My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes – review

Published by British Library

Publication date – 19 March 2020

Source – review copy

Nevis Falconer, a young, sophisticated novelist, meets and marries Simon Quinn. She comes to realise that her passionate marriage is stifling her creative talent, and finds herself increasingly distracted and disillusioned with her writing. Then one day in London she meets Marcus Chard, her American publisher, and everything changes.

Nevis Falconer attends the home of her friend for the weekend, knowing that it will be deathly dull. But there she meets Simon Quinn, and knows that they will clash, argue and marry. And so it unfolds. But Nevis struggles to balance her marriage with her need to write. Then along comes Marcus Chard, her American publisher and Nevis finds herself facing one more struggle.

First published in in 1931, at a time when women were emerging from behind the closed doors of family life or matrimony, My Husband Simon would have perhaps been shocking. Here is a female protagonist who isn’t meek and mild. Her marriage isn’t the start of the happy ever after but marks the beginning of the end of Nevis’ easy carefree existence.

Simon is fiery and theirs is a passionate marriage, with rash arguments and passionate reconciliations. Nevis feels stifled in her new role as wife. She flounders with telling the cook what meals to make and getting the maid to do as requested. She is unsettled and that impacts her writing, which she finds insipid and boring. It would seem that Simon is extracting all of her passion and none is left for her work.

Nevis is a selfish person, acting on a whim to do things that please her. She marries Simon knowing that they are wrong for each other, that their marriage is unlikely to last, which makes it an almost self-fulfilling prophecy. She makes no effort to get along with Simon’s mother and brother, pities her sister-in-law and only finds a friend in her father-in-law.

Simon, for his part, does not understand Nevis’ desire to write, he cannot understand her frustration and so she cannot feel she is truly connected to him. Their marriage is, as far as Nevis is concerned, driven by passion. For Simon. the reader is lead to believe there is more to it than that. He knows Nevis better than she realises and is aware of what will happen when Marcus arrives on the scene. For his part, he does not try to stand in the way of what he sees as the inevitable. It takes Nevis longer to realise that just what she is willing to sacrifice.

Nevis is hard to like. She is self absorbed, putting her desires and needs before those of others and having little empathy for those who live a life she can barely understand. There is of course a fine balance between pleasing yourself and being selfless. By the close of the book Nevis hasn’t quite worked that out, though she is in no doubt that the road she has chosen will not be smooth.

The author was bold to write such a forthright and somewhat selfish woman as the main character, at a time when the accepted role was that women were seen and not heard, not allowed to have passion or desires above finding a husband and creating a home.

An interesting read, I shall certainly be seeking more stories and novels by Mollie Panter-Downes in the not so distant future.

Thus was book 5 of my 20 Books of Summer 2020 challenge.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book – and am very intrigued by it (as someone who struggled between marriage and writing, and who married knowing that the person she married was probably the wrong kind of man, but hopefully less selfish than Nevis). I was going to say it seems ahead of its time, but then I remember the fast-talking, whip-smart, abrasive women of the 1930s Hollywood comedies…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      I think she was perhaps more self absorbed than selfish. She looks down on those who don’t fit her narrative which made me rankle. I’d love to know what you make of this if you read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. heavenali says:

    I really enjoyed this novel. I can recommend One Fine Day by MPD and her short stories published by Persephone too.


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