I was so busy over June with one thing and another that this poor blog was completely neglected, and I now find myself with a list to review and anxiety building. So I’m going to cheat and put everything into one post although that does mean that none of the titles will get the attention they deserve. But first (because it has a literary theme) the highlight of June was a weekend in Dublin on the 16th for the Bloomsday festival! This was my first time in Dublin and it really was wonderful. Lots of people in costume, readings on doorsteps (No.7 Eccles Street!) and brilliant performances – especially from The Abbey Theatre, but best of all was just Dublin. It literally bought Ulysses to life – the rhythm of the streets, the chatter and music coming from everywhere felt so familiar!
But enough about fun, what did I read?
I read Scoop way back at the end of May. Although I haven’t read any Evelyn Waugh before now, I thought I knew what to expect through film and t.v. adaptations and was ready for obnoxious schoolboys and dysfunctional families. But this really was light and fluffy; a satire yes, but not nearly as vicious as I expected. This is the ’30s of Nancy Mitford and P.G. Wodehouse. I had just finished reading Brighton Rock, also set in England in 1938 and the most interesting thing about Scoop for me was in the comparison of the two England’s portrayed. The contrast is incredible, although I think both believable. I don’t think Pinky Brown and William Boot would have even known each other’s worlds existed.
Saplings by Noel Streatfeild is on my classics challenge list but I also read it as part of Jessie at Dwell in Possibilities Persephone readathon. I couldn’t have had a better book to read over a weekend, it was fantastic. First published in 1945 it is such an intimate study of one family during the war that to talk about them would feel like gossiping! At its core is the psychological impact of war and trauma on family life. Written at a time when children’s mental health was beginning to be explored, it’s amazing how far sighted Streatfeild was. Many of her thoughts are echoed in John Bowlby’s psychoanalytical study ‘ Maternal Care and Child Health’ in 1951; which I was taught with a very negative bias in 1980’s sociology, but when you read a book like Saplings and think about the amount of family deprivation during the war, it does make you think about the bigger picture. As my mother said, when I questioned her about her family during the war, “it was all completely different then, families were torn apart”.
Three Men in a Boat, was like spending a weekend with a funny, clever friend. A delightful travelogue, humorous anecdotes and farce are interlaced with snippets of English history as we are taken along the River Thames from Kingston to Oxford. But it was also more than that. I loved Jerome K Jerome’s opening premise:
“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.”
His is a utopian shared river that doesn’t much care for Victorian property culture and he often rails against steam launches and landowners’ ‘keep out’ chains. Social injustice, hunger and poverty are as much a part of the excursion as passing The Barley Mow, along the river at Clifton Hampden, “the quaintest, most old-world inn up the river” but with the lightest of touches. I thought as a humanitarian he just always had to make sure we remember the world we live in. This was a brilliant snapshot of life in 1889 and one I’ll definitely go back too.
If any one is reading this and has got this far, please tell me it’s ok to cheat once in a while!