My Virago Modern Classic give-away this month is Good Behaviour by Molly Keane.
Molly Keane was born in County Kildare in 1904, into the crumbling Anglo-Irish aristocracy. She started to write for publication at the age of 17, to supplement her dress allowance but she used the pseudonym M. J. Farrell "to hide my literary side from my sporting friends". She published ten novels under this name between 1928 and 1961 then stopped abruptly when her husband died.
Then in 1981, Good Behaviour was published under her own name. It was an instant success and short-listed for the Man Booker prize. She continued writing until her death in 1996.
Her books are dark satires of the life of the Anglo-Irish circle that she inhabited: hunting, fast cars, balls, crumbling country houses and impoverished estates. Good Behaviour is all about keeping up appearances in this fast disappearing world of privilege. Whatever happens, appearances must be preserved, no-one must betray any signs of fear, affection or grief even within the family.
The story opens with a murder. The narrator, Aroon St Charles, feeds her frail mother a rabbit mousse, knowing that it will kill her. The rest of the book is devoted to showing us why she did it.
I first read Good Behaviour in 1982 and I can recall sitting up late into the night to finish it, despite having to be up early next morning for my two young children. All of Molly Keane's books are shocking and funny; the Virago Press website compares her to Evelyn Waugh. If you would like to own the 2004 edition pictured above, which has an excellent foreword by Marian Keyes, leave a comment on this post or any other in the next week or so, indicating that you want to enter the book draw.