Saturday, 27 December 2008
Prep is a contemporary version of the classic boarding school book. I thought it was highly original and extremely well-written although it may not be everybody's cup of tea.* I really liked her second book, The Man of My Dreams, too. I'll let you know how I get on with American Wife. It has over 500 pages so I may be a while ...
* Prep does have a couple of very descriptive sex scenes;-)
She stood beside his desk in her long sealskin coat and cap, a crimson scarf showing above the collar, a little brown veil with spots tied over her eyes. The veil did not in the least obscure those beautiful eyes, dark and full of light, set under a low white forehead and arching eyebrows. The frosty air had brought no colour to her cheeks - her skin had always the fragrant, crystalline whiteness of white lilacs.
This is the bewitching Marian Forrester in Willa Cather's 1923 novel A Lost Lady. Beautiful, vivacious and the perfect hostess she charms and seduces her way through life. A Lost Lady examines the passing of the old order, the great conquering men of the pioneer period are losing out to shrewd young men without respect for the landscape. It is only when her wealthy and honourable husband loses his money and his health that Marian Forrester begins to come undone ...
I read this in two or three sittings over the Christmas break (it helped that I didn't have to go to work!) Another excellent Willa Cather novel.
Saturday, 20 December 2008
Sunday, 14 December 2008
Saturday, 6 December 2008
As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.
I opened to P. At that place there were five dried pansies - one yellow, one blue-black, one mahogany, one violet, one parchment. They were flat and still and dry - as rigid as butterfly wings, but much more fragile. At Q I found a sprig of Queen Anne's lace, which was smashed flat and looked very like dill. At R I found a variety of roses, red roses, which had warped the page on each side a little to their shape, and pink wild roses.
Sunday, 30 November 2008
Friday, 28 November 2008
I recall a crazy-quilt my mother once had. She made it from the remnants of gay and beautiful cotton materials. She also made a quilt of solid blue. I would stand gazing at the blue quilt for a little time, but the crazy-quilt held me for hours. It was an adventure. I shall gather up these fragments of my life and make a crazy-quilt of them. Or a mosaic of interesting patterns - unity in diversity. This will be an adventure.
Monday, 24 November 2008
Friday, 14 November 2008
All the houses there faced the sea. It would have been funny to have lived in one that did not. It would have been like sitting with your back to the driver in a bus. In the winter the spray was flung over the roofs and flooded the back gardens. Her cousins used to roll their trousers up to their knees and bale the yard with buckets. The salt killed nearly all the plants. Only the aconite lived through the winter and in the spring its leaves would glitter with salt as thick as hoar frost.
Friday, 7 November 2008
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
In 1935 a depressed mother calling herself Ubique wrote to a women's magazine asking for help to overcome her loneliness. Other mothers responded with empathy and it was decided to produce a magazine which could be circulated among themselves. Thus began the Cooperative Correspondence Club or CCC. This magazine continued for decades as the women's friendship and mutual support endured through wartime, marriages and marriage failures, the birth of children and old age. Well-educated and intelligent, the women gave themselves nicknames which afforded anonymity when they discussed personal issues in the magazine. These names, A Priori, Accidia, Yonire, Ad Astra, Elektra etc are similar to the user names adopted by those who use internet discussion forums today.
I particularly enjoyed the cheery Roberta's lively account of giving birth to a much longed-for daughter, Amelia's tale of sleeping overnight on a London pavement in order to watch the Queen's coronation procession and Yonire's success at fighting off an over-amorous admirer with a high-heeled shoe. There is also a poignant account from Isis of her difficult marriage and passionate love for the family doctor, but my own favourite is Accidia, the Cambridge educated mother of five who longs for a good night's sleep.
Jenna Bailey has meticulously edited contributions from the magazines and I hope this talented author publishes more in this new genre of social history.
