Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

When Dorothy Whipple submitted this perfect specimen of domestic fiction back in the early 1950s, her publisher was lukewarm about it, apparently, since the fashion in literature had turned decisively to action/adventure-type books and Someone at a Distance just didn’t fit the bill.

It’s true that the plot summary probably sounds boring to thrill-seekers: Avery and Ellen have been happily married for 20 years. They have charming, precocious children, a lovely house and extensive gardens, and work that they each find personally and financially fulfilling. Then Avery’s cranky old mother hires a beautiful, young, French woman named Louise to serve as her companion and it becomes clear the clock is ticking on Avery and Ellen’s perfect lives.

This is a quiet novel, for sure, but it definitely isn’t boring. Whipple is such a master at scene-setting and pacing and characterization that I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended for anyone who doesn’t care for (or needs to take a break from) Scandinavian police procedurals, courtroom thrillers or post-apocalyptic hellscapes.