“Out Of The Mouths of Babes” is a work of urban sociology first published in 1997 and revisited in 2013, reminding us a bit of Max Weber. It is also a character study. Hamley understands his fictional characters in their early lives more cogently than most authors, maybe better than most of us understand our friends and relatives. Hence, the reader takes a deep dive into the psychology of three people, all born on the same day, September 15: Julian, Grizelda and Gary.
“A little wooden building sat quiet in the dark and a small figure sat equally quiet , watching it. It was as if they argued silently together in the night, reasoning with each other, daring each other.”
The novel begins with a blaze at Mockbeggar House, home of Julian. son of Bentley-driving parents, who plan and provide well.
Shortly thereafter we meet the other two: Grizelda, daughter of artsy hippies and Gary, son of a single mother who scrapes by in a maisonette (for the American readers, a very small apartment).
Grizelda evokes Chaucer’s ‘The Clerk’s Tale’ in which a peasant girl (named Griselda) marries a Marquis and accedes to his every wish, and in which her patience is tested by his cruelty.
Hamley’s Grizelda professes feminist sentiments (at least to herself), but nonetheless lives with Julian, sacrificing principle for the advantages of having a rich man.
‘Then she kissed him. “You’re on the wrong side tonight and I could never vote for you, my love. But what’s a vote beside everything else we’ve got?”‘
The motion was: ‘”This House holds dear the principle of independent education”. The main speakers were from Westminster: a member of the then Conservative Government, not quite Cabinet yet but give him time, and a member of the Labour Opposition who was definitely Shadow Cabinet.’
Of The Apsley Club, Grizelda says: “I can’t believe you’re in that High Tory crap,….”
Gary carries the surname of “Lugg,” almost too heavy to bear. Gary was the most fascinating character for this reader, and in him Hamley’s insight shines brilliantly. Gary speaks sparingly. In response to what is your name, he says: “It might be Darren. It might be Kevin. What do people like you think people like me are usually called?”
We also meet Wanda Gates, “the live-in nanny from Ilford, cooked solid English meals and the successive au pair girls proudly and sometimes inedibly reproduced their own national specialities.”
Wanda plays a pivotal role in introducing Gary to Julian, and in shaping both their futures. So, these three from wildly disparate origins converge in Hamley’s 296-page novel.
“Wanda had always known that knowledge is power in this world. Wanda’s world had been the Realm of Nannyhood. At her peak, she saw herself as at its centre, receiver of news, information , secrets, which would help her to fight the perpetual war between the nannies and the Ladies of the House. She was, one might say, Queen of the Realm. Or she aspired to be.”
This novel is the story of women, perhaps as much as the story of their progeny. Julian’s mother, Georgina lives a life of leisure, with servants and cleaners. Grizelda’s mother Wendy can afford to pursue her hobbies: painting and drawing. Chrissy, Gary’s mother, works long hours, smokes cigarettes and drinks “Tesco gin.” Just as their circumstances differ so too their ends.
This novel does not really ask the question: nature or nuture? Instead it asks what happens when the starting line for some is miles behind the starting line for others? Hamley also asks us to consider if personality traits are fixed in early childhood; is a personality malleable; can one really evolve ?
This is a well-written serious book for serious readers.
“Angels guard its strength and grace. In the palace, cottage, hovel, Oh, no matter where the place; Would that never storms assailed it, Rainbows ever gently curled, For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.” –William Ross Wallace 1819 – 1881
Leila Smith for The Kindle Book Review. The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.
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