Marooned in a country house in an ugly manufacturing town is an old vicarage of which expensive improvements have been undertaken. The house sits in the middle of the town where traffic buzz is accentuated by occasional rumbling of passing trams. So much that it is separated by high walls and trees and is encroached by the hustle-and-bustle, it is a lonely ark itself–or at least the occupants intend it to be. Steered by the father’s morbidly morose, withdrawn and sinister nature, the Deanes immerse in a safe, profound secrecy of those in whom no one is interested.
Life is meticulously edited to ensure minimal interruption of routine and to discourage any social intrusion of visitors. Fettered by some mental disability and limitation are the young Deanes who rebel and struggle to leave. Their attempts have always been futile that they fear the long, dull ache to follow when they have no choice but to return home. Amidst the staidness of the house is an unpleasant atmosphere that always seems to arise so easily and suddenly. That they rarely converge together constitutes this perpetual sense of warfare because hostilities are liable to burst out between family members.
The family reaches a tacit understanding that Beryl, who sets her heart on leaving the house, is held responsible for this hostility that reigns the house. Resolved to break free from all the constraints, she never hesitates to cut to the core the misery of being deprived of freedom. Her ability to assert individuality in defiance of Mrs Deane’s disposition, combined with this imponderable vitality, constantly remind her sister Olive of her being a failure. That her life has been a waster plunges her into an interminable distress of which she blames on Beryl, who in return despises her for being mentally dishonest, salving conscience by trying to talk her mother round a more lenient attitude toward Beryl. The grudge that embitters both of them repulses any overture of reconciliation.
A young sculptor from London lets in a glimpse of light to Beryl’s escape. What amazes her more than the job at an exotic hat shop is their increased intimacy made possible by premeditated meals and meetings. That he feels more than an obligatory sense of responsibility for her–the conscious longing, the dread of her absence–touches on his nerve, for the inimical nature of the Deanes has imparted in him a resolution to keep clear of them. In unconscious defense he begins to frame argument against being with her, for he feels his independence being invaded.
A Charmed Circle is so well-written and penetrating, with a cold snap of a sterile voice that accentuates the hostile mood. The long narrative prose that pierces into the mind reinforces an atmosphere that under a superficial geniality runs a sinister current of tension and repression. It delves on the motives, the unspoken words that which justify the actions. Kavan meticulously metes out words that capture the passing thoughts that are often overlooked but are key to the actions. Despite the overall air of revolt and struggle for self-expression, the novel asserts a sense of hope of overcoming mental capitulation.