Mother and Son

This is a very unconventional book — it’s nearly all dialogue, and the characters all seem to speak the same way, even the children. Sometimes what they say is nonsensical, and other times they come out with brilliant gems. The acerbic Compton-Burnett (, who wrote 19 largely similar books, is not to everyone’s taste, although she can be hilarious and insightful. Whether you love her or hate her, you’ll probably agree there is no author like her.

In Mother and Son (1955) the mother, Miranda, is a tyrant. Although her middle-aged son, Rosebery, has been her doting companion, the aging Miranda decides to hire a companion so as not to burden Rosebery and her 12 years’ younger husband, Julius, as she declines. A rejected applicant, Miss Burke, gets a position in the former household of the woman Miranda hires, Hester, who lived contentedly in Emma’s home but now wants to be financially independent. This trio of females becomes a prospective marriage pool for Rosebery and Julius after Miranda dies. Two engagements are quickly made — and quickly broken. The men can’t escape their unmarried state, even with Miranda gone; the women don’t want to.

Compton-Burnett still seems to have an audience as her novels do get re-printed. Whether you enjoy reading her probably depends on whether witty repartee and little else can carry a novel for you. However, if you’re a feline lover, Mother and Son might be worth reading solely for Plautus the cat, ‘at once more or less than a human being’.

256 pages in Littlehampton Book Services paperback edition

ISBN 978-0575023536

Ivy Compton-Burnett

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