A Time Of Gifts

In 1933, 18 year old Patrick Leigh Fermor decides to leave London and England and set out on foot across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, living as a tramp or pilgrim.

Written in 1977, A Time of Gifts tells the first part of his journey from the Hook of Holland to the middle Danube. Starting with his original diaries and notebooks he expounds on the history of Europe, through its artists and music, architecture, languages and dialects and the movement of its tribes and sects.

Able and willing to talk to anybody and sleep wherever he could, it’s his encounters with other people that I enjoyed the most. There are lots of barn floors covered in hay and a blanket for the night, sent on his way with a cheery wave and a thick slice of black bread and butter and drunken evenings in bars and on boats with the locals. Or my favourite, Konrad, who he meets in the Salvation Army hostel in Vienna, when he notices him reading Titus Andronicus and for a while they become as tight as (almost) thieves! But he also has a letter of introduction to a Baron in Munich who then goes on to write letters to his friends across Europe, so that every so often Paddy has a bath and a dressed up night on the town. And we get the wonderful contrast caught in lines like:

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A Film For April: It Happened One Night

What a gorgeously fabulous film this is. Directed by Frank Capra in 1934 It Happened One Night set the tone for screwball comedies to come and was the first film to win all five of the big academy awards. Best director, actor, actress, picture and adapted screenplay.

Spoilt heiress Ellen (Ellie) Andrews (Claudette Colbert) has eloped with King Westley, a fortune hunting rogue. Her father who sees King for what he is wants the marriage annulled and Ellie escapes his control on a Greyhound bus to New York where she plans to meet her new husband. But on the bus is an out of work newspaper reporter, Peter Warne (Clark Gable) who recognises Ellie and gives her a choice. Either she can give him an exclusive story and he’ll help her get to King or he’ll tell her father where she is. Obviously Ellie agrees to his demand and fun and adventures ensue.

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A Moment of War

This is the third part of Laurie Lee’s autobiography that started with Cider With Rosie, looking back at his childhood in the Slad Valley. At the end of the first volume in 1934, he leaves his home on a bright Sunday morning in early June. He’s 19, ‘still soft at the edges, but with a confident belief in good fortune’ and jumps straight in to the second volume, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, (which I read but I’m afraid never got around to reviewing). With a tent, a change of clothes and his violin he ends up in Spain in 1935 and wonders through the country, a hapless young troubadour until he returns to England on board a Naval destroyer in 1936, just as the civil war is spreading.

At home, ‘deep in the grip of a characteristic mid-thirties withdrawal, snoozing under old newspapers and knotted handkerchiefs’ , he begins to feel shameful at having left Spain so readily and decides to return as soon as possible. He begins his journey on foot and steps straight in to volume three.

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Random Thursday: Pick Up A Penguin

In 1934 when a young Allen Lane was working for his cousins publishing company The Bodley Head, he attended a conference on ‘The New Reading Public’. After a weekend in Devon with his friend Agatha Christie he was at Exeter St. David’s station waiting for a train to Paddington when he realised that the only books on sale were ‘shabby reprints of shoddy novels’. What was needed for the ‘new reading public’ were good quality paperbacks, in a size that could fit into your pocket and at a price everyone could afford.

He took the idea back to the office and ideas were rattled out around the table. He wanted to sell a brand, publishing in batches of 10 books, each with a recognisable cover and with a name that was easy to say and remember. To sell them where people gathered and for sixpence, the price of a packet of 10 cigarettes. Allen’s secretary, Joan Coles suggested a penguin and Edward Young, a junior in the editorial department designed the logo. After much wrangling Lane was able to buy the rights for paperback editions of his first 10 books and by using the offices and imprint of The Bodley Head, in 1935 the first batch of 10 Penguins was published.

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A Film For October: Vampyr

Based on Sheridan le Fanu’s short story collection In a Glass Darkly this 1932 horror flick was director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first film with sound. Shot completely on location in France, a gorgeous washed out, soft focus gives the film a dreamlike quality that enhances the atmosphere and gives a wonderfully creepy quality.

Allan Gray is a dreamy wanderer who arrives at an inn and rents a room. While he sleeps an old man enters his locked room and leaves a package with a note saying ‘to be opened on my death’. Gray decides to go for a walk and takes the package with him. Shadows guide him towards a castle where he sees more shadows dancing on their own. He walks on to a manor house and looking through the window sees the old man who left the package. The old man is suddenly shot. The servants ask him into the house where Gisèle the old man’s daughter takes him to the library and tells him that her sister Léone is gravely ill. They see Léone walking outside and follow her where they find her unconscious on the ground with fresh bite wounds on her neck.

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The Lake District Murder

The Sussex Downs Murder is the BLCC listed on my 10 Books of Summer challenge, but the sea side bookshop I was in only had this one on its shelves, so I stayed with Meredith but on his home patch of Keswick in the Lake District and in 1935 while he’s still a lowly Inspector.

The setting is lovely and having read a couple of other Meredith mysteries it was interesting to see where he came from. The small towns are filled with amiable shop keepers, burly farmers and friendly bank managers and everybody, no matter how criminal carries a dinner basket. His son Tony is an eager to help seventeen year old and his wife worries over the amount of work he does. It’s all very domestic.

But trouble arrives from the south (!). There’s a particularly grizzly suicide in a garage on a lonely stretch of road, and as the investigation gets under way one puzzle just leads to another, and was it suicide after all or could it have been murder? There seems to be a shadier side to these normally quiet coastal towns. But Meredith, on his first solo investigation, puts the whodunit on hold and even the whydunit as he sets out to prove the howdunit.

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Nightwood

nightwood2Written in 1936 I wanted to read this as a counterpoint to This Side of Paradise, one from the beginning of the Jazz age and one from the end. But it wasn’t quite that neat, the atmosphere of the jazz age is here but I think Nightwood is set in its own world and not trapped by any particular time. I found this a demanding and difficult read.

The plot is very slight.  Baron Felix Volkbein is married to Robin Vote they divorce and Robin falls in love with Nora Flood who eventually loses her to Jenny Petherbridge.  At the centre of these characters is the doctor, Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante O’Connor. In Paris, they’re all strangers and misfits, knotted together by Robin and her effect on them.

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The Grapes Of Wrath

grapes of wrathFebruary was a hairy time for our family but always with me was The Grapes of Wrath which quite by chance turned out to be the perfect read because it could be read in snatches whenever I got the chance and because ultimately it’s about family and the human spirit. I bought a new copy but it now looks as dogeared as I felt!

Chronicling the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930’s, the Joad family, along with thousands of other tenant farmers are pushed out of their homes in Oklahoma when the land owners find that ‘one man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families’, and head to California where there’s always work and it never gets cold and you can reach out anywhere and pick an orange and live in a little white dream house. A hope that keeps them alive. Continue reading “The Grapes Of Wrath”

They Knew Mr Knight

THEYKNEWMRKNIGHTHRwsAt the end of January Jesse at Dwell in Possibility had a mini Persephone readathon and that was the perfect excuse for me to pick up the Dorothy Whipple at the end of my bed, lie on the sofa and have a cosy read.

The first hint that this might not be so cosy came with the title which felt a bit odd and had a slightly sinister ring to it. Who are ‘They’?, why is it in the past tense and is Mr. Knight a knight in shining armour or is he something shady? The second hint was inside the front cover when we’re given the helpful information to multiply all the amounts talked about by 50 so for £2000 read £100,000. Here was the middle class domestic world of Dorothy Whipple but with avarice at its centre and it was clear from the beginning that all was not going to go well. Continue reading “They Knew Mr Knight”

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.

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