The Lark

Reading this is to be wrapped in sunshine, just looking at the cover makes me happy!

First published in 1922, it’s 1919 when cousins Jane and Lucilla, after spending the war years tucked away in a small boarding school, are finally set free in the world. Their guardian meanwhile has gambled away their inheritance and the girls find themselves with just a small cottage in the English countryside. After deciding against marriage they agree that they’re going to earn their livings. They won’t see themselves as genteel spinsters but as adventurers with the world before them.

‘If we’re going to worry all the time about the past and the future we shan’t have any time at all. We must take everything as it comes and enjoy everything that is – well, that is enjoyable. . . Live for the moment- and do all you can to make the next moment jolly too, as Carlyle says, or is it Emerson?’

Picking themselves up and jollying along, presence of mind and the belief that everything will be a lark (the lark of the title), while still having breath to whistle Mendelssohn is the order of the day, and the girls’ carry on with aplomb; meeting an assortment of characters and getting mixed up in a series of misadventures until everything ends happily – I won’t give the plot away but there’s no point even considering that this is a novel with an unhappy ending!

But before we all dissolve in a puddle of brown sugar Nesbit saves us with her humour.

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Checkmate to Murder

It was a late start this morning because I couldn’t get up until I had finished this brilliant murder mystery!

On one of those wet, pitch-black, pea-soup foggy nights in London the artist Bruce Manaton is in his studio painting the actor André Delaunier in brilliant scarlet Cardinal’s robes while their friends Robert Cavenish and Ian Mackellon play chess and Bruce’s sister Rosanne Manaton makes supper in the kitchen. Into this bohemian den bursts the local Special Constable Lewis Varraby – Albert Folliner, the old miser at number 25 has been found dead, shot in the head, in his bed, a pistol lying next to him and his nephew Neil, (of the Canadian Army), standing over him.

Detective Chief Inspector Macdonald, is called in to arrest the young soldier but with Inspectors Jenkins and Reeves he can see that all is not how it seems

that’s all nice and plain, but I reckon this is a frame-up. It wasn’t just chance I walked in on the old man’s corpse and got copped before I’d time to think. I’m the cat that burns its paws on someone else’s chestnuts, and I don’t like it. You see, I didn’t do it.’

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2022 TBR Pile Challenge

I’m so pleased that Adam at Roof Beam Reader has resurrected the TBR challenge. The rules are simple, just choose twelve books that have been on your shelf for a year or more and read them. Two more emergency titles are added, in case there’s a dud in the initial 12!

Unlike my 10 Books of Summer challenge (which took me until December, although I loved it and plan on doing it again this year, thanks to Cathy at 746 books!) I’ve been quite successful with this one in the past and love that it gets me to pick the books up from the box at the end of my bed and actually read them.

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Just Watching A Film: 2022

It’s a happy crisp new year and that means a crisp new list of films to watch from my lovely daughter. It’s an eclectic list as usual but I think it’s slightly more modern – there are 4 titles from this century and 8 of the 12 are after 1980.

The highlight for me is in July, I think Almodóvar makes perfect films for summer evenings so I’m really looking forward to Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown. I found Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Women quite difficult last year so I’m interested to see if I get on any better with La Ciénaga . Anyway here’s the list to be watched:

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Murder on a Winter’s Night

Short stories have been my discovery this year, and this collection of ten crime stories didn’t disappoint. Although most of them were set before 1960 a couple were more modern and I enjoyed the difference in attitudes towards the police. And not all were about murder, there was a good helping of burglary and double crossing too. Here’s just a quick thought about my favourites:

The longest story by far was The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention by Dorothy L Sayers (1928). Lord Peter Wimsey is staying with some friends the Frobisher-Pym’s in the country, and while there gets himself involved in village life as is only polite. There are late night rides along eerie lanes, a spot called ‘Dead Man’s Post’ where George Winter was ‘foully murthered’, sightings of the death coach and a headless horseman and the reading of a strange and macabre will that upsets the family at the big house. This was a lot of fun!

The New Catacomb by Arthur Conan Doyle (1898) is set in Rome, where two young archeologists discuss a catacomb that one of them has just uncovered. This was brilliant, one of those stories where you know almost straight away what’s going to happen but Conan Doyle builds up the tension, teasing the reader until we start to doubt ourselves – and then delivers!

