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!