Demurely risqué, ostensibly proper but slyly subversive, coyly frank and disingenuously modest, Patience by John Coates will either delight or irritate intensely! Persephone Books have republished this surprising and sophisticated 1953 novel about marriage and sex as their 99th. title, and its combination of light comedy and farce as spindrift above a deep and serious undertow is either a winning one or an implausible conceit, depending on the reader's mood or point of view.
Patience Gathorne-Galley is married - contentedly enough - to the pompously stuffy Edward, though the centre of her life is her love for her three small daughters. Permanently, placidly happy, her attitude to her husband and to the affair she discovers he's been having is one of rational indifference and a degree of incredulity that anyone should actively desire to sleep with him. Patience's strict Catholic upbringing and an unthinking submissive acceptance of whatever life has offered have afforded her a large measure of equanimity without fulfilment, but when she happens to meet the divine Philip, she discovers both sexual pleasure and the meaning of true love.
Patience's faith is strong but her flesh is weak, and her tussles of conscience over her predicament and how she may extricate herself from her marriage - all the while aided by her more worldly sister and hindered by her "devastating bore" of a brother - provide the novel's plot. She is troubled by both the question of 'Sin' and the sanctity of marriage and its integrity in the eyes of the church where the parties involved have a complicated personal history, but the moralising and predicating are treated in such a light and frothy manner - rather as if new curtains for the drawingroom were being chosen - that the book is a confection, albeit one with a hard centre. Patience herself will either enchant or infuriate; her level of innocence and naivety may astonish or grate, her preoccupations amuse or exasperate, and her ultimate fate will ... well, let's say no more on that for you must read it for yourself.
Snappy and smart of dialogue, sure in its characterisation, this is a bright and funny and charming novel about a woman, but a book you might not guess had come from the pen of a man.