Monday, 3 November 2008
Friday, 31 October 2008
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
Saturday, 18 October 2008
It was the smell of clean sheets that reminded Mary of what, when she was a child, she called the Charbury Smell. It was the first thing you noticed as you went in at the front door of Charbury; an indefinable pot-pourri of all the fragrant things in the house - roses, wood-smoke, polished floors, bread, and lavender-kept old linen.
Friday, 17 October 2008
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Friday, 10 October 2008
Friday, 3 October 2008
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Sunday, 21 September 2008
Something real, cool, and solid, lies before you; something unromantic as Monday morning, when all who have work wake with the consciousness that they must rise and betake themselves thereto.Talking of Monday morning, it's getting late now and I must betake myself to work tomorrow so I'll sign off and read a few more pages ...
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
In my twenties, Pride and Prejudice was my favourite Austen. In my thirties it was Persuasion. Now I'm in my forties I'm getting very fond of Mansfield Park. I like the way Austen nails the social and financial status of her characters in the opening lines:
About thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.I'm fascinated by Lady Bertram. Indolent and selfish she sits on the sofa all day making useless carpet and fringe and allowing her sister, the loathsome Mrs Norris, to criticize and bully Fanny. A complex and rewarding read.
Wednesday, 10 September 2008
Saturday, 6 September 2008
Monday, 1 September 2008
Reading Nancy Mitford makes me believe that writing comic novels is one of the most purely humanitarian endeavors civilization has ever come up with.
Saturday, 30 August 2008
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Sunday, 17 August 2008
Thursday, 14 August 2008
To conjure even for a moment, the wistfulness which is the past is like trying to gather in one's arms the hyacinthine colour of the distance.
So begins Mary Webb's 1924 novel, Precious Bane. The inventive and beautiful description of the distance as 'hyacinthine' made me immediately want to read this novel which is set in a rural community in Shropshire at the time of Waterloo. Prue Sarn lives with her ill-tempered father, ambitious brother and down-trodden mother who retains a 'married-all-oer' look'. Afflicted with a harelip, Prue knows she will never marry and is forced to spend her days working for her mercenary brother. Despite her gentle nature Prue is the subject of speculation that she must be a witch because of her appearance, but her natural intelligence asserts itself and she finds love, too. Precious Bane is a highly original novel and Mary Webb perfectly captures the vernacular.
But I tell ye not every troth ends in church, not every ring holds wedlock, not every bride-groom takes his vargin, and I dunna like the match!
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
I'm not going to give the story away, but a lesser novelist would have Ellen undergoing some kind of makeover in order to make her husband desire her again. Fortunately, Dorothy Whipple provides a far more subtle, poignant and perceptive portrayal of marriage and family life which is not without humour. A wonderful book which I couldn't put down.
Saturday, 9 August 2008
Monday, 4 August 2008
I wanted a substantial novel to read for August so I've bought Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple, an author new to me. At over 400 pages, this should do nicely. I'm two chapters in and I like her writing very much.
Friday, 1 August 2008
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
Thursday, 24 July 2008
Selina, my pet, your godmother has the most inflated ideas about what is worn in English villages at the end of a long war.
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
It was warm as high summer, and bars of sunshine lay honey-coloured across the floor, the air above them shimmering with motes; and bees droned about a purple branch of viburnum in a vase on the mantlepiece.
Monday, 21 July 2008
Less well known but equally enjoyable is The Peacock Spring. Half-sisters Hal and Una Gwithiam are wrenched from the English boarding school they love and transplanted to India to live with their selfish diplomat selfish father. Una is prickly and bitter and takes an instant dislike to her new governess. Another coming of age story with a surprising end - but I'm not giving it away!
On a recent visit to the historic town of Rye on the south coast, I was surprised to discover that Rumer Godden had lived in the town and I picked up a volume of her autobiography in one of the local bookshops. Godden wrote for children, too. My girls have enjoyed The Dolls' House.
Sunday, 20 July 2008
The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.