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.’
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.
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.
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”
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.
I 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.
The 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”
‘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”
Happily RoofBeamReader has announced the TBR Pile Challenge for another year! The aim is to read 12 books that have been gathering dust over the next 12 months.
My list in no particular order:
- Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
- Heat Wave by Penelope Lively
- The Lady and the Little Fox Fur by Violette Leduc
- The Beautiful summer by Cesare Pavese
- Death in Spring by Merce Rodoreda
- The Green Road by Anne Enright
- Heartburn by Nora Ephron
- The Cherry Tree by Adrian Bell
- Silver Ley by Adrian Bell
- Young Anne by Dorothy Whipple
- Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
- Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
And two alternates, just in case:
- The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook
- Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
All of these look like great reading to me. Gulliver’s Travels is a book I’ve always meant to read, but keep putting off and I really don’t understand why it’s taken me so long to get around to Birdsong!