Before the War: Book summary and reviews of Before the War by Fay Weldon

Before the War

by Fay Weldon

Before the War by Fay Weldon X
Before the War by Fay Weldon
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2017
    304 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

1922. Vivien is twenty-four and a spinster. She wears fashionably droopy clothes, but she is plain and - almost worse - intelligent. At nearly six feet tall, she is known unkindly by her family as "the giantess."

Fortunately, Vivien is rich, so she can travel to London and bribe a charismatic gentleman publisher to marry her. What he does not know is that Vivien is pregnant with another man's child and will die in childbirth in just a few months...

Fay Weldon, with one eye on the present and one on the past, offers Vivien's fate, along with that of London between World War I and World War II. This is a city fizzing with change, full of flat-chested flappers, shell-shocked soldiers, and aristocrats clinging onto the past.

Inventive, warm, playful, and full of Weldon's trademark ironic edge, Before the War is a spellbinding novel from one of the best writers of our time.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"This is a complex character study filled with wit and wisdom about family, society, and the restrictions both can place on women." - Publishers Weekly

"Though a quick read, this novel is likely best suited for only Weldon's most dedicated fans." - Library Journal

"Interjections of authorial opinion and wit entertain, the occasional appearance of real historical characters (such as Somerset Maugham) lends an air of reality, and the rotten mother is a literary car crash, impossible to go past without staring." - Kirkus

"A romp of a read full of Weldon wit and wisdom, as well as sumptuous period detail, gawky, oversized Vivvie is a wonderfully offbeat heroine while her mother Adela makes a brilliantly ghastly villain." - Daily Mail (UK)

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Reader Reviews

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LesleyF

Have I Got a Story for YOU!
This story was a great deal of fun, once I caught on to the idea that the "author" was telling this story to ME, NOW. These days, many authors are playing with time and characters to tell a story from different angles. This was fresh! - straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak....heehee.

Fay Weldon has an excellent feeling for Britain between the wars - its people and its politics.

You think you know the whole story right off the bat because the author gives you some solid information, but NO, wait, there's more! There is a satisfying, if somewhat surprising ending, and a fascinating look at sex from a very different "angle" that was at once satire, irony, and informative. I picked it up and could not put it down, so I will be looking for more by this author.

Mary M.

What is the problem?
I absolutely loved this book. Apparently, several BookBrowse reviewers disliked it very much and I can't understand why. It's very funny, very witty. Fay Weldon is at her acid-tongued best. The book jacket describes the writing as reminiscent of Oscar Wilde and that is true. She perfectly portrays, and accurately satirizes a certain class of people, and their attempts to negotiate a changing England between the wars. But she loves her characters too, and so even the most venal and self-centered of them, such as Adela and Sherwyn, have a streak of decency and humanity that somewhat redeems them in the end. (Well, maybe not Adela.) I didn't find that the novel jumped around, as some readers complained. This book is perfectly charming.

Anna S

Before the War
A wonderful book that is at the same time both funny and sad....in other words, typical Fay Weldon. It took me a while to warm up to it but once I did I could scarcely put it down. The story mirrors the period: frenetic pace and gloomy foreboding. Definitely worth re-reading!

Priscilla Magnuson

A mixed bag
As character driven as I usually am, I find it hard to admit that I enjoyed a book whose characters were, as a whole, unlikable. The book, Before the War, is narrated, rather than told from one character's point of view, and that device was a bit off-putting in the beginning. The reader is informed in the first few pages that the main character will die withing the year. I did like Vivian, referred to as "the giantess." The story takes place between 1922 and 1939, and Vivian, nearly six feet tall, frumpy, and highly intelligent, is trying to make a way for herself at in a time period not kind to women such as she. She decides that she is marriageable only because she is wealthy, and proposes to someone who will see the advantage to both parties if he accepts, and he does. Poor Vivian, already pregnant by someone else, dies in childbirth.

The rest of the story involves a cast of characters with few, if any, redeeming characteristics. The skill of the author in fleshing out these people and telling the rest of Vivian's story is all that saves the book, in my opinion. I did appreciate the dry humor and observations about human character. Life today is different in appearance, but these people exist today in every level of society. I doubt this book will appeal to many readers, but I did like the writing.

Marie D.

Before the War should have been a better book
This was a difficult book for me to read for a few reasons. I found the unidentified interloper, who offers descriptive commentary throughout the book, irritating rather than helpful; several unattractive characters – virtually everyone in the book - were described bed-hopping over several decades. I found it prurient rather than provocative. I may be in the minority here, but I thought the book an unpleasant read.

There very well may be a sequel in the works, however, as the author appears to offer a hint that Sheldon may have a redeemable future in store for him.

“Before the War,” might have offered much more to the reader had the author let the characters out of the boudoir once in awhile!

Randi H. (Bronx, NY)

Not my cup of tea
I think there might have been an interesting story in Before the War by Fay Weldon, but the manner in which it was told was distracting. The author interrupts the narrative frequently to speak to the reader, and the tone used to during these interruptions is often very snarky. The narrative skips back and forth between different time periods and, especially in the first quarter of the book, makes it difficult to follow along. Additionally, the author reveals a major plot development very early in the book, which for me was a disappointment. Finally, in my opinion, there was an overly heavy emphasis on the physical looks of the characters. All of these factors combined to create a serious hindrance to my enjoyment of the book.

...4 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Fay Weldon Author Biography

Photo: Ian Jones

English novelist and writer Weldon Fay, was born on 22nd September 1939 in Birmingham, UK. Her work tends to have strong feminist themes. Her grandfather, Edgar Jepson and her mother, Margaret were both writers. She studied at university in Scotland and returned to England after giving birth to a son. After afterwards she married Ronald Bateman who she left after two years of marriage. In order to support her son Weldon started working in advertising industry.

She later married Ron Weldon, and during her second pregnancy she began to write for radio and television. In 1967 she published her first novel, The Fat Woman's Joke, after that the next 30 years turned out to be very successful for her. She published over 20 novels, collections of short stories, films for television...

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