Leaving by Roxana Robinson: ‘Passion and honour’

Cover image for Leaving by Roxana RobinsonIt wasn’t until Roxana Robinson’s Leaving arrived that I realised I’d read several other novels by her years ago. She writes the kind of quiet, thoughtful and unflashy novels that often don’t get a lot of attention although she’s won prizes in the States. Hers was one of the rare proofs I request in print these days, attracted by its premise of two sixty-year-olds who meet by chance over forty years since Sarah’s caution resulted in her breaking off a relationship both she and Warren had thought might end in marriage.

How do you know what you’ll need to know before you marry someone? Trollope said all you need is a quiet turn in the conservatory at a ball.

Sarah and Warren bump into each other during the intermission at a performance of Tosca in New York. He’d invited her for a drink but she declined giving him her email address not expecting him to remember it let alone contact her. She lives alone in Westchester just outside the city, long divorced from her husband, whose dubious business dealings she’d distanced herself from, and taken up with helping to run the local museum’s exhibitions. She’s not as close to her daughter as she’d hoped, not quite the involved grandmother she might have wished to be, hampered by the inability to summon an easy intimacy learned from her mother. Warren had been a natural at that, enjoying a playful loving relationship with his daughter if not his wife for whom many of his interests are a mystery. Now living in Boston, his work as an architect frequently takes him to New York where he and Sarah agree to meet for a drink. They fall deeply in love. The consequences for both will be far reaching and Warren finds himself faced with an ultimatum that is unbearable to him.

Everything they say is freighted with a sense of what will happen; as though they are sliding down a mountainside of scree, towards a cliff.

Robinson shifts perspectives between Sarah and Warren in this intensely emotionally intelligent novel, rich in cultural allusions as you’d expect from the biographer of Georgia O’Keefe. Both have satisfying professional lives and families for whom compromises have been made: Sarah aware that the baton has passed from her generation to her daughter’s, remembering Meg’s anger when she decided to end her marriage; Warren accepting his marriage to Janet, whose interests are so very different from his own, a price to be paid for his closeness to his daughter. Robinson’s characterisation is excellent; by the end I’d come to care deeply for both Sarah and Warren whose relationship is sensitively and empathetically portrayed. It’s a novel I luxuriated in, dismayed to find that I’d read most of the backlist available in the UK, although there is a short story collection which I’m eager to get my hands on.

Oneworld Publications: London 9780861547746 336 pages Hardback

26 thoughts on “Leaving by Roxana Robinson: ‘Passion and honour’”

  1. jenniferbeworr

    This sounds truly lovely, I enjoyed reading even the review of it. Taking pleasure in another reader’s pleasure!

  2. I haven’t previously heard of this writer, but I always think it’s refreshing to see slightly older people at the centre of a narrative rather than as peripheral characters.

  3. Nicely reviewed. I need to get on the library wait list for it. Isn’t it too bad Leaving didn’t make the Women’s Fiction Longlist? Which ones do you like on that list? I meant to read Enter Ghost awhile back but haven’t yet. Cheers.

    1. Thank you. Absolutely! It was on my wishlist. Such a shame it didn’t catch the judges’ attention. Western Lane is excellent and I plan to read the Kilroy but nothing else jumps out at me. Enter Ghost looks interesting although I didn’t get far with The Parisian

    1. I’d say better than that. Robinson’s so good at expressing insightful observations in a low-key tone, and her characterisation is so strong. Highly recommend her novels if you’ve not yet read them.

  4. I finished this novel over the weekend and have thought about Sarah and Warren for these few days following. So many aspects of the story and Robinson’s talent are stunning. And it’s the first book of hers I’ve read. (How is it I’ve missed her!) Everything moving and unique about this story, you’ve captured so perfectly here.

    1. Thank you! The two others that I’ve read have been equally good. She seems to be one of those quietly accomplished writers whose work doesn’t quite get the recognition it deserves.

  5. I just finished reading Leaving and loved it – I wanted very much to linger in the quiet but devastating prose -and I was not expecting the ending (which sent me down an online rabbit hole, which led me in turn to your blog). Also – whilst I am here, I want to say thank you for reviewing my books too.

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