This was a new book to me (if I did read it as a teenager, I have no memory of it), and my assumption from the title alone was that Gerald and Elizabeth would be a romantic couple. (I may also have been influenced by the cover image on the used paperback edition I managed to find and purchase online -- see photo, left!). They are, in fact, half-siblings.
Even though it was published in 1969, there's still a very 1950s flavour to this book (not a hippie or Beatle in sight, lol). As the story opens, Gerald is travelling aboard a ship from South Africa back to England. He is in no mood to socialize and keeps to himself (we soon learn why), but still manages to attract the attention of a wealthy American family (and their pretty daughter Penelope, in particular).
Back in London, he reunites with his half-sister, Elizabeth (Bess). Bess has always wanted a husband and family, and has neither, for reasons that eventually become clear -- even though she's being pursued by Sir Walter MacCallum, a wealthy shipbuilder from Glasgow. Instead, she's pursued a career on the stage and become a famous stage actress. She's overjoyed to see Gerald again, give him a home and help him get back on his feet again.
Many Stevenson novels are at least partly set in Scotland, and this one is no different: Gerald travels there to visit his aging Uncle Gregor on Cannochbrae, the farm where he spent part of his childhood.
Many Stevenson books contain references to the characters and settings in her other novels, and this one is full of them: Drumburly ("Music in the Hills" and "Shoulder the Sky/Winter and Rough Weather"); Haines, Reverend Mr. Kirke and Freda Lorimer ("Five Windows"); the Reverend Mr. Heath and Limbourne ("Katherine Wentworth" and "Katherine's Marriage"); and I believe there are others from the books I haven't yet read (which I'm sure my fellow DESsies will point out as we progress through the book together). ;) Gerald's story continues in "The House of the Deer" (the last book Stevenson wrote before her death in 1973, published in 1970), which we will also be reading sometime in 2022.
This had many of the hallmarks of another great Stevenson read: strong characters, lovely descriptions, a strong sense of morality and propriety. Unfortunately, my usual enjoyment of another Stevenson novel was somewhat marred by a couple of things as the plot unfolded.
Bess's reluctance to marry and have children stems from the mental illness that runs in her mother's side of the family. Gerald sets out to learn more and hopefully put her mind at ease. What he discovers had me rolling my eyes and shaking my head. It's one of those hoary old plot twists -- not entirely out of the realm of probability, I'm sure -- but one that happens far more often in the books and movies than in real life...!
The books is also marred by some anti-Semitic references in a scene that takes place in an antique shop near the end of the book. I was forewarned because I had read some reviews mentioning this on Goodreads (and apparently this passage was toned down somewhat in later editions of the book), but I still found it wince-inducing to read. Yes, times were different then, and Stevenson was very much a product of the time and place she lived in -- but still, this was 1969 and not the 1930s, when she began publishing books. One would hope for something better, 24 years after the end of WWII...! I would never tell anyone not to read a book based on a few offensive paragraphs -- but be forewarned.
2.5 stars on Goodreads, rounded up to 3 (because of my abiding affection for DES) -- but not one of her best.
This was Book #50 read to date in 2021 (and Book #2 finished in October), bringing me to 139% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. (This equals my best-ever showing in the Goodreads Challenge since I joined in 2016 -- 50 books read in all of 2019.) I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 22 (!) books ahead of schedule. :) You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books."