Thursday 9 August 2007

Foxy Lady

Today I'm going to multi-task, and address a new entry on '50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About', while chatting about one of the books I read on holiday. Smooth, no?

UPDATE: a longer and better review has been done by Simon S here!

The first, to become no.13 on the list of books you should read, is Lady Into Fox by David Garnett, published in 1922. Don't really know how renowned this novel is already, but I didn't know anything about Garnett when my piano teacher mentioned Lady Into Fox. This is the lady who recommended Miss Hargreaves, so I was confident that the novel would find favour. The fact that Garnett was Virginia Woolf's nephew-in-law could only be a bonus.

Lady Into Fox - can you guess the plot? Sylvia (clever name) suddenly turns into a fox - the novel follows Mr Tebrick, her husband, as he witnesses Sylvia increasingly lose her human nature, and degenerate into vixenhood. What could be quite an absurd narrative is dealt with cleverly, and the fantasy never takes over. Instead, Garnett delivers a gentle tale with strong and genuine emotions, which becomes an admirable story of pathos.

Sylva (which presumely sounds like the precious metal, and makes referring to the novel audibly rather tricky) was written in 1962 as a response to Lady Into Fox, though I didn't know that when I bought the book. Interestingly, I bought it because I'd just read Garnett's novel. Gosh. Anyway, this novel is actually a French one, by 'Vercors' (Jean Bruller), though of course I have a translation. It acts as 'F
ox Into Lady', if you will, reversing the central conceit of Garnett's work, and making it all a little grittier. Drug abuse is thrown in along the way, but Vercors' novel is mostly interesting as a study of development and psychology - Sylva's progress is intended to resemble that of mankind, but the centuries are condensed into weeks. A few too many ponderous expostulations, but enough charisma in the characterisation to make up for it. Both fun novels, but with thoughtful backgrounds and premises, and it's always interesting to read books in a pair like this. Who'd have thought foxes could be so entertaining?


  1. How about tripleting them with Jennie by Paul Gallico?

  2. You come up with the most interesting books, Simon. When you get through your list of 50, you should host a challenge to get your adoring fans to read more of them.

    How long have you played piano? I played from age 7 all the way through university and I still like to dabble, though I'm very rusty. I was never much good, though--hands are too small (Liszt is out of the question)!

  3. I just came across a reference to Lady into Fox in Thomas Hardy Remembered (2007). S. M. Ellis, a nephew of George Meredith, wrote an article for the Fortnightly Review in 1928 of recollections of Hardy, and in passing he mentioned Hardy's "dislike for Mr Garnett's Lady into Fox, which he thought stupid.

    But it's not like Hardy's infallible: he also told an American visitor once that in the United States "there were two, and only two great things--the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay and what he called our 'recessional buildings.'" Even looking at the U.S. harshly, I'd say he missed a couple.

  4. thanks for posting about this book, I love Foxes and books so can't wait to read it

  5. Have you ever read The Grasshoppers Come? by David Garrett? What a trip, would love to hear comments.

  6. I had never heard of Garnett before today, but I was at a Virginia Woolf display at Lucy Cavendish Collge (at Cambridge) today and I noticed one of his books. Fascinating to learn of the family connection!

  7. I have to get my mitts on a copy of this. Your copy is beautiful! I love figuring out little puzzles so I'm sure I will enjoy the play on words in the names...

  8. I read Sylva in 1966 or 1967 when I was 10 and desperate for something to read at my aunt's house. I remember thinking that it was racy and prurient, though I remember nothing except the first scene where she is caught naked in a fence or something.


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