Conversation Piece by Molly Keane, sometimes known as M.J Farrell, was first published in 1932 but my copy is a Virago reprint from 1991. Prior to reading this one I think I had only read Two Days in Aragon by this author and I remember enjoying that one. I enjoyed this one too although it is one of her earliest works when she was really writing about her own life experiences, growing up in Ireland in an Anglo Irish family. Those people occupied a strange place in Irish society, not really liked or accepted by the ‘real’ Irish people but tolerated for what they brought, their wealth and employment for the locals. A love of horses seems to have been their main reason for existing, breeding, racing, doing point-to-points and hunting with them.
This is the story of Oliver who is invited to Pullinstown by his uncle Sir Richard, a widow with a son and daughter, Willow and Dick. The atmosphere is anything but friendly until Oliver’s cousins realise that he is a good horseman, then he is accepted as one of them.
If you like horses and dogs then you’ll probably enjoy this one but if not then you might want to give it a miss as there is an awful lot of horse and dog chat, races and hunts described, but always in an amusing way and considering there are a few hunts described at length, she doesn’t dwell on the end result. They are always trying to get the better of their neighbours in horse sales and of course the neighbours are trying to do exactly the same thing.
To begin with it you could be forgiven for thinking that the family is a cold one and their father remote and uncaring but in reality the relationships are very close.
Keane is best when she is writing the dialogue of the Irish servants, she obviously had a good ear and memory for conversations and as a person brought up in the west of Scotland in a town which had loads of Irish immigrants, most of whom had arrived there in the 1950s, I found it all very authentic – so I did.
Still on the subject of horses – did you ever read Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s books when you were young? I did but I had completely forgotten about her until I noticed that her obituary was in the Guardian today, she was 90. Apparently she also wrote detective novels and a gothic novel under the name Josephine Mann. You can read her obituary here.