Riceyman Steps

Riceyman Steps - Arnold Bennett At the heart of the novel are three characters: Mr. Earlforward and Mrs. Arb and Elsie (who does for the former in the mornings, in the building which also houses the bookshop, and does for the latter in the afternoons, across the way in the building which also houses the confectioner's shop). The relationships between these three (fellow shop-keepers and employer-employee) quickly grow more complicated and intimacies develop.

Not always comfortable intimacies, sometimes the irritating and constraining types, although as one of them observes, that's a matter of how you choose to look at things. "This was the end of the honeymoon; or, if you prefer it, their life was one long honeymoon." As this statement suggests, times are changing, not only at the personal level, but in a broader sense; Riceyman Steps was once a thriving community but those days are long gone and, seemingly, unlikely to return. The business model that Mr. Earlforward follows is static and the bookstore's popularity wanes, although a certain bookishness remains.

It is a novel about relationships (business, community, marital) characterized by pride, fear, and loneliness. In many ways, it is a sad story (in the way that some of Barbara Pym's stories are sad), but that, too, could be said to be all about a reader's perspective. Another reader might see this as a story about "[s]imple souls, somehow living very near the roots of happiness -- though precariously."