Saturday Lunch with the Brownings: Capturing tensions of domestic life

Book review: In Penelope Mortimer’s 12 short stories, the familiar turns monstrous

In Saturday Lunch with the Brownings, Penelope Mortimer’s dexterous, vibrant prose burrows deep into the everyday moments that lead to points of crisis

In Saturday Lunch with the Brownings, Penelope Mortimer’s dexterous, vibrant prose burrows deep into the everyday moments that lead to points of crisis

Tolstoy’s famous opener on unhappy families seems particularly appropriate for Saturday Lunch with the Brownings, 12 stories that capture the tensions of domestic life with ferocious precision. Each of the unhappy families featured is certainly unhappy in its own way. Penelope Mortimer’s dexterous, vibrant prose burrows deep into the everyday moments that lead to points of crisis. Her scenarios are fresh, dramatic and uncanny. The familiar turns monstrous, the dark thing that should never be said is always said.

Sixty years after it was first published, the English author’s only collection of short stories is full of brilliantly detailed scenes of family life that could have been written yesterday. Reprinted by Daunt Books as part of its rediscovered classics series, it will hopefully bring new readers to a writer whose books were in part overshadowed by her famous marriage and divorce to fellow writer John Mortimer.

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