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The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
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The L-Shaped Room (1960)

by Lynne Reid Banks

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I really enjoyed this novel, and was surprised by how 'modern' it seemed, despite being published in 1960. Jane Graham, the narrator, gets knocked up after her first and disastrous love affair, and has to move into a grotty bedsit - the L-shaped room - when her father throws her out. Apart from the social reaction to Jane's condition, and a rather unattractive streak of passive racism, this could almost be a proto chick lit novel. The formula is there - career girl with an unsuccessful love life, various male friends, including (shockingly, for the time) a black man, eccentric relatives, and a happy ever after with the faithful lover. Even the standard combination of wicked humour - 'That's always the trouble with picking a husband. However much you like a man, it's never enough to last for life' - and sappy romance - 'The pool that had been so jarringly empty when I took my premeditated dive into with Terry, I fell into with Toby and found it full of champagne' - will be familiar to modern readers.

Lynne Reid Banks tells a slightly cliched story with biting honesty, however. Jane's attitude to her black neighbour and her middle class snobbery fit the conservative insularity of the 1950s, whereas her independence is more a sign of the decade to come. Jane herself is selfish, stubborn and a host of similarly unlikeable qualities, but also smart and very funny. I loved her boss James, her elderly neighbour Mavis, and her wonderfully Wodehousian aunty Addy, but all of the characters are finely drawn, if not totally original.

Definitely one of the classic novels of the era. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Sep 26, 2012 |
*spoliers alert*

Anyway, I suppose I got the idea.

I suppose the most interesting thing was the girl's very Victorian manners (and way of speaking), although I suppose that shouldn't be too surprising: 1960 was alot closer to 1890 than we are.

I even started to like it, which wasn't what I was expecting from this sort of poor-girl-meets-harsh-world book.

Maybe it's because she was middle class...

And you gotta love the odd sorts she falls in with.

Persephone in a different way, if you follow.

And she (Banks) even did a nice job with the dad. Fair, I mean.

And even when it stings, it's certainly very real. And *very* Open, especially for such a Victorian girl.

And like the French guy from Black Swan (Natalie Portman) said, people can be so damn destructive...

And didn't Frank McCourt say something like, When I think about my childhood, it's a miracle that I even survived it at all.

And I only found one thing that was said to be really unkind, and it wasn't even said by the protagonist, or in the L-Shaped Room.

So I suppose I'll just add it to the mental list of novels with useless-moron-fake-intellectual characters, men and women, although I suppose I forget it all eventually, I'm sure I do, because I just don't know what I'd do if I didn't.

Anyway, I know I'm more like John than the typewriter loser or the letter-writing loser. The fucking snob, is that all you're good for? As useless as Plato on the firing range, that one.

I know nobody wants my opinion--nobody ever did, not even when we read this sort of crap in school, although those books had NO art, they'd about one-tenth of the skill, and twelve times the whining, because the public school, the state school, that House of Lies, does things wrong, more or less on principle...but my opinion, my only opinion, is that I don't see why people think they've any right to be unhappy, and ruin their lives, I say they've no right to ruin their lives and be unhappy, and that's what I've got from Epictetus and his friend Simplicius, and if they think that makes me a fascist, then that's because they of the state school worship that fascist prince Machiavelli, and they even made me write little essays about him, the fucking useless fuckers, and what the fuck would those little nuns know about any L-Shaped Room, eh?

"The black light".

Anyway.

"At the door she shook hands with me and wished me luck. 'May I give you a piece of advice?' she asked gently. 'I know how difficult it must be to tell people the truth. But do try. I'm sure it's better.'
I'd known all the time that it would be. But one always has to try the easy way, to prove that in the long run it's harder than the other."

And, after all that, she did have a Father.

" 'I thought that the late frost would be the finish of the bulbs,' he said, 'but it just kept them back a bit. Look at those tulips. Not a curled leaf among the lot. Same with the hyacinths.'
'They're lovely.' I bent again to smell the bushy spikes, but Father stopped me by stooping quickly and snapping one off to give me.
'Oh, don't pick it! It seems so sad.'
'We'll put it in a glass of water. House needs some flowers.' "

But I don't think there's any sequel to that.

Anyway.

