Short but sweet

The Book

A Cup of Tea: A Novel of 1917

Author(s)

Amy Ephron

Year

1997

What it says on the back cover

” A JEWEL….This novel will plunge you into New York City in the turbulent year of 1917 and will keep you enthralled…. A page turner from start to finish Ms. Ephron’s spare novel has classic proportions.”  – The West Coast Review of Books

Born into privilege, Rosemary Fell has wealth, well connected friends. and a handsome fiance, Philip Alsop. One cold and rainy night she sees, under a street lamp, the mysterious Eleanor Smith huddled against the elements. In a moment of beneficence, Rosemary invites the penniless young woman home for a cup of tea.

Arriving on the scene, Philip notices Eleanor warming herself by the roaring fire. When Rosemary sees them exchange an unmistakable look, she promptly sends the girl packing. But she’s too late. In that one brief moment, Rosemary’s carefully sculptured life has cracked beyond repair.

Inspired by the classic Katherine Mansfield short story, A Cup of Tea springs to life from its rich cast of characters and brilliant evocation of the uncertain days of World War 1. This darkly romantic novel engages us with impeccable plotting and a deep sense of foreboding, propelling us toward its shocking conclusion.

What made me pick up the book?

Katherine Mansfield is one of my country’s (New Zealand) infamous writers. I admired her works from afar from a very smallish book that sits on my shelves called New Zealand Short Stories written in the fifties.

About the book

The book takes us back to the days just before World War one breaks out. A penniless woman (Eleanor Smith) is out in the rain stumbles across another (Rosemary Fell) to which she invites her to her home to warm up and drink some tea, the other woman being of better class and status. As the story moves on we learn the young woman who was in the rain goes to a hat seller asking about work which she says that so and so has sent her.

This is a book that could easily be read in a day or over a period of a week or so depending on how fast you read.

Is this book worth buying?

At first I was not to sure if I would enjoy this book but as it grew on me over time I learnt more about the way life was in early America and the classes of people who inhabited it. Filled with lots of little twists and turns, I appreciate how the author took a short story and made it into  something bigger thus bringing the characters to life and adding more to it to give more depth to its original short story and the surroundings to which they were in.

Without saying too much, I know that this book would ideal for someone who enjoys period drama books where this would sit nicely with the likes of Downton Abbey (a favourite series which I enjoy) without revealing any servants lives.

It is beautifully put together as the story moves towards the first world war yet a little lackluster leaving me putting the book down and then picking it up every so often waiting for Philip to make his move and how Eleanor reacts to him as the story unfolds and develops to the ultimate ending that left me feeling somewhat confused and what more could have been.  A sweet tale.

NB: Incidentally if Mansfield, the original author of the short story under this title were alive today she would be 125 years old. Mansfield died at 34 in 1923.

“Duty and honor. And what is like to be bound to one thing when your heart wishes you to do something else… The sound of a bomber overhead, intermixed with traffic noise as it strafes the sky. What is it like to fight a war when nothing about a war makes sense except a sense of duty?” (Ephron, 1997).
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