Bookish Discussions

Stella Gibbons’ Westwood:


Spoiler free | 3 out 5 stars | 14 May – 18 May, 2018

Westwood is a tale of lust and longing. Set in wartime London, it follows Margaret Steggles, a plain bookish girl who isn’t the type to attract boys. Her friend Hilda, however, has a ‘sunny temperament and keeps the service boys ever so cheery’. One day, Margaret finds a ration book on Hampstead Heath, and thus enters the pompous playwright Gerard Challis. Margaret slavishly adores him, however he idolises Hilda, but she finds him a bit of a nuisance. It’s a novel full of London scenery, a host of unique characters and a rather frustrating narrative.

I must say, I’m a little disappointed by this. When I saw the beautifully illustrated cover of the Vintage Classics edition, I expected the inside to be equally as beautiful. It had its moments, but it definitely didn’t live up to my expectations. Firstly, the characters, despite being unique, were utterly frustrating. Margaret started off with a lot of potential: she was independent, opinionated on the war, a lover of books, and recently got a job as a school teacher. After a while, though, she became extremely passive, allowing everyone to take advantage of her. She had no backbone. Gerard was shallow and vain; he didn’t deserve half the amount of attention he was given. And Hilda? Well, she was the only good character, but was sorely neglected by Gibbons.

Additionally, Westwood lacked any form of plot. I am a plot-driven reader, and like to be assured that the story I’m reading is going somewhere. Although this did have a climax of the sorts, it wasn’t really driven by one specific plot. To me, this was more of an observation. A observation into the life of Margaret Steggles, a young girl whose only goal in life is to look after children (whether that be a nanny or a teacher). It was an observation into the middle-class life during the war. It was an observation into the types of relationships, and the day-by-day lives of ordinary people. It was nothing more than that, which I found a little disappointing at times. I also don’t know how to feel about Margaret’s ending. What will actually happen with her?

I was also a little disappointed that the war didn’t play a bigger role in the narrative. From the synopsis, I assumed that the war would play a fundamental part. Instead, there was only the fleeting reference to the blackout or Margaret’s brother being away. It was like it was pushed to the back of the mind, willing people to forget that it was actually happening. Every now and then, though, it would pop up to remind you that it hadn’t subsided. Considering how much the war impacted each of the character’s lives, it was hardly mentioned. I wanted it to be mentioned, though. It was set during the war, but it felt like it was set years after.

However, I did like some parts of the story. Gibbons wrote beautifully, and I couldn’t help but fall in love with her writing style. Her descriptions of London, of Margaret’s journeys, and the all the stuff that came in between, were utterly mesmerising. They were written so elegantly, and she made the most mundane aspects seem heavenly. Although, saying that, she described everything as blue. It got a little repetitive at times. Despite this, I never once got bored. For that reason, I’m looking forward to reading more of her novels. It might just be Westwood that didn’t stand out to me.

Have you read Westwood? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, Lauren X


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