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A Film For December: When a Women Ascends the Stairs

What an interesting, and thoroughly good, film this was to end the year. Written by Ryuzo Kikushima and directed by Mikio Naruse in 1960, it tells the story of Keiko, a young widow who works as a hostess in a bar in the Ginza district of Tokyo. It’s a contemplative and delicate study of a women facing the financial challenges posed by her family whilst maintaining her dignity.

`Her melodic, sombre voice-over guides us through the streets as everyday she walks up the stairs to the club with a heavy heart and the need for something to change. She could open her own bar, she could marry or easiest of all become the mistress of one of her wealthy customers. Or she could work in an office.

Bars in the daytime are like women without make up

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The Far Cry

I haven’t been to India and think the closest I’ve come to experiencing the colours, noise and vibrancy is through reading Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. The Far Cry reminded me of that novel in that it shows India as it is, (or at least how I think it is) there are no rose tinted glasses here, but it’s by an author who truly loves the country.

In her preface to the Persephone edition, Emma Smith (1923-2018) recalls arriving for the first time in India. It was September 1946 and she was 23 years old when she sailed out of Southampton. She was attached to a documentary film unit commissioned by the tea board to make educational films in Assam. Her title was assistant-director, which meant general dogsbody and the script writer was none other than Laurie Lee, then better known as a poet!

I went down the gangplank at Bombay, and India burst upon me with the force of an explosion.”

It’s this sense of innocence mixed with excitement that I think she captures so well in The Far Cry with her 14 year old protagonist Teresa Digby.

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A Film For November: Fear Eats The Soul

On a rainy night in Munich in 1974 a lonely 60 something widow walks into a bar enticed by the sounds of Arabic music. Emmi orders a coke and Ali a 40 something Moroccan ‘guest worker’ asks her to dance. Their friendship deepens and they decide to marry. The reaction that their relationship provokes and in turn, the effect that society has on their life together is told in this tale of intolerance and prejudice.

Emmi (Brigitte Mira) and Ali (El Hedi ben Salem) offend everybody just by being together. Spurned by everyone including her children, the subject of gossip and name calling, Emmi’s isolation builds until she finds herself adopting the same xenophobic attitudes as her friends and neighbours to feel included.

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Classics Club Spin #28: Eugénie Grandet

This was such an unexpected surprise and I feel incredibly fond of this book. On the one hand it’s a simple story of the Grandet family. Felix, his wife and their daughter Eugénie. Their maid Nanon and the two families of friends, the Cruchot’s and the des Grassins who visit them. They live in Saumur, in the Loire Valley region of France in a house whose appearance ‘weighs as heavily upon the spirits as the gloomiest cloister,’. Into this gloomy house comes cousin Charles from Paris and Eugénie falls immediately in love.

But on the other hand it isn’t simple at all because avarice is the enormous all pervading silent character that engulfs their lives on every page. The lowly cooper, Felix Grandet made a fortune in 1789 when he bought land confiscated from the aristocracy. A bumper harvest in 1811 increased his wealth and he’s quick to invest in business, so that by the time the novel opens ‘one day in the middle of November in the year 1819’ Grandet has a fortune so large that his every action is ‘cloaked in gold‘ and he has become a miser who worships his gold at the cost of everything else, keeping it secretly in a strongroom

‘while Madame and Mademoiselle Grandet soundly slept, the old cooper would come to commune with his gold, to caress and worship, fondle and gloat over his gold.’

This is only a short novel, my Penguin copy is 248 pages, and the gathering of his wealth, the swindling and hoodwinking of his neighbours, takes up by far the largest part, so that I did wonder why it wasn’t called Felix Grandet, but it is ultimately Eugénie’s story and that’s why I’m afraid I can’t talk about the book without talking about the ending, although I won’t give away the whole plot.

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Random Tuesday

On a walk through the woods, I passed my favourite tree

which is a beech growing in front of an oak

When you look up, you can see that the trunks have become completely entwined, quite spookily I think.

And underneath was this perfect pair of Magpie Inkcaps, first identified in 1785 by French mycologist Jean Baptiste François Pierre Bulliard. Although they’re not uncommon they are usually solitary, so I was lucky to see a pair.

‘One for Sorrow, Two for Joy’