Lady Into Fox – David Garnett

I pulled this book down from a random shelf in a great library binge. Partly because of the intriguing ‘Lady Into Fox’ title and then I saw the cover and fell in love with it. I have always been a bit fascinated by foxes am not sure why. Then I read the quote on the back “The bride was in her twenty-third year. She was small, with remarkably small hands and feet. It is perhaps worth noting there was nothing at all foxy or vixenish in her appearance” I knew this was a book I had to read. I have also heard various rave reviews of Hesperus Press and have been meaning to try out a book or two of theirs.

The lady mentioned in the title of David Garnett’s novella ‘Lady Into Fox’ is Silvia Tebricks or as she was before she was married, Silvia Fox. Though the surname it seems is a coincidence as becoming a fox doesn’t seem to actually run in the family looking back through its history as the author, and also narrator, tells us. No indeed, it appears that Silvia Tebrick’s becoming a fox one day is just one of life’s great puzzles.

The event itself happens in the opening pages of the novella and what happens when ones wife suddenly becomes a ginger four legged creature. For really though the awful thing has actually happened to Silvia it is Richard who we really follow in the novella as his wife not only changes physically but also characteristically. At first Silvia continues to happily sit at the table and play bridge dressed in one of her jackets. She is also happy to follow him round the house and point out, though she can’t speak for she is a fox now, where he is going wrong and loves nothing more than snoozing on the bed or an armchair not going out. Nature soon takes over and how does one deal with a wife who has become a fox and becomes as cunning as one too with the natural desire to escape?

David Garnett takes us through Richard’s life as he come to terms with not the loss of his wife but the change in his wife, how villagers talk, how he copes as she becomes wilder and wilder and its fascinating. I read through the book in one sitting, I couldn’t put it down and was laughing along and then in parts wanting to cry as Richard copes with what life has oddly thrown at him. It’s in parts very funny and yet in parts quite heartbreaking and tells the tale of what lengths people will go to for the ones they love.

I had never heard of this book let alone the author until I saw it in the library. Thanks to a great introduction I found out David Garnett was one of The Bloomsbury Group and also Virginia Woolf’s nephew in law. I then found, oddly through a review on a certain bookish website that Simon of Stuck in a Book has read this and put it in his top 50 books you may not have heard about and should (a list which every single book on which I may have to track down)… and rightly so.

I am definitely going to try more books from Hesperus Press especially if they are all as good as this one, what ones should I try next, am sure some of you will have read one or two… or ten??!! I am also definitely going to try more David Garnett and am itching to read Aspects of Love which Lloyd Webber based his musical on. If an author can make what could be an absurd tale such a touching and thoughtful modern adult fairytale I need to read much more of their work.

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27 Comments

Filed under Books of 2009, David Garnett, Hesperus Press, Review

27 responses to “Lady Into Fox – David Garnett

  1. Oh wow, this sounds fascinating! I too have been meaning to read something published by Hesperus and this looks like a great place to start.

    • Hi Sophie it is indeed a fascinating and wonderfully bizarre read. I have made sure I have picked up some other Hesperus books from the library to read in the not too distant future!

  2. Interesting! I’ve never heard of this book or Hesperus Press. I’ll definitely be on the look out for both.

  3. fleurfisher

    I am so pleased that you have found David Garnett and this book. Both wonderful! But may I sound just one note of caution about the Hesperus Press. Sometimes they publish novellas separately that are easily available in one volume. George Eliot’s Scenes of a Clerical Life in three volumes, for example. But they are lovely littlebooks and thaeyhave many gems in their list. It’s hard to pick but, apart from Lady Into Fox, Dickens’ The Haunted house is my favourite so far.

    • Ooooh thank you for the advice on this one. I got a few more from the library (which will be on show tomorrow) and you can let me know if I made any errors with the choices. I am hoping not. I am in love with a few of the covers as they are wonderful. I must read more David Garnett as this was a treat.

