Review: Taking Chances, by Molly Keane

This is one of Molly Keane’s earlier novels, published in 1929 when the author was in her mid-20s.  She wrote about what she knew: the Irish landed class, with their propensity for dogs and hunting.  Taking Chances is based on a familiar construct, in which a stranger’s arrival upsets the order of daily living.  Roguey, Maeve, and Jer are young adult siblings living in Sorristown, their family home.  Maeve is about to be married to Rowley, and her bridesmaid Mary comes to visit just before the wedding.  Mary is beautiful and flirtatious, and has an immediate impact on the men:

At the lighted door of the bathroom she asked for a cigarette. Roguey produced his case and lit one for her clumsily.  In her bath Mary found that, along with the dampness round his eyes, subjects for consideration. Used to swift work, his early show of interest did not thrill her. She was, as a matter of fact, totally unaware of the unsafe propensities of a scanty kimono when its wearer, with a poorly drawing cigarette in one hand, and bathing apparatus in the other, stoops over an awkwardly held match. (p. 35)

Yes, Mary is memorable, if not especially likeable.  But the story itself is dreadfully cliche and boring.  The minute Mary arrives, you know she’s going to wreak havoc on the close-knit trio at Sorristown.  And it’s easy to predict the form this will take, as well as the consequences.  And then there are the endless hunting scenes, described in such detail I wondered if Keane was trying to pad her novel.  I skimmed the last third of this novel, simply to confirm it ended as I thought it would.

I’ve read several of Keane’s later books and enjoyed her characters and social satire immensely.  This is an author whose talent took time to develop and while it’s interesting to see “where it all began,” one experience like that was quite enough!


14 thoughts on “Review: Taking Chances, by Molly Keane

    • Lisa, I absolutely loved Good Behaviour, which was my first Molly Keane. I also really liked Two Days in Aragon and Full House. So that led me to an idea to read all of her books, which I’m now reconsidering.

    • Karen, I suspect you read Simon (Stuck-in-a-Book)’s review of Keane’s debut novel, Young Entry. I couldn’t help thinking of that review as I read Taking Chances … very similar.

  1. Will avoid this one when I eventually get to read a Keane novel which I have been meaning to do now for quite some. The hunting thing wd be a huge turn off for me too.

    • Karen, I recommend starting with her later books. She’s also known as M.J. Farrell so you might need to hunt around a bit, but the Wikipedia page for Molly Keane lists them all, with publication dates.

  2. I’ve never actually heard of this author before, I don’t think. From your comment above, it seems that if one was to start with her, Good Behavior would be a good bet.

  3. Interesting comment about the predictability of events in the novel, I don’t know Molly Keane’s work, but I just finished Diana Athill’s Stet, An Editor’s life and she dedicates an entire chapter to Keane, whom she says was a real pleasure to work with.

    The reason I find your analysis so interesting is the irony of the knowledge that after 4 decades of editing novels, including those of Molly Keane, Athill no longer reads fiction at all, because she finds she is too easily able to guess the plot turns, I guess a lifetime of working on them does that.

    • That’s a really interesting comment about Althill’s reading. I don’t know what I’d do if that happened to me — I’d be sad about losing the magic of a good novel.

  4. Coming to this late, but… yes, I’ll be avoiding this one! Although I think I do have it. What a shame such beautiful Virago covers have sub-par books within them….

    • Simon, you should definitely steer clear of this one. Too much like that other early Keane you read. Two duds is enough to tell me I should only read her later books (which I adore).

Comments are closed.