THE RING OF BELLS by Barbara Whitnell


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This fat English family tale, covering 50 years of a marriage (1889-1939) and domestic muddle, begins with promising rumbles about murder and blackmail but fizzles into a bubble of marital and financial troubles. In 1887, at 17, pretty Jenny, whose frail but proud mother was deserted and left to poverty in a London slum, goes to her grandparents' village inn after her mother's death of cancer. (Or did Mother die of an overdose of laudanum, unwittingly given her by Jenny?) And Jenny is happy at the Ring of Bells, a most respectable hostelry managed by upright Grandmother; she likes the village, seat of elderly Lord Bollinger; and she adores the lively Leyton boys for whose home, ""the Priors, Jenny feels an inexplicable attachment."" (Readers of rags-to-riches sagas will anticipate the meaning of Jenny's vibes.) A cross-caste romance between Roger Leyton and Jenny will ensue--despite the caustic crudities of status-consciousness Roger's brother Mark; they marry and acquire, eventually, four children and a string of hotels and inns. And from time to time Jenny and Roger must deal with hostile village gossip about Mark's affairs and an unsolved murder--as well as blackmail visits from Jenny's longtime nemesis: slimy Bella. But for the most things focus tamely on the children: Ben, who will survive WW I and evade a dreadful marriage; Ellie, feminist and successful politician who loses her only love and won't ""settle""; married Lucy, who is finally liberated into a career; and Philip, who will marry, by odd coincidence, another admirer of the Priors (where Jenny now lives). An amalgam of familiar elements--from skeletons in the closet to dining room cheer--plus some feminist talk that's decidedly out of period: standard dynasty mash with little piquancy or flavor.

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 1982
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan