Review: Mary Olivier, a Life

Mary Olivier, a Life
Mary Olivier, a Life by May Sinclair
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lovely autobiographical novel by an apparently neglected modernist writer. I am no expert on modernism, but his reminded me in parts of Virginia Woolf, particularly in three ways: the impressionistic early scenes in which Sinclair describes memories of being very young; the swift passing of time combined with descriptions of domestic life; and the struggles of an intelligent, talented woman trapped by the conventional thinking of her family and provincial neighbors. This is described as a story of a mother-daughter relationship, and it certainly is that, but I was surprised by how much it was also about Mary’s intellectual development and her rejection of Christianity—a very bold opinion to hold in the late Victorian era. The story is tragic in its depiction of how someone can be held down by the small-mindedness of those who are afraid of independent thinking, but Mary’s eventual triumphs are not to be dismissed, even if they come late in life. Because it is rather slow-moving, I would not recommend this book to everyone, but I thought it was beautiful.

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