Monday 29 April 2019

Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson | Blog Tour

Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson
Published by Duckworth
Release date: 2nd May 2019
Source: Duckworth, paperback advance reading copy.

It’s 1928 and Stanley Spencer arrives in a quiet Hampshire village ready to create the commission of a lifetime. Hired as his housekeeper, Elsie quickly becomes so much more: a muse and a friend for whom he develops a deep, lifelong affection. A joy in the ordinary things bonds them, a simple love of life which is crucial to Spencer’s art but which his wartime experiences and growing celebrity have all but destroyed.

Elsie becomes a vital part of the Spencer family, sharing in the creation of Spencer’s masterpieces and the daily dramas of his life: his marriage to the painter Hilda Carline and the artistic rivalry between husband and wife; the continuing impact of the First World War on all their lives, and the scandal over Spencer’s personal and artistic attitudes toward sex. As the years pass, Elsie does her best to keep the familytogether even when love, obsession and temptation seem set to tear them apart...

Spencer painted the women in his life with a combination of ruthless honesty and nostalgic idealism, but their voices are tantalisingly absent from history. Stanley and Elsie turns the tables and gives full lives to the women who shaped Stanley Spencer’s life.

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson and I'm so excited to share my review with you. Based on the life of the artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), Stanley and Elsie is a fascinating look at art, the wounds of war and Stanley Spencer through the eyes of the women in his life.

Writing fiction about art is almost the ultimate test in descriptive writing as the goal is clearly to get the reader to not only be able to visualise the art as they read, but appreciate the technical detail and the feelings that a particular piece evokes. In this way, Nicola Upson has accomplished something extraordinary. I felt like I was standing in Sandham memorial chapel (the building filled with murals on everyday life during WW1, painted by Spencer) along with Elsie, seeing Spencer's vast and distinctive depictions of war memories.

I really enjoyed the reflections on finding joy in the everyday, mundane tasks and it made me pause and think about my mindset when it comes to work and daily life. I agree with Spencer's idea of there being something heroic in the everyday, of keeping on despite everything, and cherishing the peace of mundane moments. This is something that I also found within the novel, reading about the life of the Spencers. I love the comfort that historical fiction brings, especially books that spend time on the day to day lives of people in the past. The simple joy of seeing how people lived their daily lives, their tasks and homemaking, their view on hard work and holidays by the seaside.

Nicola Upson did such a fantastic job with the setting of the novel that the Berkshire countryside felt almost like another character, and it made me feel a connection to a part of England that I haven't yet visited. There is some beautiful writing on nature, weather and the changing of the seasons, which I particularly appreciated. 

Stanley and Elsie is a cosy book which deals with some big and uncomfortable topics whilst also being a comfortable and relaxing read. It has a slow burn of atmosphere and is a fascinating insight into the emotional and domestic life of a distinguished artist.


Nicola Upson was born in Suffolk and is most known for her series of novels featuring real-life crime author and playwright, Josephine Tey. 


Thanks to Duckworth for including me on this blog tour and providing an advanced copy of the book. Don't forget to head on over to the other stops on the tour!

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