Tuesday, 23 October 2012

'Patience' by John Coates



Oh, what good news! It’s that time of year when the wonderful publishing house Persephone brings out its newest books. And this is an extra exciting time because we’re on the cusp of its 100th book.

However, before we get there, let’s enjoy Persephone 99. This is a 1953 novel by John Coates, a rare male author on the publisher’s list. But Patience is written from the female point of view, and very convincingly so at most points of the narrative.

Our protagonist, the eponymous Patience, is a 28-year-old wife and mother who lives her life according to her strict Catholic beliefs. She has endured almost seven years of boring marriage to adulterous Edward simply because she felt it was her duty, and because the three children their marriage produced bring her untold happiness.

But when we meet Patience at the start of this book, she is on the brink of great change.

Over the course of just a few days, the book shows Patience shedding her attributory namesake and turning her life upside down. It’s giving nothing away to say that our heroine (and she is a heroine, despite her actions) is juggling the realisation she may be expecting her fourth child, with the news her husband may not really be her husband, and the fact she has finally found true love.

At the time of publication in the 1950s, Patience was banned in Ireland and considered shocking in many quarters because of its frank approach to modern marriage, romantic affairs, and women’s right to pleasure in bed. But it’s all handled in a delightfully ‘proper’ manner, with nothing risqué or troublesome to polite sensibilities. In fact, at times, I wanted to shake Patience and tell her to stand up for herself a bit more.

I find it interesting that it was a man who wrote this book, because it so delicately deals with a woman’s emotions and sexual desire. But it’s also interesting that it was also first published at a time when the very idea that women might enjoy sex was still blushed under the carpet with an embarrassed snort. Of course, Patience also reinforces to those of us without a religious faith just how limiting life is when lived according to The Book. Patience’s religion gives her comfort and instruction, but also makes her – and those she loves – desperately unhappy. And her devout brother Lionel comes off particularly badly, not least because of his strict understanding of his faith.

Persephone 99 is a delightful read. And Patience follows hot on the heels of other Persephone favourites such as The Making of a Marchioness and Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary, which I comfortably call ‘hot water bottle books’ on account of the comforting glow they give you to read, and their suitability for enjoying while snuggled up in bed on a rainy morning.


You can visit the (new look) Persphone website by clicking here.

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