Lynne Reid Banks Essay - Critical Essays

Banks, Lynne Reid


Lynne Reid Banks 1929–

English-born Israeli novelist and playwright.

Banks's adult fiction is primarily concerned with the lives of single women. Her best-known work, The L-Shaped Room, is a novel of protest against the lot of the unmarried mother. Although Banks's conventional treatment of meaningful themes is sometimes disappointing, she is noted for her well-drawn, realistic characterizations.

Banks has lived in Israel for several years, and many of her works for adults and children are set there. Some of her best writing is in the descriptions of this country, its people and history.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 6; and Something about the Author, Vol. 22.)

Keith Waterhouse

The L-Shaped Room is a disappointing first novel about a pregnant girl who is thrown out of house and home and has to go live in a nasty little room in Fulham to await her baby. It's disappointing because Miss Reid Banks has got such a good theme: how do people treat an unmarried mother nowadays, how do they react to her, and most important, how does she react, and how does she feel as those unwanted months go by? But Miss Reid Banks chucks her opportunity away in a conventional boarding-house saga, all baked beans and hearts of gold. There is a great deal about bed bugs which I can't help thinking wouldn't have been necessary if the heroine had had the sense to move into one of the many London boarding houses that don't have them.

Keith Waterhouse, "New Novels: 'The L-Shaped Room'," in New Statesman (© 1960 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. LX, No. 1548, November 12, 1960, p. 754.

Otis Kidwell Burger

L is for Loneliness. Also for Love. And L is the physical shape of the dreary, bug-ridden room on the top floor of an old rooming house to which Jane Graham, 27, unmarried, flees after her first disappointing experience with "love" to wait out its consequences. And, in this lovely first novel ["The L-Shaped Room"] by a young Englishwoman, it is love that finally shapes the L-shaped room. Love is the book's theme, developed in bright, warm prose, through diverse and interesting characters….

So deep is the author's sense of compassion and gentleness, and so vividly drawn are her scenes and characters, that it is perhaps petty to suggest that the story is also somewhat romantic. Not many girls in Jane's situation find these friends, or a Toby to love. Yet, believably, it is Jane's own qualities that enable her to see the friend in shy John, the lover in Toby. None of her decisions is easy. She is a life-giver, come late on her powers; and it is this sense, of a strong person falteringly discovering her real powers, that gives this novel its surprising emotional strength.

Otis Kidwell Burger, "Someone to Love," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1961 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 9, 1961, p. 38.

Millicent Bell

A middle-aged neurotic who is drinking herself blind in squalid solitude begins a journal (as a kind of therapy, of course). Wanna read it? No? I thought not. It's hard to get past the opening pages of the dismal confessions of Lynne Reid Banks's heroine [of "Children at the Gate"] without concluding that her Gerda is that poor girl of everyone's acquaintance who has lost her child and husband, and now just wants to die, and goes out into the street without combing her hair.

But wait—there is something else. Our woeful lady is far from the scene of her disasters (in her case, Toronto). We find her in a fly-filled room in Acco, a small coastal town in modern Israel. Her only friend—yes, after all, she does have one—is an Arab house-painter who visits her, nurses her and offers unsurprising advice: "You must take responsibility for some other life." Unable to adopt a child legally, she accepts Kofi's gift of two unwanted Arab children he has picked up somewhere, and undertakes to support them in an agricultural kibbutz.

By now, we realize that Miss Banks has launched an interplay of some interest. There is Gerda, painfully learning to love again. There are the children, desperate waifs whose difficult recovery shows that perversity and hostility can take up residence in human hearts (even young ones) much more readily than love. And there are the kibbutzniks, eminently normal and dull, with no stronger...

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Janice Elliott

Children at the Gate is Lynne Reid Banks's third novel and her best. The L-Shaped Room was touching and competent. This study of an unhappy woman painfully learning to love is ambitious and mature. Perhaps because she attempts a more intricate story and deeper statements and observations, it is uneven. There is some self-indulgent chatter on the part of the narrator. The first-person treatment is a good vehicle for the self-revelation which is the theme of the book. But there are perils in forcing your reader to keep company with the same character from start to finish.

Fortunately, Gerda, except in her cups, is good company. She has lost her husband by divorce and her son by drowning. In Israel, after the rather too lengthy first part of alcoholic self-flagellation, she is convincing and moving in her search for love through the adoption of two Arab children. Miss Reid Banks's account of the way in which, slowly and awkwardly, the lonely woman and frightened children teach each other to love, is harshly realistic and never sentimental. Possibly because she has lived there long enough to digest her experience and use it naturally, with understanding and humour, her treatment of the Israeli background and kibbutz life is equally precise. This is a book about love in all its aspects of giving and taking, from sexual greed to kindness. Kindness is one of the most difficult qualities to portray in fiction. Here, as in The L-Shaped Room, Miss Reid Banks does it better than any novelist I know.

