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Good Behaviour: A BBC 2 Between the Covers Book Club Pick – Booker Prize Gems (Virago Modern Classics)

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Another Anglo-Irish family whose members are dedicated to mutual assured destruction, even as they slide into genteel poverty. I almost preferred dancing with Hubert because I loved showing off to Richard…I was fulfilled by them. Her father, an Englishman, stubbornly resisted those who urged him to move his family to his homeland to avoid the violence. In 1981 Good Behaviour came out under her own name; the manuscript, which had languished in a drawer for many years, was lent to a visitor, the actress Peggy Ashcroft, who encouraged Keane to publish it. Behind the gates of Temple Alice the aristocratic Anglo-Irish St Charles family sinks into a state of decaying grace.

She engaged nannie after nannie with excellent references, and if they could not be trusted to look after us, she was even less able to compete. Mummy hides the bills in a drawer, focusing on what she might get with the money to beautify her own life instead.The men were the flowers in these mysterious forests, sleek and orchidaceous in their hunt coats, the facings and collars pale, thin gold watch-chains crossing meagre stomachs, white ties as exact as two wings on a small bird’s back, long legs black as cypripedium stems, hands sometimes gloved, eyes focused distantly, as if a fox stealing away from its covert was still the thought in mind. I must say that the first few pages have put me off - none of the characters are sympathetic, empathetic or kind. In The Rising Tide (1937), when Cynthia’s husband is killed at the Front she pours her grief and desire into hunting and then into a series of increasingly desperate affairs.

Once more, she had been judged obsolete; Rushdie’s boisterous postcolonial novel of India must have felt very new next to Keane’s satire of a long-dead ruling class. But the unexpected death of her beloved husband Bobby Keane in 1946 all but drowned her urge to create.

There must be many others like this, and I’d like to hear from other GR folks what books they can think of that come to mind regarding this genre – unreliable narrators of a story who tell their side of things and it’s distorted from what really happened. He liked dressing up, too, but Mrs Brock felt that such games were not quite the thing for little boys. The mother of the heroine must save money, well, it is commendable, except when "Her final objective was penance for all of us. It’s both a practical assent to economic reality and a way of saying no to convention (look at the pile-up of negatives in Keane’s description): ‘That extreme and unaffected uninterest in what her neighbours might think of her actions, which is one of the few unassailable prerogatives left to the aristocracy, Aunt Dicksie possessed in a marked degree.

In her twenties she wrote Young Entry (1928), Taking Chances (1929), Mad Puppetstown (1931), and Conversation Piece (1932), all witty horse-and-hound romances chronicling a dying way of life. I wish I could give her that part in Fat Kid Rules the World when the fat kid realizes what he was imagining that skinny people didn't have any problems because they were skinny (and start a band! Keane was born Mary Nesta Skrine, in Newbridge, County Kildare in 1904, the third child of Walter Skrine, an upper-class Englishman from Bath, and Agnes ‘Nesta’ Shakespeare Higginson, who came from an austere unionist family in Antrim and was better known as the Celtic Revival poet Moira O’Neill. Two years before Molly was born, the Skrines sold up in Alberta and moved, first to Kildare, and finally to Ballyrankin House in County Wexford, where the five little Skrines were brought up with nannies and governesses and lots of horses.The book was shortlisted for the 1981 Booker Prize which was eventually won by Salman Rushdie with “Midnight’s Children”. Good Behaviour allowed her to inhabit a second version of herself – and the novel is about the need to do just that. Some of the houses, shorn of their estates, were bought by wealthy members of the Catholic professional classes, but they depended on business to keep the establishments going, not style. Neither Gina nor I – both of us, as it happens, Jewish – belonged to the hunting set depicted in Molly’s novel and to which her subsequent editor, Diana Athill, did belong; but we did recognise a good book when we saw one. Seeing her own name on that makeshift coffin, Molly knew how near she had come to sharing that fate.

She has enough generosity and humanity to ward off the icy breezes generated by most every other character. Widows and spinsters had always appeared as minor characters in her books—marriageable men were thin on the ground after World War I—but in this new phase of her career, when Molly was an unmarried woman in her thirties, they took center stage. But tables turned during the Irish uprising; Keane’s family manse, Ballyrankin, built in the 18th century, was burned to the ground by armed rebels while she was in boarding school.Rose maintains a private code and set of beliefs Aroon can only understand as ‘peasant gabbling prayer’. A cowardly child was a hidden sore, and a child driven to admit hatred of his pony was something of a leper in our society. I’d really only started because when I was seventeen the doctor said there was a threat I might have TB and I had to stay in bed. Aroon's father is crippled during the Great War, her mother too distant and cold to bring her along in social naturalness. Aroon spends her time and energy looking for someone to adopt her, finding a candidate, for a while, in her governess Mrs Brock.

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