Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Review: Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner; Christian Privilege; The Walking Dead

When I was a young girl, I would lose myself for hours in old books: Jane Eyre, for instance, could mesmerize me for an entire afternoon as I sweated every moment in the orphanage with little Jane. As I grew older, and especially these past few years, I've read more "modern" books, and I'm continually looking for those books that grab you right from the start, throttle you and don't let go until the end. The thrilling reads.

With "Lolly Willowes," I had a profound return to those days when pages and pages could be spent detailing someone's daily life: the chores, the tick of the clock, what precisely that clock looked like and where it stood.

Don't get me wrong. I ultimately felt like a leaf spiralling along a merry stream as I followed Lolly's adventures, but it should be noted that for the first 54 pages, I was drowsing at the tedium of poor Lolly's first forty years. It is, I think, a deliberate choice of Townsend Warner to do so: the dust collects, and no better literary example has shown this.

The dust collects. Tiny particles that weigh a soul down, and all these particles have names: Nieces and nephews and sisters-in-law and brothers and chores and church and, and, and... There you have it. Now you are a middle-aged spinster whom no one has any real regard for, while meanwhile, the dust has obscured your early tendencies and early joys, until you seek but cannot see.

I'm not sure, from this description, if the life of women has ever changed in our thousands of years. How many of us feel the same? We want to go into the woods and find strange rocks! We want to stare at nothing across a field, or take a boat somewhere and let our fingertips slide through cold waters. We want to see if there really is a secret path in that forest, we want to smell it out for ourselves, and by ourselves.

Toni Morrison did the better job, in "Paradise" (one of my all-time favorite books), of clearly provoking the age-old fears, those nameless dreams that haunt men: that women do not need them. And thus, in their fear, do they name those females who stand apart "witch."

Lolly Willowes, in time, becomes an actual witch. Less strained reality and more fanciful, but still disturbing, metaphor, the story follows Lolly as she is like a child in the dark, until dear Satan -- the Loving Huntsman of the subtitle -- comes along to finally collect what is his.

I wish that Lolly had acted more decisively more often, but like those first 54 pages, perhaps it is deliberate. Perhaps Townsend Warner wished to turn the mirror on the vast numbers of women who are just the same as Lolly: gentle, sharp witted, and inward-turning. I, myself, am much like this, and so this may be why I wished Lolly had more backbone: because I wish that I did.

The prose is nearly flawless, and Townsend Warner has a gift for the gentle barb, the clever phrase, and the observations of class that few can astutely render on the page. I smiled often while reading, and once Lolly had made the decision to move to Great Mop (there! a reason to read in itself, for what a name for a country village), things turned strange and delightful in small ways.

"Lolly Willowes" won't grab you by the throat, but I confess it did my heart. And while "feminism and witchcraft in 1930s England" may not be the most appealing description--though valid--it is indeed an immensely appealing book.


Miss Maggie Mayhem reblogs a stunning, short essay on Christian Privilege and gay marriage. I cannot add anything more -- this is as perfectly said as it can be. Please read.


If you are keeping up with The Walking Dead comic, may I say regarding the newest, issue 86:


I was shocked to be talking to Christopher Grant about it and hear him say that this is fast becoming the worst comic ever.

And I was even more shocked to realize I was agreeing.

I stopped watching Lost after the third season. This feels... eerily similar. As similar, in fact, as Jack and Rick are appearing to become.

I'm off to work. Have a great day, everyone.


  1. I really like Kirkman as a writer, I'm a couple of trades behind on Invincible, but love it, Brit was great, enjoyed his Ultimate X-men run, and various other small projects, but I have -never- been able to get into the Walking Dead. Don't know why... I love zombie stuff, I'm a massive comics geek, but it just doesn't work for me... *shrugs*

    I know a few other people who have loved tWD from the beginning but are starting to get a little tired of it now...

  2. the book sounds interesting. thanks for linking to the essay on gay marriage - you are right, her essay is perfect. i get so aggravated with people who say gays should be happy being shoved into the ghetto of 'civil unions.'