Although I do think that the last few pages could have stayed on the editor's desk, mostly because there's no reason to spill ink over a novel that's already finished. Over. Although it was funny, ironic, what she said about the primitive fighting instincts of the male--not that I was offended: after what I'd been through, I couldn't care less, couldn't have been insulted if I'd tried--but it seems to me to be about the same as the writer who goes on writing after his novel is finished, just because he just likes to write--ha!

Anyway.

And in case anyone wants a little P.S. about the perfectly irrelevant issues of race, and her stupid moron boyfriends, well, I think John was the best character in the whole book, and I think she captures their (mostly-harmless, ha!) ways of talking with him perfectly. As for the Disappearing Jew act that the other guy pulls, I just, I thought it sucked, actually. And that other guy, was he a character too? No, but that's okay. Perfectly okay, he doesn't need us--he has Plato.

You know how it is: you give away your type-writer because you're crap for writing, and then you decide to become a monk so you can write out Tolstoy's third novel, long-hand. You'll call it...Tobias Coleman-Cohen. Yeah...

No.

Anyway. Yeah.

(9/10) ( )
1 vote Tullius22 | Feb 4, 2012 |
I bought this book on the back of seeing the film some years ago. I've only just got round to reading it, and only then because it was a book group read. I realise now that I have been missing out on a very good read.

This is the story of Jane, a 28 year old woman who finds herself pregnant and unmarried. Her father throws her out and she ends up living in a dingy l-shaped room in an equally dingy house in Fulham. Jane does her best with the room and ends up being quite fond of it, along with the other residents of the house: Doris, the landlady, Mavis, the nosy neighbour, John, the black jazz musician who lives in the next room, and most importantly, Toby, a writer to whom Jane grows close.

The book follows her pregnancy and how she deals with it. It was written in 1960 and so being unmarried and pregnant was still taboo, and it's interesting to read how people treated Jane then.

Being somebody who prefers a contemporary style of writing, I wasn't sure I would like this book, but I surprised myself by enjoying it very much. It's a pleasant and well written story, and it made me smile in places. I'll probably look out the next in the trilogy, and would also be keen to watch the film again now, to see how it compares. ( )
1 vote nicx27 | Jan 31, 2012 |
Interesting "slice of life" novel of social and personal change. I particularly liked the protagonist's Aunt Addy. The personal journey in terms of finding a space of one's own and growing as a person still works. In the time since the book was written a lot of the attitudes commented on or depicted have changed enormously, and in many ways am glad I live when I do.. The L-shaped room itself becomes an interesting character too. ( )
  Flit | Dec 12, 2011 |
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For PAT

whether she likes it or not

and in memory of Jamie
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There wasn't much to be said for the place, really, but it had a roof over it and a door which locked from the inside, which was all I cared about just then.
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Book description
The story is full of humour and colour, sharply observed detail, changing moods and scenes. But it s strength lies in the unsentimental record of what it means to be pregnant, lonely and proud, not only in physical terms but emotionally.

Jane is pregnant - and unmarried. That is the overwhelming fact that has driven her into the squalid L-shaped room in a seedy house in Fulham. She has withdrawn from her real world as a hermit crab withdraws to an alien shell in face of danger, shutting herself off from everything save the unbelievable, undeniable fact that, in eight months' time, a living creature will be her responsibility for the rest of its growing life. Without conscious intention the L-shaped room is gradually transformed into a haven; she finds friendship, tolerance and a love based on reality within the shabby walls of the lodging-house.

This book asks that we judge not; that we respect each other; that we consider the implications before committing a stupid act; and that we accept - and are enriched by doing so - the responsibilities of being human beings.

Celia Dale in the Broadsheet
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Lynne Reid Banks' compassionate first novel examines the stigma of unmarried motherhood in pre-pill, pre-Abortion Act Britain While the social climate has changed drastically since publication, a transgressive frisson still crackles from the pages The Guardian. Pregnant by accident, kicked out of home by her father, 27-year-old Jane Graham goes to ground in the sort of place she feels she deserves - a bug-ridden boarding-house attic in Fulham. She thinks she wants to hide from the world, but finds out that even at the bottom of the heap, friends and love can still be found, and self-respect is still worth fighting for.… (more)

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