It is always really difficult to review books that are a part of a series; I am never sure how interesting they are for others. Still this blog is driven entirely by what I read and what I like. Reviews aside, I am so glad that I embarked upon this reading challenge; it is hugely readable and ever so slightly addictive. The first three books of The Forsyte Saga are I suppose the best known, they are the books that have been televised – twice – and so often, as I can attest, the only volume some people read – (I originally read it and forget there were two other volumes). Galsworthy wrote the second and third volumes of his Forsyte chronicles a number of years after the first volume, with the three books of the third volume not published until the 1930’s. The Forsyte Saga earned John Galsworthy the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932.
The White Monkey is the first novel in John Galsworthy’s second Forsyte trilogy, entitled A Modern Comedy and is the fourth book out of the total nine that I plan to read this year. I am devastated (that is no understatement) to discover that this second trilogy should contain two interludes (like in the first volume) and my copy doesn’t. I may have to go in search of e-book copies of them.
The year is 1922; the Labour party are in the ascendency, The Great War still a bitter memory. Fleur has been married to Michael Mont for almost two years, despite not being even twenty one yet. Their marriage is a little one sided, for Fleur has never quite forgotten Jon Forsyte – the great love from whom she was separated two years earlier. One can’t help but make comparisons with Fleur’s hasty marriage and Soame’s ill-fated union with Irene.
“The house in South Square, Westminster, to which the young Monts had come after their Spanish honeymoon two years before, might have been called ‘emancipated.’ It was the work of an architect whose dream was a new house perfectly old, and an old house perfectly new.”
Now Fleur contents herself with collecting people, the fashionable and the fascinating – she seems at times to be like a society hostess of far greater age. One of Fleur’s particular conquests is poet, Wilfred Desert, Michael’s best friend, who has fallen rather hopelessly in love with Fleur. Michael is part of a publishing company, and both Michael and Fleur enjoy being part of a world of artists and writers. Michael is still smitten by Fleur, but not blind to her faults, his faith in her is shaken a little, and he fears for the security of their marriage, and their future. Bumping into June Forsyte one day, poor Michael learns of the existence of Jon Forsyte now out of sight at least in America.
“Light-heartedness always made Soames suspicious – there was generally some reason for it.”
Soames is a board member of an assurance company from which he has enjoyed a good income, but is now destined to give him the kind of trouble he could live without. One of his co-members is Sir Lawrence Mont, Michael’s father, and the two men are necessarily thrown together a good deal. Sir Lawrence (Bart as Michael calls him) is a more relaxed and humorous man than Soames, who is an older slightly mellower man than he was, but traditional and buttoned up still. Soames spends a lot of time with his beloved daughter, often choosing to stay over at her house, with its Chinese decorations and resident Pekinese; Ting-a-ling –Fleur’s spoiled little dog who rather rules the house. Now Soames will need his wits about him to avoid being ruined by a financial scandal, and proves himself to be very much a Forsyte of the old school.
“That tendency…to lie awake between the hours of two and four, when the chrysalis of faint misgiving becomes so readily the butterfly of panic.”
It is through Michael that we meet The Bicket’s another young married couple, although of a different economic class entirely. Bicket, sacked by Michael’s senior partners for theft, is reduced to selling balloons out of a tray, his young wife ; recently recovered from pneumonia, seeks a way to earn the money they require to fulfil their dream to go to Australia. I really enjoyed this parallel storyline, although I did wonder where it was going at first, it provides an interesting contrast to the story of Michael and Fleur. This storyline seems to be an attempt by Galsworthy to tell a story of another part of society, an acknowledgement of a changing world. True there are not many actual Forsytes in this novel, they are becoming a rare breed indeed – part of course of just how the old world is changing forever.
The White Monkey may not have the drama of the three novels of the previous volume but it is still for me hugely engaging and readable and I am looking forward to what comes next.
I am not alone in reading the Forsytes this year and you can read Liz’s review of The White Monkey here and no doubt Karen and Bridget will be reading and reviewing it too in due course.