BOOK REVIEW / A real life turned into a fury tale: 'The Furies' - Janet Hobhouse: Bloomsbury, 15.99 pounds

IN THE first chapter of this autobiographical novel, Helen, the narrator, describes a recurrent dream which troubled her eight-year-old self. She is being chased by a 'great, white, grinding, groaning machine': 'it comes after me, swallowing, crunching the air in front of it, pursuing me doggedly, evenly'. On the last page, Helen, now in her thirties, is still fleeing the juggernaut. She knows it is only a matter of time before it catches her up.

A publisher's note at the front of The Furies informs the reader that Janet Hobhouse died before she could put the finishing touches to this, her fourth novel. Apart from a couple of breaks in the narrative, marked by three dot ellipses, and the odd ghastly sentence, it is a polished performance, and the poise of the prose serves to heighten the rawness and waywardness of the emotions explored. If the note immediately creates the sense of an ending, the final chapter, by being so disconcertingly brief, still manages to surprise and move us.

Gogi, Helen's grandmother, often read to her from a Dulac edition of fairy tales. As she tells her own story, Helen frequently refers to fables - Bett, her mother, forever waiting to be rescued by a Prince Charming, is likened to Sleeping Beauty - but, as the title suggests, the novel is not a fairy tale but a fury tale. The 'sickening lurches of loss and renewal' gradually turn into a spiral of anger, depression and despair.

But not all the action is doomy. After the somewhat stilted prologue - a Whartonish mini- saga which traces the fall of Helen's Jewish family from plutocracy in Frankfurt to poverty in Fifties' New York - the pace picks up as our heroine works her way through a succession of schools in both America and England. It is at Oxford, however, that Helen really begins to enjoy herself - first with the devoted Hugh, a half-German blond, and then with Edward, 'the brilliant Etonian, an Eng Lit Scholar destined to get a brilliant First'. Even so 'the lover's ecosystem, red in tooth and claw', does not prevent her resorting to lithium to stave off the blues.

Saddled with a too-demonstrative American mother and a cold-blooded English squire as a father - and frequently crossing the Atlantic to be with one or the other - Helen does not know if she is coming or going. When, after a roller-coaster courtship, she finally marries Ned, who has suddenly inherited his stockbroker father's wealth, she still cannot decide whether 'to be or not to be two'. She has a pathological fear of commitment and indulges in a fling with the Greatest Living Jewish Novelist who lives downstairs. Up to this point, in spite of what the self-obsessed Helen has had to endure, the reader cannot help thinking that she deserves at least some of what she gets. But then the Furies really sink their teeth into her.

Bett kills herself, the accountant runs off with Ned's money, the marriage breaks up, Helen's mews flat burns down, her car is stolen and, on returning to New York, she discovers that the possessions she put in storage have been filched. No wonder she gets depressed. A romance with a national heart-throb not unlike Jeremy Irons is little consolation. Retreating to a wintry Cape Cod, she immerses herself in her burgeoning literary career. Back in the Big Apple to deliver her manuscript to her agent, she learns that the lump in her abdomen is the big C.

Hobhouse certainly makes you feel for her heroine, but she is at her best depicting places rather than people, good times rather than bad: the bohemian oasis of her grandmother's studio loft, a couple of blocks from Carnegie Hall; Oxford in the Sixties. As an epitaph, this cross between a Bildungsroman and a cri de coeur is almost unbearably eloquent. It emphasises the need to learn fast 'how to pass near other people's lives without getting scorched'.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada