The Doves of Venus by Olivia Manning

The Doves of Venus cover

The Doves of Venus by Olivia Manning was first published in 1955 and it really couldn’t be any other era. I suppose that to young people reading this book will seem like ancient history as everything is just so different nowadays. I don’t think the type of young women featured in the book exist now, I was born just at the back end of the 1950s – to older parents so a lot of the attitudes seemed very familiar to me.

The setting is London where eighteen year old Ellie has moved from Eastsea where she lived with her widowed mother and older sister. Ellie has hopes of becoming an artist and her relationship with a much older man Quintin leads to her getting a job in a shop painting old furniture. It’s a hand to mouth existence with every penny being counted.

Ellie has fallen hard for Quintin who is married but separated from his wife – off and on, but as far as he is concerned females are just to be used, picked up and put down at his convenience. But the older female characters are often manipulative and avaricious, this isn’t a book that portrays all women as being good while the men are all bad.

London has changed so much since the 1950s and there is now no way that a teenager working in a shop could rent a room in Kensington or Chelsea, and I’m happy to say that in the 21st century mothers have more ambition for their daughters than getting them safely married and off their hands before they are out of their teenage years.

I really enjoyed this one although it doesn’t come up to the heights of Olivia Manning’s Levant trilogy or her Balkan trilogy.

The blurb on the back says: ‘Manning writes always with a poet’s care for words and it is her usual distinction of style and construction that lifts the novel … far, far above the average run’ STEVIE SMITH, OBSERVER

This one was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

4 thoughts on “The Doves of Venus by Olivia Manning

  1. I read the first two of her Balkan trilogy ages ago and have been meaning to read the third – just haven’t got round to it. I like her writing so I’ll look out for this book. Your review made me think of Beryl Bainbridge’s books – set in a world long gone now.

    • Margaret,
      You’re absolutely right about Beryl Bainbridge, now that you mention it, especially one I’ve read called An Awfully Big Adventure.

  2. How I loved the BBC production of Fortunes of War, gosh, so many years ago now. I would enjoy Manning’s Balkan trilogy. I’ll put it on my list. I feel uncomfortably overwhelmed by the “too many books” phenomenon. I like keeping up with what’s being published now, but it comes at a cost. There’s still so much I haven’t read.

    • Judith,
      I enjoyed Fortunes of War so much – I got it on DVD! My unread books are out of control, and I swear they’re breeding. I try to get any more modern books from the library, unless it’s something that I know I will want to keep.

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