I received the gorgeous NYRB edition of Cassandra at the Wedding (pictured) for Christmas, and from what I already knew of the book, I was almost certain that I would adore it before I even began it. This is the first of Baker’s novels which I have read, and as you can see from my five star review, I shall certainly be hunting out more of her work in future.
Cassandra at the Wedding was first published in 1962, and is hailed in its blurb as ‘a book of enduring freshness, insight, and verve… it is the work of a master stylist with a profound understanding of the complexities of the heart and mind’. There is also a charming quote on the back of the book from one of my favourite authors, Carson McCullers. She states that “I… whose usual bed time is ten o’clock – stayed up all night reading that exquisite ‘Cassandra at the Wedding’ – dazzled by the pyrotechnics of such an artist.” High praise indeed! The novel’s premise is so very intriguing:
“Cassandra Edwards is a graduate student at Berkeley: gay, brilliant, nerve-racking, miserable. At the beginning of this novel, she drives back to her family ranch in the foothills of the Sierras to attend the wedding of her identical twin, Judith, to a nice young doctor from Connecticut. Cassandra, however, is hell-bent on sabotaging the wedding.”
Cassandra Edwards is exactly the kind of heroine I like, and I was endeared to her from the very outset. Her narrative voice is exquisitely crafted, and with passages like the following, it is difficult not to see her as a tangible and brutally honest being:
“As I say, if you move, if you push a little, you can get from Berkeley to our ranch in five hours, and the reason why we [she and Judith] never cared to in the old days was that we had to work up to home life by degrees, steel ourselves somewhat for the three-part welcome we were in from our grandmother and our mother and our father, who loved us fiercely in three different ways. We loved them too, six different ways, but we mostly took our time about getting home.”
Cassandra reminded me a lot of Esther Greenwood, the narrator and protagonist in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and a character who is as vivid to me as any. Esther and Cassandra share the same brand of wit, sarcasm and intelligence. Although Cassandra was not always the most likeable of characters, I did come to very much enjoy her presence. The way in which Edwards crafted her voice allowed me to know her inner workings, and she is certainly a protagonist whom, whilst I do not always agree with her actions, I respect.
The second part of the novel is told from Judith’s perspective. She is a vastly different character to Cassandra, and using her narrative voice is a very simple technique, but it certainly works as an incredibly effective one. Edwards is so astute; she presents the twins and their relationship – both when it is as its best and at its most strained – so very well. Her prose is masterful and tight, and I cannot wait to read more of her work.