all-passion-spentAll Passion Spent
Vita Sackville-West
Vintage Classics

What draws you to a particular book?  Are you seduced by an attractive cover?

I am, but have learned that it really isn’t the best way to select a novel.  Not that this knowledge ever stops me wasting money.  All Passion Spent was part of a lovely display of novels from the 1930s in my local Waterstones and something about the cover art led me to choose it, rather than any other.  Also, I’d just been reading about Vita Sackville-West’s personal life and how she inspired Virginia Woolf’s wonderful Orlando, so had high hopes for her writing.

This is a novel about the elderly Lady Slane whose eminent husband, Lord Slane, has just popped his clogs, leaving her with very little money to live on.  Lady Slane confounds her children’s expectations by asserting her independence and going off to live with her housemaid in a rented Georgian house in Hampstead.  There she rejects the company of her family for three new and rather eccentric characters: the owner of the property, a builder and an art collector.

I won’t spoil the plot by saying any more, but it is rather an interesting little tale.  Lady Slane’s children are pretty loathsome, money-grabbing types and we learn something of her deceased husband from her reflections on her life with him.  Although, it seems to me that she considers it somewhat wasted.

And I think this is where the novel starts to lose momentum and become boring for me.  Vita Sackville-West meanders off on a Feminist path, bemoaning the loss of a woman’s identity within a marriage, while I was left wanting more of the interesting characters and Lady Slane’s new independent lifestyle.

I found it a shame, that a fascinating collection of people are only sketchily drawn out by Sackville-West, and wish that she’d been told to flesh it out more.  There is the odd line, which goes right to the heart of the matter, but there is also a lot of unnecessary tangential stuff about the lot of married upper-class women, which spoilt it for me.

“I do believe it,” said William, working himself up. “Mother is like a child who treats rubies as though they were pebbles. She has never learnt; she has merely wandered through life.”

This sentence is All Passion Spent in a nutshell, and I can imagine this would make a good radio play, as the bare bones are really quite engaging.  Someone who is interested in Feminism would probably find this fascinating, but the novel wasn’t quite my cup of afternoon tea.