Archive for the ‘Lynne Reid Banks’ Category

Ever summer vacation, my school used to send us off with a glorious, multi-page book list.  The summer after Grade 8, The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks began appearing on the list.  The title meant nothing to me, though I recognized Banks as the author of Dark Quartet, a fictional biography of the Brontës that fascinated me long before I ever read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights (and the ensuing realisation that I didn’t actually like any of the Brontës).  Even though I remembered liking the author, I never picked up The L-Shaped Room, never even investigated to find out what it was about.

That, I am pleased to say, has now been remedied.  I read The L-Shaped Room this week and, though I hadn’t been overly excited when I began reading it, was happily surprised by how much I enjoyed it and how involved I was in the story.  And, suddenly, it also made a great deal of sense why the book appeared on my (all-girls) school’s reading lists.

Briefly, The L-Shaped Room tells the story of Jane Graham who, at the age of 27, finds herself unmarried, pregnant and the resident of a squalid boarding house.  She moves there, into her l-shaped room, when her father throws her out of the family home after learning of her pregnancy.  As she admits early on, she could afford better lodgings but she chooses this house as a sort of punishment for herself, as though suffering through deprivation and bed bugs will atone for her sins. 

Coming to write this review, I’m not sure I know how to describe the plot.  It’s really a coming of age story, with Jane finally taking that last, belated step from child to adult, and learning to take responsibility both for herself and the baby she is carrying.  She is asserting her independence by making this new life, on her own terms.  What begins as a punishment turns into a rebirth, with Jane turning her little room from a hovel into a refugee as she comes to terms with her situation, with her uncertain future, and with the responsibilities that are now hers.  She grows from a child running away from her problems into a woman capable of confronting and dealing with them on her own.  I’m not sure I like Jane (she is not a terribly likeable character) but I can certainly admire how far she has come by the end of the novel.

It’s also an interest reminder of the social norms of the day.  To be pregnant and single today still carries some stigma, but you’re unlikely to worry that you’ll be called a whore to your face or, frankly, to think of yourself as one – which Jane seems guilty of several times.  This was very much the era of “nice girls don’t” and, though biologically it takes two to make a baby, the blame, in society’s eyes at least, only rests with the female.  But it is Jane’s fellow outsiders that present the opportunity for some of the more jarringly outdated language and attitudes.  There’s anti-Semitism galore, both with comments about Jane’s employer and her neighbour Toby, and some even more impressively outrageous comments about her black neighbour John.  For the Politically Correct reader, this might be upsetting enough to mare their enjoyment of the story.  However, the comments are rarely made in an effort to hurt or offend.  They’re just a normal part of Jane’s speech and, aside from using the phrase “work like a black” in front of John, she shows no guilt or self-consciousness over their use.

Having finished it, I now find that The L-Shaped Room is the first of a trilogy.  Though I haven’t heard the same recommendations for either The Backward Shadow or Two is Lonely, I would be quite interested to read them one day and discover how Jane’s life unfolds.

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