It’s 1953 and 19 year old Esther Greenwood has arrived in New York for a months work on a fashion magazine. One of 12 girls who have won a placement through a writing competition, it’s a month of all expenses paid and ‘piles and piles of free bonuses’, there are successful people to meet, finger bowls to learn how to use and plenty of advice about their complexions. They all live together in a women only hotel with cocktails and parties and Buddy Willard and Doreen lounging about in a peach silk dressing-gown.
‘I was supposed to be having the time of my life’
Of course it’s all just a matter of filling in time before getting married, what a ‘dreary and wasted life for a girl with fifteen years of straight A’s’, thinks Esther who yearns to write and travel.
Continue reading “The Bell Jar”
I kept putting off reading this afraid it was going to be dry and dusty but not a bit of it. Thomas De Quincey is a great raconteur, dropping names wherever he can and making full use of his artistic license he makes us feel as if we’re at a very sociable gathering, listening to him holding forth on his favourite subject – himself!
First published in 1821 opium was incredibly cheap and could be bought anywhere. Jane Austen’s mother took it for travel sickness, Robert Southey for hay fever. On a Saturday afternoon small packages would be prepared in all manner of shops for the evening rush because it was cheaper than ale or spirits. Not surprisingly there was considerable debate about the harms versus the good of opium and laudanum addiction and these Confessions were seen as an encouragement to experiment, TDQ responded:
‘Teach opium-eating! -Did I teach wine-drinking? Did I reveal the mystery of sleeping? Did I inaugurate the infirmity of laughter’
Continue reading “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater: Being an extract from the life of a scholar”
Written 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.
Continue reading “Nightwood”
Time for another spin and with eight reading weeks allowed I think I can do it this time! I’ve duplicated a couple of titles in my choice of 20 from my original Classics Club list, because I really need the push to read them! On August 9th the numbers will be spun and the corresponding title is the one I’ve got until September 30th to read. Continue reading “Classics Club Spin #24”
Published in 1920 This Side of Paradise charts the coming of age of Amory Blaine, born on a spring day in 1896.
I was going to start by saying that it begins with his being a snot of a little boy but I realised that wouldn’t be very fair because he just is what he is. And that’s an only child bought up by his mother, Beatrice, ‘whose youth passed in Renaissance glory’ and is now ‘versed in the latest gossip of the Older Roman Families’ her husband Stephen is sometimes in the background but it’s Amory who is her companion. He is absurdly handsome and his mother parades him before her friends ‘she fed him sections of the Fêtes galantes before he was ten; at eleven he could talk glibly, if rather reminiscently, of Brahms and Mozart and Beethoven.’ Beatrice is charming and beautiful and delicate with a body that’s a mass of frailties and a soul to match, ‘next to doctors, priests were her favourite sport.’ She wafts around until she just wafts away when Amory decides he wants to go to school.
‘Amory wondered how people could fail to notice that he was a boy marked for glory, and when faces of the throng turned towards him and ambiguous eyes stared into his, he assumed the most romantic of expressions and walked on the air cushions that lie on the asphalts of fortune.’ Continue reading “This Side Of Paradise”
‘To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl; wide awake and longing to get up’
The little girl is Molly Gibson and this opening paragraph introduces a book that uses sparkling humour to dissect the deliciously gossipy neighbours of Hollingford, a small town in the middle of England. A small town which sits in deference to Lord and Lady Cumnor of The Towers, in spite of their only arriving in the reign of Queen Anne; when there have been Hamley’s at Hamley Hall since the Romans. So Squire Hamley is keen to tell us!
Written in 1866, we’re told by the narrator that the story begins some 45 years earlier so that with lots of asides about the fashion and manners of the day, there’s a lovely cosy conspiratorial tone. Continue reading “Wives and Daughters”
If reading could make you fat then this is the book to do it, every paragraph is so dense and luscious in its descriptions, we’re as enveloped in a world of marmalade colours as the baby Laurie in his mother’s arms.
Written in 1959 Laurie Lee is remembering his childhood in the Slad Valley in Gloucestershire, where in June 1918 at the age of 3 he is set down by the carriers cart at a cottage on a steep bank above a lake; there are frogs in the cellar, rooks in the chimneys and mushrooms on the ceiling.
One of 8 children he lives with his three older sisters all ‘wrapped in a perpetual bloom’, his three brothers, younger sister and their mother in a chaotic, giggling flurry of activity, while their absent father ‘in his pince-nez up on the wall looked down like a ‘scandalized god’.
‘When the kettle boiled and the toast was made, we gathered and had our tea. we grabbed and dodged and passed and snatched, and packed our mouths like pelicans.’ Continue reading “Cider With Rosie”
February 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”
So to book three in my introduction to Russian literature, and what a difference! Where War and Peace and Doctor Zhivago were huge in scale, the vast landscape and different peoples, this was confined to the backstreets of Petersburg, the canals, alleyways and squares. It felt dark and squalid and cramped, but filled with huge characters, coincidences, chance meetings and overheard secrets.
The crime came quickly and was brutal and horrifying in its description. Raskolnikov plots and contemplates the murder almost from the first page. Arrogant and miserable, he condescendingly calculates that an ugly old business women is of no value, that he is above the law and this justifies his actions. So why was I rooting for him in his dramatic escape from the murder scene, and kept rooting for him as the police inspector started to close in? Continue reading “Crime and Punishment”
‘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”