‘Free Women’ is a short novel about Anna Wulf, a thirty something single mother living in London and her friend Molly, an actress and fellow single mother. Anna is the author of a bestselling novel but now has writers’ block, and instead writes in her 4 differently coloured notebooks which separate different aspects of her life.
The stages of the notebooks, which start during the second world war and continue to the early sixties, appear in 4 blocks and break up the freestanding interior novel ‘Free Women’ into five sections. Anna’s desire to compartmentalise her life to avoid chaos is realised in the fragmentation of the novel and I think works well to symbolise the turbulent feelings of change that must have been around at this time. The Golden Notebook appears at the end and aims to bring the different strands of her life together. Continue reading “The Golden Notebook”
It’s 1946 and ‘You are Going to Germany’ is the official information booklet that Rachael Morgan and her son Edmund are reading on their crossing to Hamburg with other British service wives and children. There are strict instructions to be ‘cold, correct and dignified’ and not to fraternise with the German people. So when Rachael and Edmond are reunited with Colonel Lewis Morgan they are shocked to find that he has arranged for them to share a grand house with its owner, a German widower and his teenage daughter. Continue reading “The Aftermath”
Paris in 1965 and an elderly lady lives in an attic under the metro counting out coffee beans. She rides the crowded metro carriages to feel the warmth of other bodies and watches hot pancake batter drip from the hands of street sellers. But then, one hot day, when she’s rootling around in a bin for an orange she finds instead a smelly old fox fur and everything changes, ‘a winter fur in summer.’
‘She was breathing the oxygen meant for people who had spent their day working.’
It’s a book about loneliness and trying to find a connection to the rhythms of everyday life and how, in finding something to love (and she finds the humour in it too!) that turns to an acceptance of her situation with her fox fur, her few possessions and her imagination. Not lonely anymore but just alone.
She gives a running commentary as she walks around Paris in her battered hat and shiny green coat, her childhood and past experiences folded into her existence. It’s funny and knowing: ‘After six, the wind in Paris grows stronger and disarranges all our principles.’ but it isn’t sweet or sentimental. In the introduction Deborah Levy says it’s ‘a way of staring at life and making from it a kind of tough poetry.’
How is it that life changes so quickly? That on a normal Monday afternoon while I happily grumble about writing my blog my lovely husband who is feeling unwell is taken to hospital and diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia? And everything changes.
I remembered that two books I’ve read for the Classics Club: War and Peace and Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man both contain the line ‘Drip drip.‘,to signify the passing of time; and this seems to perfectly describe our new lives. The drip of blood, platelets, chemotherapy, antibiotics.
It seems to have been a strange year for blogging anyway with long absences, I don’t know why, but I certainly didn’t expect it to end like this. I do love the booky community though and all the reading and comments and wonder if now I might stop grumbling and instead just get on with it. . .
And one good thing is that in-between all the dripping David is listening to Northanger Abbey, and is having to listen to me explain The Mysteries of Udolpho and all the references – a captive audience!
On December 13th 1943 at the age of 24 Primo Levi, a chemist from Turin was captured by the Fascist militia and giving his status as an ‘Italian citizen of Jewish race’ was taken via the detention camp at Fossoli to Auschwitz. Of the 650 who arrived the children, the old men and most of the women were ‘swallowed up by the night’. Ninety six men and twenty nine women entered the camps of Monowitz-Buna and Birkenau. The rest were sent to the gas chamber, only 3 made the return journey home. The story of his journey home is told in The Truce.
Continue reading “If This Is A Man”
What in the world is going on here? I thought Gulliver’s Travels was all about tiny people and giants, but no, Jonathan Swift’s imagination is extraordinary to say the least. Lemuel Gulliver recalls the zaniest adventures as he travels first as a ships surgeon and then as Captain to Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa and to the Houyhnhnms. A companionable chap he narrates it all in a jolly, matter of fact, chatty way, that is bawdy, crude, ridiculous and sometimes very funny.
Continue reading “Gulliver’s Travels”
It’s always a treat to pick up a Dorothy Whipple and know that you’re going to be completely immersed in a new family. In this case it was the Pritchard’s and in particular Anne, the youngest child. We’re told at the beginning that she’s five and through a sporadic time line (and pots of tea, tomato sandwiches and a good supply of rock cakes) we stay with her into young adulthood.
Young Anne is about characters rather than plot, full of the homely and ordinary but the truthfulness in the detail is told with such a dry wit that it’s never dull. Published in 1927 I thought the family had a decidedly Edwardian feel to them, more so than other Whipple novels I’ve read. Henry Pritchard, Anne’s father, ‘very straight and thin’ his lips always in ‘creases of disapproval’ rules the house with a sombre mood expecting to be obeyed and it’s this atmosphere that pervades Anne’s life. But even here in her first novel, Dorothy Whipple shows the restraint that makes her characters so completely believable.
Continue reading “Young Anne”
It’s 1935 and mystery writer, Harriet Vane alumna of Shrewsbury College, Oxford, returns for their annual ‘Gaudy Night’ dinner. But all is not well, poison pen letters and coarse graffiti are disturbing the peace before properly sinister things start to happen. Harriet is asked to stay on and investigate which she does with the help of her friend Lord Peter Wimsey, who arrives like the cavalry.
I read this as my ‘classic from somewhere you’ve lived’ for the Back to the Classics Challenge, so from the beginning it was fun, following the drive from London to Oxford; stopping in High Wycombe for lunch with half a bottle of wine (!) and then walking around Oxford. As it’s one of those books that names every street it was all very cosy. Added to that the academic setting of a women’s college with debates and discussions around coffee, tea or sherry in the Senior Common Room and it was all I could wish for really. Except . . . Continue reading “Gaudy Night”
Constance and Hannah, Dan and Emmet and their mother Rosaleen are the family from County Clare at the centre of The Green Road.
Split into two parts, the first part concentrates on the characters as individuals, each one given their own episode to tell their story at a particular time, starting with Hannah aged 12 in 1980; until in part two, back in Ireland for Christmas, we see the family together in 2005. Continue reading “The Green Road”
It’s summer in Turin in the 1930’s and 16 year old Ginia is ready for adventure. Parentless, she works in a dressmakers, loves to laugh and dance and lives with her older brother, taking care of him and their apartment.
But then she is befriended by Amelia an artists model, and over the summer becomes involved with her older bohemian set that includes Guido and love!
The cover blurb in my Penguin copy says that ‘It’s the start of a desperate love affair, charged with false hope and overwhelming passion’, which makes it all sound rather melodramatic; when the clever thing about The Beautiful Summer, is that within 100 pages of very little drama Cesare Pavese has us completely believing in the confusion Ginia is going through.
Continue reading “The Beautiful Summer”