Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Book Review: Consequences

EM Delafield
I learned about Brit author E.M. Delafield from some of the book blogs I follow so, curious, I downloaded Consequences onto my Kindle for 99 cents (I love Kindle!). Spoilers follow.

Published in 1919, Consequences is the story of Alex (Alexandra), a spoilt little rich girl who grows up with major mental health issues. After accidently causing a back injury to her younger sister Pamela, her parents send her off to a convent boarding school in Belgium. Alex's major problem is that she craves attention, affirmation, and intense love; so intense that throughout her life she forms a string of friendships with women hoping to have her intense neediness met. Of course, her friends don't and cannot reciprocate, even though Alex loves them "with her whole heart." She hope to be married but she is so strange that no one seems to want her except Noel, who is a superficial, self-centered man only interested in causes. After a brief engagement, Alex courageously breaks it off when she (in a rare moment of lucidity) realizes that she will not be happy with a man who mainly loves himself. Noel is nonplussed. What a pig! But we see it coming, of course.

Her family doesn't know what to do with her, and in a daze, one day she finds herself in a convent chapel. She meets the Mother Superior (whom Delafield paints as a manipulative, intense religious fanatic) who convinces Alex--and Alex lets herself get convinced--that only the church can meet her intense love needs. Alex becomes a nun and for ten years serves the church. One day she realizes that she doesn't believe anything, and asks to be excused from her vows. "Like everyone else" the church gives her a hard time and finally releasing her, promptly forgets her and sends her back to her family. The problem is, Alex has never learned to live independently. She doesn't know how to manage money or take care of herself, since she has always been dependent on someone. While she makes her best effort to become part of her family again, Alex is so dysfunctional, and so unable to communicate normally, that she ends up on the street so to speak and finally kills herself. The author describes her suicide as "her only success."

What an intense and horrifying book! It is skillfully written but dreadfully scary. Wikipedia claims that this book is about frustrated lesbian sensibilities, but I honestly didn't see that. I think that Alex is very codependent and if she hadn't killed herself, would have probably ended up in an insane asylum. They did that with people like her in those days.

This book reminded me of another one called Misunderstood by Florence Montgomery (1869) that I read as a child. In this story, a young boy, through a string of misunderstandings and events, is sent off to boarding school after his mother dies. He misses her intensely and that causes him to misbehave and be a difficult child. No one seems to understand that his grief is causing his behavior. The ending is also tragic.

I hear that Delafield's other books are more fun. I sure hope so.

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