‘My favourite type of mystery, suspenseful, and where everyone is not what they appear . . . Christine is great at creating atmosphere . . . she evokes the magic of the stage, and her characters [have] a past to be uncovered before the mystery is solved.’ [Stage Fright]

- Lizzie Hayes, MYSTERY WOMEN

The Tortoise and the Hare

imagesMore blog fun for me and Moira over at This time we decided that I would pick a book for us both to read and that, without consulting, we would each blog about it on the same day and link our posts. Moira will chose next time.

My choice is Elizabeth Jenkins’ 1954 novel, THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE. I picked it because it is a novel I hugely admire and I long to know what Moira thinks of it. I must have first read it about thirty years ago and I have reread it many times since. The story is told mainly from the point of view of Imogen Gresham, who, when the novel opens, seems to live a charmed life with her high-powered barrister husband, Evelyn, and her son, Gavin, in a beautiful Regency house in Berkshire. We see her examining a piece of pottery in an antique shop, attracted its colour: her husband points out that it is chipped. ‘It would come apart in no time.’ And even in this first chapter, we begin to see what Imogen is scarcely aware of: the chip in her marriage as she fails to perceive the nature of growing friendship between Evelyn and their neighbour, Blance Silcox. Surely this stout, plain, dowdy spinster of fifty can pose no threat to Imogen, still in her thirties, elegant, lovely?

I think this novel is almost perfect, though rereading it a year or two ago, I felt that there was a flaw that I hadn’t noticed before in her treatment of a couple who arrive in the village, bringing with them all kind of progressive fads to do with ‘improving’ village life, while at the same time their own children are neglected. Jenkins’s viewpoint was instinctly conservative and these characters are so sharply satirized that I feel it slightly unbalances the novel. Still this was her masterpiece, so perceptive and subtle in its understanding of men and women, as gripping in its way as a thriller.

I do, by the way, sometimes despair of what publishers deem to be a suitable book-cover. The one that comes up first on Amazon makes the book look like a piece of chic-lit, which it emphatically is not. The one I’ve used here is from my old Virago paperback, which has stood up to repeated reading surprisingly well.

I’ve so much enjoyed Moira’s take on the novel. Read it here on


  1. moira @ClothesInBooks
    January 13, 2016

    Oh snap! Could we BE in any more agreement? I am so glad you made me read this book – what a perfect jewel it is. The trappings of a certain kind of novel, and then something so much more original and involving hidden inside.
    I keep thinking about the book since I finished it, and I particularly think about the Leepers – the rest of the book is so nuanced and careful, I feel she must have had a reason for making them so larger-than-life and out of place, but I don’t know… Those damaged girls, doing so much damage at the party: it’s a horrifying scene, ending in damaging themselves. But I can’t pin that to the rest of the book…. (I never think this, but I wish I was an undergraduate trying to think about Tortoise and Hare for an essay!)
    Right, now I have to think of something equally worthwhile for you to read. May be a challenge.

    • Christine Poulson
      January 13, 2016

      I’ve so much enjoyed doing this – I did feel this would be absolutely up your street. The clothes are very well used, aren’t they? I like the dress that Imogen chose for Cecil and want one myself. The Leepers, yes, a pity, I think it was simply a lapse of judgement. She allowed her contempt for people like that to come through too strongly and it unbalances the novel. I think she was conservative with a small c, and maybe a large C. I am not, and yet I do love the book so much.


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