She wasn’t going to let any irritation spoil this lovely park. She was going to sit on a seat with her eyes feasting on all the greenery and the lake and the ducks and the flowers and not be bothered by anything. People were the trouble — if only there were no people, she would be happy. (p.35)
Stanley goes with the flow, investing considerable energy in placating Rose and preventing the proverbial apple cart from being upset:
Rose had always been contrary. It was part of her way. Just when you thought you’d misunderstood her it all came right in the end. She wasn’t one of your straightforward types. Her mind was like the inside of a car engine, all little nuts and bolts and wires that looked a terrifying tangle until you knew how it worked and which bit operated what. (p. 43)
When Alice and Tony Oram move in next door, Rose instantly judges them as a pretentious couple bent on urban gentrification — the same way she sees other neighbors. One day while out working in her garden, she hears sounds of a child playing next door. Slowly, Rose befriends 2-year-old Amy and, even more slowly, Alice. The Orams turn out to be better sorts than Rose expected, and Alice makes it her personal mission to break down Rose’s inhibitions and improve her outlook.
And that’s what I thought this book was about, so when Rose began to warm up I settled in for a heartwarming story of love and friendship. But there was a strong dark current running through this book as well. Alice’s friendship with Rose introduces conflict and stress into her marriage. Rose’s relationship with her sister-in-law is contentious. She treats her husband poorly. Her son moved to Australia, and the implication is that he needed to put distance between himself and his parents. And all of Alice’s care and concern can only go so far toward rehabilitating Rose. The story takes a very sad turn, and leaves Rose and Stanley on the cusp of change, their future uncertain.
The Seduction of Mrs Pendlebury was a layered and very well-written character study. I had to admire Margaret Forster’s characterizations, but the plot fell short. The “seduction” of Rose was complete about halfway through the book, and the emotional roller-coaster that followed left too many loose ends.