It seems such a long time since I read anything by Margaret Kennedy, and so I was delighted that when I perused my shelves looking for books for The 1938 Club I found that I had a copy of one of her lesser known books that was published in that very year.
I had almost forgotten quite how much her books had to offer: beautiful writing, elegantly drawn characters, interesting details, subtle allusions, and timeless themes that echo through the stories she told.
I remember reading somewhere that ‘The Midas Touch’ was her own favourite of the works. I can understand that and though I don’t consider it her best work – and if you haven’t read her before it isn’t the book to read first – but I was captivated.
The story begins as a young man named Evan Jones arrives in England for the first time. He had been born in China, the son of Welsh missionaries, and since they died he had travelled the world, living off his wits and his charm. Now he was coming home, to see the place that his parents had always called home, and he was very taken with what he saw. He had no money, he had nowhere to go, but fortune favoured him again and he prospered.
He had charmed Lydia Jekyll when they met on the way to London. She was the wife of an impoverished country gentleman, but she planned to stay with wealthier friends in London before she went home to her husband. While she was there, she and Evan met again.
Bessie Carter Blake was a medium. She had a gift, and when her solicitor husband died she used it to support her family; she could think of no other way to support her family. The trouble was that her very real gift wasn’t quite enough and that she had to exaggerate and invent too. That worried her, and it got her into trouble.
She was thrown out of the house of business tycoon Corris Morgan, when he found that his wife had been consulting her. It had been Ellie’s inheritance that had started him on the road to success, and that was why he had married her, but he had forgotten that a long time ago.
Bessie saw danger ahead for Corris Morgan, and even though he had dismissed her she knew that she had to warn him. He was impressed by her tenacity, and when something happened that made him believe her he kept her close.
And when Corris Morgan met Evan he saw his potential, he saw that they had something in common, and he offered him a very special job …..
When I write this all sounds a little flat, but Margaret Kennedy made these people live and breathe, and she filled their stories with just the right amount of colour and incident.
Her story raises many questions, about money, about power, and about class. She raises those questions very gently, leaving her readers space to think about them if they chose, or to simply enjoy spending time with her intriguing band of characters.
I loved watching Lydia visiting Anny, who used to be her maid. She hadn’t expected Anny to be quite so proud of her home, her husband and her new baby; and to have no nostalgia for the house where she used to live or the people she used to know.
I was startled at what happened to Corris on a trip to Scotland with the son who was such a disappointment to him.
And I was wonderfully entertained as I watched Evan introduce some new business practices at a struggling art gallery and turn it into a must-visit attraction.
It was Evan who was the star of this show – though Bessie Carter Blake gave him a run for his money – and the subject of this story’s most intriguing questions.
Did he really have ‘The Midas Touch’, or was the secret of his success a gift that been given the chance to blossom?
This is what Lydia thought:
“It came continually as a surprise to her how little he had read, how much he hated reading. Quotations or references to books meant nothing to him. Yet he was often surprisingly well informed. He thought a great deal and his ideas were not those of a man who has had no education. He questioned everybody he met, demanding from them a first hand account of their experience, knowledge and conclusions …. “
And would love and the home that had never known win out over money and success?
I hoped that this gave me the answer:
“The unit of thought, sense and passion that had been Evan Jones disintegrated: his feet were the crushing of beech nuts, his eyes were the October sunlight spearing down through the branches, his ears the faint music of water over stones, his mind and heart were the stillness of the quiet afternoon. He was without desire and utterly contented.”
But I didn’t know.
Margaret Kennedy kept those and other questions in the air until the very end of the story.
The ending came as a surprise, even though Bessie Carter Blake had predicted it.
Well, she hadn’t seen all of the details!
I was a just a little disappointed with the end of Lydia’s story, and that I didn’t have a little more time of with some of the characters.
I had a lovely time though.
I’m still thinking about some of those questions that were left up in the air, and I’m still wondering what else might have happened in this world that Margaret Kennedy created so cleverly and wrote about so well.
* * * * * * *
I am declaring 20th June 2016 to be Margaret Kennedy Day.
But the details will have to wait until next week, because this week Margery Sharp books are marching back into the world ….