Today, I'd like to introduce you to the work
of a wonderful English [sic] writer, Stevie Davies. Dr Davies
has written six novels and several academic and literary works
of criticism, most notably on the life and work of Emily Brontë.
He limpid, tender yet passionate style, her rich, anguished cast
of characters and her never predictable but also always coherent
plots make her novels a great pleasure to read. They are rich,
too, in irony and humour, and the absurdity of life and human
beings, yet a haunting sense of tragedy pervades them. In some
ways, they can be compared to the jewelled works of such writers
as Anita Brookner and Barbara Pym, especially as regards the characters,
who are often frustrated, gentle, humble, yet engagingly resilient
people, life's victims, in a way, but with unexpected reserves.
Other people tread all over them, and they often have a very poor
opinion of their own abilities, they often have blighted lives,
but they are nevertheless survivors, bravely trying to make the
best of things something that can be pathetic, but which
has its own tattered dignity. But there is nothing depressing
about the stories, especially the most recent; tragedy and comedy
are equally mixed, just as in life. An interesting aside to her
style, which uses by and large the carefully observed, accumulated
detail of social realism, is the insertion of herself as observer
in the action of the novel; but this is done so subtly that it
does not impinge on the novel with its cleverness. These are not
'clever' novels, in the often heartless post-modern sense; rather
they are wise, moving and full of evocative echoes.
You care about her characters.
It is particularly on her novels that I want
to concentrate today, and especially on the two most recent, which
are easily obtainable in Australia. I would also like to mention
one of her works on Emily Brontë. Most of her books are published
by The Women's Press, including all of her novels. The Women's
Press is distributed in Australia through Allen and Unwin.
The Web of Belonging, Stevie Davies'
most recent novel, is the story of childless, middle-aged Jess,
who lives in Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, with her beloved husband
Jacob and 'the oldies', Jacob's fractious and difficult elderly
relatives his mother May, aunt Brenda and cousin Nathan.
Jess doesn't really mind being their carer, as long as Jacob is
there, her love, her rock. Then of course the inevitable happens,
Jacob announces he's fallen in love with a young, blonde single
mother, and moves out, leaving Jess to look after the oldies on
her own. She tries to cope, but finds it more and more difficult,
especially when dealing with May; saintly Jess is becoming something
else, something she doesn't recognise and doesn't like, but is
powerless to stop. Her heart is broken, her mind seems about to
break, too but eventually she makes her accommodations
with life, with loss, with the unfairness and absurdity of it
all, with belonging itself. It is a common enough tragedy, but
beautifully rendered, with great complexity (Jacob, for instance,
is never a cipher, but all too human, caught up in something he
seems unable to resist) and a light touch, so that one moment
you get a terrific lump in your throat, the next minute, you're
The novel just before that one was Four
Dreamers and Emily which has been optioned by a screen
producer. This novel reunites Stevie Davies' two loves, of fiction
and Emily Brontë. It's set around the lives of four people
who are each in their way fans of the great writer, and whose
lives converge at an Emily Brontë conference in her native
Yorkshire. The novel is haunted by the unseen presence of Emily,
by her enigmatic wildness, which contrasts so strongly with her
often prepossessed, sometimes absurd, timid and gentle aficionados.
Here again, the novelist's gift of amused, yet compassionate tenderness
for humanity is displayed plainly. Events at the conference soon
acquire a comical and satirical turn, which almost imperceptibly
shade into tragedy.
Another wonderful read.
Other novels of Stevie Davies' include her first,
Boy Blue, which is set during World War II and draws
on some of her own experience as an Armed Forces child; Closing
the Book, which is about the anguish when a loved one is
dying from cancer, and the whole meaning of life is called into
question; Primavera, which is the multi-faceted story
of a family on the cusp of change; and Arms and the Girl,
which again draws on that Forces experience.
Her most recent book on Emily Brontë, simply
called Emily Brontë: Heretic, is an interesting
and passionately-argued view of this beloved and extraordinary
S.M. New Englander [Australia] 20