Janice Elliott, "Old Hat," in New Statesman (© 1968 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 76, No. 1950, July 26, 1968, p. 116.∗

James Fenton

[Miss Reid Banks's intention in The Backward Shadow] is not to work on any grand literary scale but merely to please by appealing to our least healthy romantic longings. Such writers as she provide satisfaction of a kind for those whose common prayer takes the form: 'please God, give me a handsome lover and then let him die of an incurable disease; give me a beautiful shop in a little village and then let it almost burn down,' set alight of course by a shadowy Brontëan lunatic; nothing less will do.

In The Backward Shadow, the authoress of The L-Shaped Room continues in her account of the fate of Jane after she has had her illegitimate baby in the idyllic country cottage. The kind relation has died leaving her the cottage, car and nest-egg. But whereas life in Fulham provided a rich vein of social problems for the earlier part of Jane's story, with the Jewish novelist lover and the kind but mildly queer negro, Miss Reid Banks seems rather hard up to find anything engaging in middle-class rural England, so she has Jane join up with a neurotic girlfriend to open an arts and crafts shop of an intolerably superior and phoney kind. A lovely rich backer is found in the fated Henry, who (it is never explained how) manages to come to live, alone, in a local council flat, which the girls despise. There is much action of an exceedingly unlikely kind, and in the space of the book vent is given to an unparalleled amount of bigotry and prejudice. But it is all ladled out most professionally.

James Fenton, "Business Affairs," in New Statesman (© 1970 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 80, No. 2055, August 7, 1970, p. 157.∗

Sara Blackburn

A Londoner of Scotch-Irish background, Lynne Reid Banks shares a lot of the virtues of her British contemporaries, such younger women novelists as Margaret Drabble and Maureen Duffy. Like theirs, her work concerns the lives of young, middle-class British women who, though rather surprisingly apolitical to American eyes, are searching for new life styles that will free them from the joyless patterns of current bourgeois family life. There is a solid, open toughness about their styles, and an unsparing, almost relentless effort at self-examination characterizes their heroines.

If they share a common flaw, it is that their protagonists' collective drive toward knowing themselves gets too predictably...

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The Times Literary Supplement

With [Two Is Lonely] Lynne Reid Banks ends the trilogy which began in an L-shaped room in Fulham. Her heroine is thirty-six and tired, and her creator seems tired too. The illegitimate son conceived and born to Jane in that first volume is now eight and—apparently troubled by fatherlessness—given to nightly attacks of hysteria. His need for a father is made a somewhat unconsidered motive for his mother's capable scrutiny of the scene, and her relations with men in the past and present are really her subject. This is the 1970s version of the staunch little heroine's search for a mate, in which there can be no thrills without obstacles and love has still to be tested. Illegitimate children, one-night stands...

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John Mellors

Some books have a success partly because of their worth but also because they seem to hit the right note for the zeitgeist at their moment of publication. One thinks of Lucky Jim, The Virgin Soldiers and The L-Shaped Room. Kingsley Amis has been wise to resist the temptation to write a Son of Lucky Jim, but Leslie Thomas and Lynne Reid Banks have both succumbed. There is even a Y-shaped house in Two is lonely, being built by solidly masculine, 44-year-old Andy whom Jane Graham is considering as a 'daddy' for her 8-year-old, illegitimate son, David. Before making up her mind to marry Andy, Jane goes off to visit an earlier love, Toby, now living in the uncomfortably warm climate of Israel, where...

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Rosalind Wade

To write a full-length novel about the Brontës is surely a new idea? So many biographies and critical studies have been published about the famous family that it would seem reasonable to suppose nothing more remained to be said about them. It could even be argued that the spate of analysis and assessment has blurred the true picture of life at Haworth. Dark Quartet redresses the balance and provides a new perspective. Through the freedom of narrative and dialogue, the Brontës are presented as recognisable human beings rather than as dramatised archetypes—a strikingly dissimilar group bound together by devotion to each other and their home. The distressing incidence of sickness and bereavement is seen more...

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Marigold Johnson

As anyone knows who has followed Lynne Reid Banks further than The L-Shaped Room, her passionate involvement with Israel became and remains a constant literary theme—indeed, Defy the Wilderness is a fictional by-product of historical research into the first Arab-Israeli war. If it sounds disparaging to call a powerful and professional novel a "by-product", the author can be blamed, for telling us about its conception, and still more for clarifying in the first few pages precisely how we are to regard her heroine Ann—as a non-Jewish writer from England (with lots of thick long hair and a loose Indian dress, as in the jacket photograph), revisiting Jerusalem after fourteen years to research a book...

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Marion Glastonbury

[The] prose of Lynne Reid Banks [in Defy the Wilderness] seems generous to a fault, stuttering sensuous adjectives in loose profusion like the unruly hairpins shed by her over-wrought heroine. Ann Randall, a middle-aged English novelist who has married late after spending six formative years as a teacher on a kibbutz, returns to Jerusalem to interview veterans of the first Arab-Israeli war. The turmoil she finds there among old friends and new loves compels her to reinterpret her past and renew her commitment to the country's future.

Ann's ardour is as persuasive as the heat. I worried about her missed appointments, shared her ideological angst, lost patience with American visitors,...

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