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The Meeting Place
Mary Hocking

The Meeting Place
Mary Hocking
Chatto & Windus
London 1996

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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, observant writing.

Reviewed by Sasha Fooks


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