One Leg Over by Robin Dalton

One Leg Over by Robin Dalton

‘At ninety-five I have begun to dwell on the past rather than an increasingly less intriguing future.’

The cover picture drew my attention to this book, as did the title: a woman dressed in red, arm in arm with two men entitled ‘One Leg Over’?  I was intrigued.  And when I realised that the author was Robin Dalton, I wanted to read it straight away.  It’s been years since I read ‘Aunts Up the Cross’ (her first book, published in 1965) and I’ve a reread in mind.  I’m also about to read ‘My Relations’, a book Robin wrote when she was eight, and which was published in 2015 for the fist time.

Robin Dalton was born Robin Eakin in 1920.  She grew up in Kings Cross in a large house with her parents, grand-parents and a great aunt.  This is the experience which formed the basis for ‘Aunts Up the Cross’.  Robin Dalton has lived in London since 1946, and she’s led an interesting life.  In addition to being an author, she has been a television performer, worked in intelligence, been a literary agent and a film producer (‘Madame Souzatska’ (1988) starring Shirley Maclaine, ‘Country Life’ (1994) starring Greta Scacchi and Sam Neill, and ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ (1997) starring Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes.

‘One Leg Over’ is an account of Robin’s life.  Of her disastrous first marriage in Sydney in 1940, which lasted a matter of months.  Of her move to London and subsequent marriage to Emmet Dalton in 1953, which ended with his death during heart surgery at the age of thirty-three.  By this time Robin had two small children, and had worked in intelligence for the Thai government.  In 1963, Robin became a literary agent, and her list went grew to include four Booker Prize winners – David Storey, Bernice Rubens, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Iris Murdoch, as well as Margaret Drabble and Edna O’Brien.  After twenty-five years as a literary agent, she established ‘Dalton Films’, a movie production company.

A busy woman!  But the major focus of this book is on her love life, especially during the 1940s.  As Robin Dalton writes:

‘For the undamaged survivors the 1940s were a magical period.’

I guess it depended who you were and, relatively, how well-off.

But there are other elements as well, to make me think.  Robin Dalton writes:

‘Before the war, girls and young women from the more privileged strata of society did not go out to work. Their goals were engagement and marriage, except for the tiny majority who went to a university.  It is generally thought that the lives of women are far better now, but not being of feminist inclination, I am not too sure of this.’

Times have changed.

I found this an interesting account of Ms Dalton’s long and varied life.  And I especially enjoyed her explanation of how she arrived at the book’s title.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith