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There Were No Windows

by Norah Hoult
Persephone book no:

58 59 60


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A Well Full of Leaves
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PREFACE BY JULIA BRIGGS
352pp
ISBN 9781903155493

This 1944 novel is about memory loss and is the only book we know of, apart from Iris about Iris Murdoch (and arguably There Were No Windows is wittier and more profound) on this subject. Based on the last years of the writer Violet Hunt, a once-glamorous woman living in Kensington during the Blitz who is now losing her memory, the novel's three 'acts' describe with insight, humour and compassion what happens to 'Claire Temple' in her last months. 'A quite extraordinary book,' was the verdict of Cressida Connolly in the Spectator, 'unflinchingly, blackly funny, brilliantly observed and terrifying.' And because Claire Temple is an unrepentant snob, 'the novel gives a sly account of the end of an entire way of life.'

A Queen's University, Belfast blog comments:  'There Were No Windows is incredibly useful and enlightening. It gave me a wonderful insight into how dementia was viewed back in the war years. Claire is fortunate enough to have a house and financial resources to utilise. It is likely that without finances, she would have been quickly institutionalised. And yet, her experience is far from pleasant. She has lost autonomy over her body, her finances and her creativity. She is constantly lonely, and particularly misses the intellectual company she was used to. Her staff are rude and dismissive. They don’t attempt to understand her condition. They fluctuate between bullying and infantilising Claire. There were so many moments in this novel when I wished to sit them down and explain why Claire’s dementia was causing her to act out of character. There Were No Windows is a stunningly written novel -perhaps even one of Hoult’s best- and I thoroughly enjoyed it as both a piece of fiction and an incredibly believable dementia narrative. There’s still so much more education about dementia which needs to take place but I’m so glad people are no longer quite so ignorant about the illness. Poor Claire’s treatment is horrific and dehumanising. I’m thankful this is no longer the norm.'

 Endpaper

'Treetops', a screen printed cotton and rayon furnishing fabric designed by Marianne Mahler in 1939 and produced by Edinburgh Weavers.

Picture Caption

South Lodge on Campden Hill Road, where Violet Hunt lived during the 1940s


Read What Readers Say

Isabel de Bertodano, ‘The Tablet’

In spite of her grim subject, Hoult’s story, though sad and raw, is never gloomy and often funny… In spite of her eccentricities the reader falls slightly in love with Claire, a romantic character who is here exposed in all the vulnerability of old age. It could easily become too depressing, but ‘There Were No Windows’ has a lightness of touch, is beautifully written and Norah Hoult has produced an honest, compelling account of Alzheimer’s without ever betraying her friend.

Categories: Ireland London Widows WWII

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