he was saying. I stood close to it…. ‘What did Leon say?’

‘Nothing until dinner was over.’

‘Then?’

‘”He’s better in pink.”’

David at last seemed to guess something about my response because he came over, took my arm. ‘Come and sit down again.’



observations: This is a very strange book indeed – one that kept turning into a different kind of novel every time I thought I’d got a handle on it. Early on it seems to be one of my Books like I Capture the Castle, but it turns into something more dysfunctional and odd, heading through Molly Keane territory into Edward St Aubyn’s world.

Delia is a standard heroine – very upper-class, living in posh poverty, she is awkward and not one of the popular girls. But one day an unusual man turns up, Francis Sutherland, and he can see through to her Amazonian inner beauty – an illumination that crops up a lot in books, less so in real life perhaps, and mentioned in this blog entry. They marry: he is luckily very rich so can save the estate. She loves the land, loves farming and husbandry. He is more glamorous and enjoys the high life. Things go wrong between them in a way that seems avoidable. There is a letter that is left stupidly unread and thus causes more problems. The story is told in a strange flashback style which is quite difficult to follow, and the timeframe is hard to understand, and seems to hold inconsistencies. But it is an enjoyable book, and goes off in directions I think most readers simply will not expect, to the extent that there is a moment when surely those readers will be shouting ‘No!’ at Delia’s decisions. There is an illegitimate child, a death, and a strange inheritance.

Book and author seem to have disappeared, which is a pity. I would be interested to read another by Neil just because I cannot imagine what her other books (she wrote quite a few) would be like.

The picture, from Wikimedia Commons, is of the Victorian female impersonator known as Stella Boulton, aka Ernest Boulton (and from a good century before the book's setting.)

6 comments:

  1. No Delia books on the pile. Maybe two degrees of separation - my dad read the odd Molly Keane

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    1. Delia is always going to mean cookbooks to the great British public, don't you think? It'll be a long time before anyone can really reclaim the name. Molly Keane was a goody, maybe not your thing, but your Dad had good taste.

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  2. Moira - This does seem unusual. Yet those stories where we follow the fortunes of the young hero(ine) can be good ones, as they give us a look at life in a given time and place. And the bits you've shared are telling me that I think I'd like the writing style. Hmmm...perhaps one to try.

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    1. I still can't make up my mind about this one - but any book that gets you to think that much can't be all bad, can it?

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  3. I would probably have problems with the indecisiveness of what the book was about and what kind of book it was, but the premise sounds interesting.

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    1. It was an oddity, and certainly managed to surprise me, but I'm not saying it's a must-read - would suit some people I think.

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