“I shall cherish that part of myself; I shall keep all those impossible desires, those unquenchable thirsts, those longings than can never be satisfied. I shall keep them always. I’ll be a hopeful traveller.”
My second read for Mary Hocking week, but my first read for June was The Hopeful Traveller, a sequel to A Time of War.
The Hopeful Traveller takes place a short time after the end of the Second World War, Kerren, Cath, Robin and Adam each need to adjust to the new world of peacetime following the strictures and structures of war time service. Having left the peace of West Country woodland behind and the camaraderie of the hut they shared with their Wren colleagues, Cath and Kerren are now living in London. These early days of peace are far from idyllic, rationing still as strict as during war time, adjustments have to be made in a world of bomb damage, where work and affordable accommodation can be hard to come by.
Kerren has taken a job as a librarian and Cath is living an easy life in her parent’s home in Holland Park. Life is not all roses in peacetime, Kerren, refusing to touch the money left to her by her husband, is practically starving while living in a horrible room in a noisy street of terraced houses. Meanwhile Robin is living the life in Cheltenham she never wanted, with her baby Terrence and the husband she doesn’t love. Robin had married Clyde for convenience, to avert a scandal – because she couldn’t quite face being unconventional. Her child isn’t her husband’s; Clyde had offered her a way out of a difficult situation. Now Robin snaps at her husband, feels guilty for her irritation – and judges herself to be a poor mother. During a child free visit to see Kerren in London Robin meets Jan a Yugoslav refugee (who reminded me a little of Jacov my favourite character in the Fairly family trilogy). Inevitably Robin embarks on an ill-thought out affair with Jan who is something of a thoughtless cynic.
Mary Hocking does distance herself a little from her characters – this is something I often quite like, it sort of allows me to develop my own relationship with the characters. It is a style similar to that of Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym (although I do think all three are quite different as writers). Here, while Kerren is a proud, intelligent dreamer, Robin has become a cool, selfish young woman shielded by a mask of respectability. Adam, a few years their senior feels like the world weary grown up – recovering from his losses and starting again with a new venture.
“Kerren told herself that it was Bach with whom she was concerned. It was Bach about whom she thought as she walked along the streets, watching the green shoots pierce the soil, seeing the green finger tips of trees gently exploring the more temperate air. She began to feel a certain greenness within herself, an inexplicable, restless hope. During the winter she had at times been deeply lonely. She wanted so desperately to communicate; what it was she wanted to communicate she was never quite sure, there was a dancing light that threaded its way in and out of conversations and encounters and eventually eluded her.”
When Kerren finds sanctuary from her room and rumbling stomach in Covent Garden – with a free ticket for Wagner – the last person she expects to run into is Adam. Kerren had begun to develop an attachment to Adam after her husband’s death, before Adam was posted away from her. Now, she feels drawn to him again, but unsure exactly where she stands. Adam never speaks to her of the wife and children he lost, she feels he is keeping a big part of himself hidden from her. Kerren has made one other friend in London; Dilys, who she introduces Cath and Robin to, so when Cath sees Adam in the window of Dilys’s house one day she is a little too quick to draw conclusions. Yet Kerren can’t help but allow Adam to take charge in the midst of her misery and he helps Kerren find a much better place to live.
“She had reached the stage where she no longer cared what happened provided she could be alone with her wretchedness. But Adam must have been very decisive because almost without her realizing how it had happened she found herself walking down the street with him, clutching a hold-all containing nightdress and sponge bag. It was difficult to get a room at this time of night and her tear-blotched face did not help matters. ‘I’ve no doubt that by now the police have my description in several different languages,’ Adam said resignedly when they had been turned away from a dingy boarding house by an indignant Italian woman in a stained floral dressing gown. Eventually a room was found in an expensive Bayswater hotel which had ceased to ask questions with the advent of the first G.I. Adam paid and Kerren experienced all the humiliation of the kept woman without any of the pleasure.”
Adam has entered into a partnership in London, a small publishing house, and Adam introduces Kerren to his business partner’s son John Hughes. John like so many young men after the war is at a loss at what to do now that he is demobilised, he’s considering going to Cambridge to study medicine even though he feels too old to do so. It seems the the war took his best years. John is drawn to Kerren, but soon realises he is wasting his time. In the company of John and Adam Kerren goes on something of a peculiar adventure in Brecon, which sees them unwittingly (and rather naively) getting themselves mixed up in the black market. This peculiar episode heralds a much more frightening and dramatic one, which finally allow Kerren and Adam to come to an understanding.
That dramatic ending to the novel jarred a tiny bit – it’s not a big criticism, overall I really enjoyed The Hopeful Traveller, I had really wanted to know what happened to characters I already got to know so well in A Time of War.