Polly Wilkinson, a middle-class suburban housewife and mother, is leaning on her garden gate, tired from housework. She sees a woman in a Rolls Royce stopped in traffic and wishes she was that woman. For a moment, she is, but it doesn’t last long and she thinks the experience is a daydream.
After that, Polly is periodically removed from her life and takes the place of aristocratic Lady Elizabeth Forrester. After some initial confusion about what is happening, she believes Elizabeth is causing this exchange, and she is put in some awkward positions, such as finding herself in the middle of a fox hunt when she can’t ride. She purposefully makes Elizabeth do things she doesn’t usually do, such as play bridge brilliantly, in a sort of revenge. She also returns home to find the furniture moved and her children demanding stories she’s not familiar with. What could be causing these body exchanges?
I wasn’t sure I was going to like this novel, which reminded me of The Victorian Chaise-Longue, but it grew on me. It wasn’t as dismal as the other novel, and I liked how Polly’s more open and positive personality had an effect on Elizabeth’s life while Elizabeth’s confidence helped Polly and her husband’s career.
Of course, the novel comments on class issues, but Cairnes’s representation of Polly’s suburban life is so realistic that I was surprised to find Cairnes came from a background closer to Elizabeth’s. She doesn’t skewer or patronize the suburban characters. If anything, Polly’s frank kindness opens Elizabeth’s eyes to some truths. Sadly, (small spoiler) the class divide is still strong enough in 1930’s England that the women can’t remain friends in the future.
I received this novel from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.