Review published on May 18, 2016.
Today, Vita Sackville-West seems to be more famous for whom she slept with than what she wrote, which is a shame given what a fine writer she was. Now, Vintage has re-released perhaps her most popular work, All Passion Spent, and it’s the ideal moment for those not acquainted with her work to read this engaging, memorable novel.
The book begins with what seems an epilogue to a long life. Lady Slane, eighty-eight years old, has just become a widow when her husband, one of the most forceful characters in British politics, dies. Everyone speaks about her in clichés. She was a ‘wonderful’ wife, ‘totally devoted’ to Lord Slane, and will surely be at a complete loss without him. Her children, mostly a horrible crew of snobs in their sixties, discuss who will look after her while they divvy up her fortune.
But Lady Slane shocks them all by decamping to Hampstead with her outspoken French maid, there to take up with some eccentric characters and fan the last embers of her life into flame. For now that the routines of life and social custom have been shed, she is free to rekindle the passions she had submerged beneath her husband’s personality and career for so long.
All Passion Spent is about looking back at the choices that shaped a life and wondering what could have been done differently, all written in engaging prose that is crisp and witty and hums with vitality. It captures many of Sackville-West’s major themes – the dichotomy between practical men of affairs and the artists and dreamers, the subordinate position of women in society, and the restrictive force of convention. And it tells us the important truth that life can begin again at eighty-eight.
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West
Vintage 9781784870553 pbk Mar 2016
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