‘Free Women’ is a short novel about Anna Wulf, a thirty something single mother living in London and her friend Molly, an actress and fellow single mother. Anna is the author of a bestselling novel but now has writers’ block, and instead writes in her 4 differently coloured notebooks which separate different aspects of her life.
The stages of the notebooks, which start during the second world war and continue to the early sixties, appear in 4 blocks and break up the freestanding interior novel ‘Free Women’ into five sections. Anna’s desire to compartmentalise her life to avoid chaos is realised in the fragmentation of the novel and I think works well to symbolise the turbulent feelings of change that must have been around at this time. The Golden Notebook appears at the end and aims to bring the different strands of her life together. Continue reading “The Golden Notebook”
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”
What 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”
I 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”
Written 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”
‘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”