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Book Review: ‘Beyond the Glass’ and ‘The Vet’s Daughter’

Following our call for book reviews from our readers back in February, Michelle Kopczyk contributed this post from Canada, which coincidentally builds on our recent In the Spotlight on novelist Antonia White:

Clara Batchelor is twenty-two. Her brief, doomed marriage to Archie ended, she returns to her parents hoping for comfort. But theirs is a strict Catholic home, and its confines form a dangerous glass wall of guilt and repression between Clara and the outside world. Clara both longs for and fears what lies beyond, yet when she escapes into an exhilarating and passionate love affair, her fragile identity cracks. An extraordinary portrayal of a woman’s descent into madness.

– May Quartet

Beyond the Glass is the last book in a trilogy-sequel to Frost in May (which I feel is White’s strongest novel).

The central theme in Beyond the Glass is the main character’s (Clara) mental deterioration–absence of identity, depression, great exultation, delusions, incarceration--and recovery. White experienced this in her early twenties, an affliction that revisited her a few times during her life.

The story is tragic. It is about loss and the reluctant acceptance of it. It also evokes a strange sense of hope, that Clara is moving towards developing a sense of self. In contrast, Barbara Comyn’s novel The Vet’s Daughter is similar in feeling, but it has a fantastical element that, unlike Beyond the Glass, mitigates the sense of tragedy for the central character and reinforces, what I believe to be the Vet's Daughter's central theme, the sense of doom of being a human being. White’s novel is unbridled and hard to take in parts—on my third try, I got through it.

White, A. (1980) Beyond the Glass, Virago Press, London

Comyns, B. (1981) The Vet's Daughter, Virago Modern Classics, London

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