Victoria Glendinning’s second novel Electricity was published in 1995. It is an excellent piece of writing narrated in the first person beginning in the period 1883.
Charlotte is reflecting on what has happened to her in the last couple of years with wit, candour and growing self-realisation. The narration is so credible the reader feels a privileged confidante.
A twenty-one-year-old stranger, Peter Fisher, was due to stay at their London suburb family home by arrangement with a relative for a modest rental. The acquisition of a lodger was timely since the father of the house had lost his job. Charlotte was eighteen. An attachment developed in the close confines. It transpired that Peter was a young genius fascinated with electricity, working with a Mr Ferranti, ‘the coming man’.
Soon after Charlotte’s Aunt Susannah came to stay at their house too. And Charlotte had to share her bedroom…
All of the characters are well-drawn, whether it’s the positively creepy father, the put-upon mother, the querulous Aunt, or the electricity-obsessed Peter. Of all these, Aunt Susannah is the most amusing and memorable.
Glendinning’s descriptions of the period, down to the finest detail of the way they lived, put the reader deep into the story. There’s plenty of humour and indeed poignancy, sadness and tragedy. Many subjects spark interest, such as animal magnetism, Mesmerism, electricity itself, dress-making, precious and semi-precious stones, English apples, séances, electroconvulsive therapy, infidelity and duplicity, all expertly woven into Charlotte’s tale.
This is a believable slice of life in the 1880s, and very well told.