Mary Hocking’s The Meeting Place is ostensibly a novel
about three women whose lives interweave across the centuries.
Clarice Mitchell, a sixty-nine year old ex-headmistress, "plagued
by a prickly intelligence", is invited to rehearse a production
of Pericles. However, instead of prompting the actors, she finds
herself re-living not only her past but the disturbing and often
violent lives of the two other women in different ages. The unpredictable
and mysterious moorland setting in Hocking’s novel befits the
unregulated and strange discoveries that Clarice comes upon.
The farm in which the novel is set was the home of Rhoda Tresham,
the Victorian woman (ghost) who continuously watches Clarice.
She is also incidentally the grandmother of Clarice’s ex-headmistress
and a life-long role-model. Five centuries earlier it was a priory
where Joan Mosteyn spent the last years of her life. She is the
second woman whose tragic life Clarice relives. She is the wild-haired,
poverty-imbued figure whom Clarice spots on the Moors the day
she arrives. Whereas there is a connection with Rhoda Tresham,
there is no conceivable one with the character of Joan Mosteyn,
an adulterous and simple-minded woman who goes insane after her
husband dies and her children are taken away from her by her fellow
villagers, who brand her a witch and try to set fire to her. She
lives thanks to the compassion of the priest and then drifts aimlessly
about on the moors until she is taken in by the nuns at the priory.
Clarice’s own history is one of lost love and a failure on her
part to protect Teresa, an ex-pupil, from being sexually abused
by her father, a well-respected village doctor. Throughout the
novel we see Clarice wrestling with her conscience over the consequent
disappearance of Teresa.
The theme in this story is three women who seem to be living all
at the same time but in different dimensions. Rhoda Tresham sees
Clarice and her "unusual" Twentieth Century dress, she
also sees Joan Mosteyn. Clarice at the same time observes Rhoda
writing down these visions in her diary, concluding that they
see her too. The concurrent theme in the novel is the empathy
between these three women and the landscape. Overall this is a
subtle novel full of symbolic meaning but lacking in narrative
focus and drive, though The Meeting Place does contain some sensitive,
Reviewed by Sasha Fooks