Wednesday 8 May 2024

Blog Tour: The Quality of Love, Ariane Bankes

This post is part of a blog tour. Thank you to Random Things Tours and Duckworth for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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When Ariane's mother Celia dies she inherits a trunk full of letters, diaries, and photographs. These document the life of Celia and her twin sister Mamaine and the remarkable loves and friendships they had. Their life started modestly, their mother died a week after their birth and they spent a quiet childhood in the Suffolk countryside with their father and nanny. Sadly, at the age of eleven, they lost their father too and were sent to live with their uncle near Richmond. They struggled to settle into their new life, the shock of their grief feeling at times insurmountable. When they began the debutante ball circles they were incredibly bored and had no interest in any of the men they were there to impress. Before long they were forging their own path, travelling Europe and making friends with some of the leading intellectuals of the day.

The book focuses largely on the men in their lives, who frequently fell in love with them, and with whom they had the knack of remaining friends with despite rejections or break ups. Mamaine spent several years with Arthur Koestler, a fairly erratic relationship with high tempers and depressions. They lived for some time in a remote home in Wales where the weather was miserable, they were without water when it got too cold, and whose damp atmosphere did nothing to help Mamaine’s recurring asthma. She also had a whirlwind romance with Albert Camus during her relationship with Koestler. They were besotted with each other, their shared weeks being held on to as some of the best of either of their lives. They remained in each other’s circles but tried to remain a healthy distance for a time while their hearts settled down. She was not with either of them at the time of her death but both felt the loss heavily, and anxiously awaited news during her illness.

Celia was no less popular, having been proposed to by George Orwell. Again, they remained close despite the proposal having been rejected. He enjoyed her genuine interest in his son and it is clear that both twins were able to hold their own intellectually in the most formidable company. Celia eventually found a stable relationship with Bankes’ eventual father, who came to the relationship with existing children. It must be a slightly odd experience writing about the love life of your mother but Bankes handles it without apparent discomfort.

The twins come across as kind and intelligent. Mamaine helps edit Koestler’s work and Celia works on History Today. Despite their busy, international lives, they always prioritise each other. Letters go back and forth and it is a great pain to them when logistics keep them without news of the other. At one point delays in the post prove almost fatal when news of a shared medical allergy can’t be communicated efficiently. The book is rooted in the letters they wrote and received, not only between each other but with their friends and lovers. At times Bankes admits to only having one half of the correspondence, but much can be gleaned from the responses. 

An incredibly easy read covering a tumultuous period in European history. The narrative moves at a pace, with brief introductions to the various characters before we move on to the next acquaintance. At times we jump forward in time and are told how a relationship resolves which can be a little confusing, but it is rare. Overall an evocative look at remarkable lives which offers a more personal side of some of the biggest names of the age.

Pick up a copy:



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