Sunday, April 22, 2018

11th Canadian Challenge - 18th review - Hetty Dorval

While Ethel Wilson had published a few short stories previously, her first novel (really a novella) Hetty Dorval was published in 1947, when she was 59!  Definitely some comfort there for late bloomers, as it were.

The novel's plot is fairly thin, and the narrator (Frankie Burnaby) announces fairly early on that she isn't going to unveil all the secrets of the mysterious Hetty Dorval, but only what she learned about her through a handful of meetings, as well as the rumours she heard about Hetty.  In addition, she skips over her own personal history fairly lightly, except when it relates to Hetty.  This is sort of a strange limitation, particularly if one isn't all that gripped by Hetty.  While we hear she has sort of a magnetic personality that easily brought others under her spell, it is hard to convey this second-hand as it were.  One thing that is somewhat different is that while Frankie encounters Hetty for the first time as a child (and doesn't fully understand all that she sees and hears), this isn't just limited to a child's perspective (as in Green's The Fallen Idol for instance).  Frankie is a young woman, boarding in England with relatives, when she encountered Hetty again.  She senses to some extent she is falling under Hetty's sway, having been "infected" at an early age, though is able to resist in the end.  In this sense, Frankie grows up in a way that the narrator of William Trevor's Nights at the Alexandra doesn't (which is why it is so unsatisfying a novella).  Having said that, there is a particularly unbelievable intervention by a third party, which forces Hetty to back down from her plans and to stop interfering with Frankie's.  Thus, I wasn't really satisfied with this novella either.  Frankie doesn't have quite enough spunk and is generally a bit too self-sacrificing.  The earlier scenes where Frankie is torn between fascination with Hetty and a fear of getting caught (and upsetting her parents) are generally the stronger ones.

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