The Eloquence of Desire
Set in the 1950s, the book begins with George travelling home on the tube and wondering how he is going to give his wife Dorothy some bad news. As a punishment for his affair with the boss’s daughter, Emma, he has been transferred to Malaya, which is at the moment experiencing upheavals with communist rebels. She does not take the news well.
The scene is set for a slow breakdown of marriage throughout the sea voyage and the heat filled days in Malaya. The couple’s only daughter, Susan, is originally left behind at boarding school but later comes over to Malaya, and we see events of overt violence but also observations of secrets and unspoken feelings through her eyes. The worlds of England and Malaysia are contrasted effectively, and there are strong evocative descriptions of Malaya. The sights, sounds, smells and the alien nature of it for Dorothy means she is increasingly unhappy.
The title was a little confusing, however, as it seems to suggest some great love affair, but I gained little sense of any overwhelming love. George misses Emma and writes her letters but still has time and some emotion left for another affair with someone else. More themes of self harm and lesbianism also appear somewhat unheralded at the end of the novel and didn’t fully coalesce with the rest of the novel for me. The plot explores states of mind and the internal life of characters rather than being action packed, and several parts of the novel were very interesting. It isn’t as cohesive as it could have been, therefore, but nevertheless offers some illuminating and engaging moments.