The Beautiful Summer

the beautiful summer
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”

Heatwave

heatwaveI must admit I bought this on a sunny summers day because it looked so beautiful in the bookshop window. I love Angie Lewin’s artwork and this seemed like a good way of owning a piece!

The story is set over a summer which Pauline is spending at World’s End, her cottage in the countryside somewhere in the middle of England, her daughter Teresa with husband Maurice and their baby are living next door. As the weeks go by Pauline watches with growing disbelief as Maurice becomes increasingly involved in the book he is writing and her daughter’s life starts to mirror her own, mistakes included.

Continue reading “Heatwave”

The Code of the Woosters

woostersWhat ho Bertie!  That aged relation Aunt Dahlia needs Bertie to steal Sir Watkyn Bassett’s cow creamer, there’s a serious rift in the engagement between Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeline Bassett and Stiffy Byng and the Reverend Harold ‘Stinker’ Pinker have their own plans for Bertie, so with Jeeves at his side it’s off to Totleigh Towers, Totleigh-in-the-Wold, because you can’t let a pal down, it’s the code of the Woosters,

‘I braced myself with the old Wooster grit. Up came the chin, back went the shoulders’

Continue reading “The Code of the Woosters”

The Leopard

leopard

It’s 1860 and Fabrizio, Prince of Salina rules over thousands of acres, hundreds of people, his wife and seven children. But when Garibaldi lands in Sicily and is hailed a hero and liberator by the people, it is clear that the old way of life is changing.

Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa is writing about his great grandfather, by following the prince to his death in 1883 we get a glimpse of a Sicilian nobleman at a moment of crisis and the degeneration of his family until almost collapse in 1910.  Continue reading “The Leopard”

Death in Spring

death in Spring
Mercè Rodoreda is a new writer for me and this was a completely new type of read. Born in Barcelona in 1908, Rodoreda wrote a number of novels and short stories in Catalan in the early 1930’s. In 1935 she began working for the Catalan Ministry of Information, but was forced into exile on Franco’s victory, first in France and then Switzerland. She returned to Catalonia in the 60’s, Death in Spring was published posthumously in 1986, which adds to its sense of mystery and otherness.

I say all this because knowing a bit about her background seemed to matter very much when trying to understand this strange book. Narrated by a nameless 14 year old boy, the drama is set in a nameless village, a village ‘born from the earth’s terrible unrest’, in no set period in history. But while it feels realistic, in that we recognise her world, Rodoreda’s gentle language lulls us into the brutal customs which are followed without question. Continue reading “Death in Spring”

Heartburn

heartburnThe first part of my reading year has been spent in the throws of romance, Emilie and Valencourt in Udolpho, Catherine and Henry in Northanger Abbey, Lucie and Charles in A Tale of Two Cities. So to pick up this brash and brittle story of infidelity and divorce was a bit of a culture shock!

‘I always thought during the pain of the marriage that one day it would make a funny book.’ A life lesson that Norah Ephron learnt from her mother was that everything is potential copy. Heartburn is a savagely comic roman-à-clef about the breakdown of a marriage. With recipes. Continue reading “Heartburn”

Classics Club Spin #20

spinning-book

There’s another spin! Here’s my list of 20 titles from my original Classics Challenge list. On Monday 22nd April the spin will tell me which number I must read by 31st May.

 

  1. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  2. The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
  3. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  4. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
  5. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  6. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  7. The Outsiders by Albert Camus
  8. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  9. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  10. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  11. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  12. Maude by Christina Rosetti
  13. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  14. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  15. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  16. A Passage to India by E.M.Forster
  17. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  18. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  19. If This is a Man by Primo Levy
  20. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow

My fingers are crossed for The Code of the Woosters!

 

A Tale Of Two Cities

2 citiesI had forgotten how satisfying it is to read a Dickens’ novel, I don’t know why I hadn’t read this one before but from the very beginning it was like putting on my favourite cosy jumper. It feels safe being in such good hands and despite being half the length of his other novels, this was a masterclass in story telling. Written in 1859, the action is set between 1775 and 1793, between London and Paris and the French Revolution.  Slowly building up the tension from the loving family life of Lucie and her father Dr. Manette in London to Madame and Monsieur Defarge, the blood stained streets of revolution in Paris, and the whirling of La Guillotine. Continue reading “A Tale Of Two Cities”

The Story Of An African Farm

 

african farmWritten and published in 1883, The Story of an African Farm is set in South Africa in 1860. It’s a classic of feminist fiction but Olive Schreiner also discusses gender roles and loneliness,science and religion and the constraints imposed by a repressive colonial society.

 ‘The full African moon poured down its light from the blue sky into the wide, lonely plain’.

The only break in the ‘solemn monotony of the plain’ is the farm where two cousins Emily and Lyndall live with the widowed Tante’ Sannie, the German overseer Otto and his son Waldo.  This is Olive Schreiner’s own landscape, where she lived a lonely and isolated childhood with her Calvinist missionary parents. It’s a fictionalized autobiography that’s essentially a coming of age story told through a series of vignettes. Dream sequences, allegorical tales and extended metaphors often interrupt the realistic plot in a way that foreshadows modernist fiction, and makes for some quite odd reading at times. Continue reading “The Story Of An African Farm”

Northanger Abbey

 

northangerabbey‘No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine’ from the very beginning Northanger Abbey sparkles with wit and fun. The daughter of a clergyman, never handsome and called Richard and a mother full of ‘useful plain sense’, Catherine has led a sheltered life amongst her ten siblings in an English village. So when their rich neighbours, Mr and Mrs Allen invite her to Bath for six weeks, everyone is delighted. Six weeks of discussing muslins, parading in front of the Pump Room and hopefully making new friends and falling in love!

Catherine is 17, naive and impressionable and thoroughly loveable.  Her kind-hearted character is the perfect foil with which to satirise the absurdity of ‘society’, young girls’ intense friendships and the problems of mixing up reality and make-believe!  Written for family entertainment, contemporary readers must have revelled in reading about the actual buildings they went to, the streets they walked along and the novels they read. If Dublin could be re-built from Ulysses, what an easier time the city planners of Bath would have! Continue reading “Northanger Abbey”