The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks


Jill's take on The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks

I am going to confess that I had no idea who Lynne Reid Banks is nor had I ever heard of The L-Shaped Room before seeing it on a shelf in a bookstore in Barcelona. So, once I was done reading this novel, I did a little Googleing to see what the story was about this author and about this book. According to Wikipedia, it appears Reid Banks is still alive (she's 88) and lives in the UK. She is super prolific, having written a shit ton of books including the children's book The Indian in the Cupboard (which I barely remember hearing about but also never read). It also appears that The L-Shaped Room was made into a movie and was Reid Banks's first novel, written in 1960.

I should say that the language in the story shows the time it was written in. There's some uncomfortable dialog and language about people of color and later, Jews, and it had me wondering if Reid Banks was just using common parlance of the time as a way to reflect these beliefs back to the society in a show of disagreement or if she herself bought in to the language and ideologies of the time.

I ultimately fell on the side of Reid Banks making a social commentary about how people of color, Jews, and ultimately single, pregnant women were treated in society. The L-Shaped Room tells the story of a 27 year old woman who finds herself pregnant after a not terribly satisfying loss of her virginity. The reader witnesses the woman's banishment from her father's home and subsequent mingling with a different set of people than she ever had before in her life. She moves from a middle class existence to a lower class one seemingly overnight. 

There are many wrought scenes in the book as the woman, Jane Graham, makes the decision to keep her baby and deal with the consequences. The reader gets an intimate view into just how difficult a decision that would have been back in the early 60's. Hell, reproduction and women's rights is still a hot topic today. 

What I loved so much about the book was how well the struggles and the social stigma of being a single pregnant woman were written. I also liked how the book didn't move in to a fairy tale ending. Yes, it's true some of the characters evolve to changing their harshness towards Jane, but only towards Jane. I don't think any of these characters would change their mind about single pregnant women overall. It's sort of like "well, she's a good person so I can forgive this one little thing". 

I really enjoyed the book for it's commentary on women's reproductive issues though I struggled, again, with some of the language used about minorities. As I said, I'm choosing to think this was done as another pointer to how minorities were thought of in the sixties and not racist tendencies by the author. It also brought up additional feelings of resolving language used in classic novels with today's language and ideologies. I am still super conflicted about liking books that use divisive ideology and language, but also think I can't hold history up to today's standards. We're always learning and evolving and I'd like to be patient with novels and artistic works that are a reflection (and reminder) of where we've come from. 

Zac's take on The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks

I loved how Reid handled the shifting change in thought that a woman goes through once finding out she is pregnant. Well, this woman in particular. The main character is young and was a virgin and gets pregnant. Her options are bleak. She goes to a doctor and we get to see how women are treated in the 60's when asking for an abortion.

It's expensive and dangerous and there are few options as it's still illegal. The doctor makes all kinds of assumptions and is in a position of power, and takes advantage of that to overcharge and scare and lecture the poor girl.

But like I wrote about in my review of The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, and as Jill mentions above, there is only so much I can tolerate when it comes to the sexism and racism of these novels. I get that they were written in a certain context and a time where everybody expressed themselves in ways we don't find tolerable today.

But maybe this novel really is a criticism of power and choice and patriarchy and changing times. Maybe the author was merely a vehicle for the current mindset in which she wrote. We may never know.

But I do know that it was interesting and well written and depicted how women struggled at a certain specific point in time - London in the 60's - and the challenges they faced. The ending was a little bow made of icing that one could hardly believe, but there is some real struggle before that and you really don't know how things will progress until you see the characters unfolding before you.