Lynne Reid Banks James Fenton - Essay

James Fenton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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.∗