I was thrilled to have been given the opportunity to review this novel, having very much enjoyed the first offering in the Hummingbird House series of books.
In the previous book in this series, Betty was most definitely the glue, holding the eclectic residents of Hummingbird House together, so I was very interested to learn a little more about her back story, as this book tells two strands of story in essence, in the way that it alternates between the 1960’s, when Betty first moved in to Hummingbird House with her Husband William, and the present day. The book in effect provides a dual social commentary, interlinking the 1960s and the present day.
In the current day, Betty is the self proclaimed Granny of Hummingbird House, fiercely protective of her ‘family’ of tenants. It amused me, the way that she personified The House, attributing feelings about the tenants to it and I loved the way that she knew The House inside out, to the extent of knowing exactly how many steps there were between floors.
Hummingbird House could do with a bit of a sprucing up, but it felt as though Betty was holding back somewhat, almost (putting on my amateur psychologist hat here) as though a clean up might somehow spontaneously destroy memories of the past. Going back to the 60s, it appeared that Betty had always had a special connection with Hummingbird House.
I was tickled by Betty’s 1960’s view of how dated Hummingbird House’s decor was, when in fact to me it just sounded very ‘60s! Regardless it seemed that the bringing of Hummingbird House to its former glory was going to be a real labour of love for Betty. Betty’s Mum made me laugh too, with her own unique take on shabby-snobbery. She did make me feel sad though too – I just wanted her to find something positive to say to Betty, who was clearly so excited at having purchased the house, and perhaps even more excited at the thoughts of what she could make of the house – it obviously had a lot of potential.
Present day Betty knows all about grief, sadly, but she puts her knowledge to such good use, the way she empathises with a Paul following the death of his mother. She doesn’t just empathise, but tries to put her experience to a positive use, encouraging Paul out of his sadness, a tiny step at a time. I most certainly read something into the fact that Betty never had any children of her own, with the way she behaves towards her tenants; almost infantilising them – but in a good way. You can’t get much more caring than Betty. Towards the end of the book I felt sad that nobody seemed to give a Betty the love and care that she so readily gave to others. I just wanted to envelop her in a loving hug. For once however, Dorothy did come into her own and gave Betty the love and understanding that she so desperately needed; she just wanted and needed to be around loving women – women who loved her unconditionally.
Betty’s Mum is quite frankly, a ‘dreadful old trout’ – very much ‘of her time’. She is bitter and twisted, opinionated, homophobic, bigoted, unkind, ‘always right’ and just downright unpleasant! I did take time to try and list her redeeming features – everyone has some, right? Well, maybe everyone apart from Dorothy! Was anyone ‘a friend of Dorothy’s’? Not this one, I fear! Goodness knows what Linda Stroodle-Doodle-bump would make of living with her! Just how long might she last!?
Betty is a reminder of how things were in the 1960’s; a pristine, living museum artefact. A unique ‘one-off’ bordering on irreparably unpleasant! Betty is spinning on the axle of a constantly moving carousel, constantly seeking her Mother’s approval. What did certainly surprise me, was what was considered normal fare in the 1960’s and I was quite taken with Betty’s reaction to the idea of being served spaghetti for dinner, having never tried it before!!! I guess what I find hard to get my head around is the fact that I was born in the late 60’s, yet I cannot remember any great revelation at trying spaghetti for the first time! Betty is certainly naive yet enchanting in equal measures, and appears eager to try anything new, if not excited by it. But what is going on with her relationship with her Husband William? There undoubtedly seems to be a lack of physicality in their relationship, however devoted he seems to Betty. I did wonder about his sexuality – something which could well have been a taboo at the time, and something one might want to ‘hide’ behind a normal seeming relationship. One thing that I was left in no doubt about however, was William’s devotion to Betty – illustrated by the moment when he asks for a knife to help with eating his spaghetti, in order to save the struggling Betty from any embarrassment. Another thing from the 60s that I simply cannot imagine in current times, is the concept of a woman giving up her job and stopping working outside the house, simply because she has got married! Had I been in any doubt as to the era of Betty’s ‘Then’ story, it surely would have been validated by the concept of the men in the party going outside to smoke pot after a meal; a ‘modern’ update on the idea of the men of the house retiring to the dining room for a cigar
Dai is still crippled with grief after the passing of his dear Mother, and however hard Betty tries, she can’t seem to get him out of his funereal fugue.
Needless to say, I loved the surprise about Jonny at the end of the book!