  4. What a great review, Simon S. Following the link to see what I wrote two years ago, I realise that it was almost nothing – glad you’ve written more and better! I love this book, and in fact a section of my masters’ thesis was on it. Though I didn’t like Aspects of Love much, you might have better luck with it.

    Hesperus are wonderful – their covers are always beautiful – and I’ve enjoyed quite a few of their books. They’ve just brought out Pastors and Masters by Ivy Compton-Burnett, the only ICB in print in England… I enjoyed Simonetta Perkins by LP Hartley. I’m sure I’ve read lots of others, but can’t think of them right now…

    • Two years ago indeed… see you are so ahead of your time it is frankly disgusting! I wouldnt ever go as far as to say I wrote a better version of anything you have tried your hand at… it would be foolish, but thank you for the compliment.

      You do love your ICB don’t you, am looking forward to getting to know Hesperus better.

    • I knew I’d heard the name David Garnett somewhere – it was Simon T’s Aspect of love comment that brought it back. Having said that I haven’t read either, but am now thoroughly intrigued to read Lady into Fox. Great review Simon S.

  5. Sounds like an interesting novel, especially given the author’s background.

    Have you ever read Edinburgh by Alex Chee? Your post just made me think about it since running through this book is a myth about a demon fox and the main character is a sort of embodiment of this fox.

    Hesperus do produce lovely books, all very short because they have a special deal on printing costs if the books are under a certain number of pages.

    • It’s a brilliant novel Eric… speaking of brilliant novels you have some emails arriving mid-week (sorry for the delay had forgotten to read one so am up to my ears in it) I promise.

      I have never heard of Alex Chee so no havent read anything by them!!! Sounds right intriguing though.

  6. This sounds delightful! David Garnett was on my radar after FleurFisher reviewed one of his other novellas, A Man in the Zoo, last week; I’m going to try to find the Vintage edition that includes them both.

    Hesperus Press editions are beautiful and I have a lovely little collection of some lesser-known works by famous writers such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Edith Wharton, Wilkie Collins etc.

    • It’s really good Claire and is one that I think you would really appreciate. I am keen to read A Man in the Zoo. It is irritating me at the moment that I keep getting books from the library that I simply dont want to give back. I may get that Vintage copy too at some point. I have a few more Hesperus books to read from the library too.

  7. If you’re into foxes and vintagey charm, you’d probably like the Fox-themed window display right now at Liberty (some pics here: http://thisispimm.blogspot.com/2009/11/what-lovely-window-display-i-guess-this.html). Fricking adorable.

    And now I’m off to google Hesperus.

    • Oooooh I might have to have a gander at that I wasnt aware that it was there. Hesperus’ site seems to be down but if you amazon it (almost like googling only you spend more) then I think you should find a selection.

  8. I have known about this book for ages but never managed to read it — you have made me long to get hold of it! Hesperus used to send me books for review but have not done so for a while. Wish they would start again — their books are lovely.

    • Oh try the library Harriet, though then you do have to give it back. Who would have thought I would be so smitten with a novella, they normally just arent me. I would loooooove to get Hesperus review books, their site is down maybe they are just sorting everything out and then they will flow into your (and I wish my) life once more??

  9. I haven’t heard of this book either, but it is on the list now!

  10. This sounds delightfully kooky, Simon.

    And the cover looks lovely. Not that that’s really important, but you know that I am a cover whore, right? 😉

    • Oh me too (you do make me giggle – I am missing the lunches its not right) in fact I have been known as Simon ‘Book Whore’ Savidge for the last few years! This cover is particularily fabulous. And kooky is indeed the word!

  11. Eva

    I love foxes too, so I’m crossing my fingers that my library has this one. 😀 Have you read The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson? It’s set in medieval Japan and involves foxes and magic and wonderfulness.

    • I havent read The Fox Woman (in fact I haven’t even heard of it until now) but it sounds like it would be right up my street. I will look out for this one in the library or on Read It Swap It.

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