Book review – Clear Horizon (Virago) #amreading #books


Dorothy Richardson - PilgrimageAs I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been working on two book challenges over the weekend; that was about Woolfalong and this one is an update to my reading of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” series. I’m very glad I’ve been reading this along with fellow bloggers (I’m not going to list them as I’ll miss someone one, but  hopefully you’ll all comment with your progress so far). It has been a bit of a struggle at times, but I think it’s going to feel really good to have finished the whole lot and read this early work of Stream of Consciousness.

*** Note: Spoiler alert – don’t read this review if you haven’t read the book yet ***

Dorothy Richardson – “Clear Horizon”

(28 March 2015)

The eleventh volume of “Pilgrimage” and the end is in sight. This was another confusing and opaque read, even though some events do actually happen during the course of the book (previously, we’ve had an entire, exciting bicycle accident confined to the space between two books!). Amabel the French feminist is living in the boarding house, but, keener for more radicalism than the Lycurgans (are these the Fabians, really??) can offer, has joined the suffragists and is relishing the idea of being arrested. Miriam’s sister Sarah has something wrong with her, and the kind doctor who’s been friends with Miriam for years (maybe years, maybe months) and keeps telling her to get married and have babies but is generally A Nice Man has arranged for her to have her operation in a charity hospital (reminding us about the dark days before the NHS, of course). Meanwhile, he’s diagnosed Miriam as having had a nervous breakdown, but she also seems to be pregnant for at least part of the book (although this is as obscure as her deflowering and takes some patience and careful reading to pick out) – I’m not sure of the cause and effect of the breakdown here.

Figures from the past, including, startlingly, all the maids she has ever known at the Orlys’ dental practice, reappear. Miriam has gone off Hypo and doesn’t get excited when his letters appear, but he seems rather implausibly to be able to cover her job while she goes off for a six-month rest cure. He also confusingly appears as H.G. Wells himself in some more general discussions …

Richardson makes no concessions to the reader. We’ve worked that out by now. She offers us practically no handy reminders of who people are or where they fit into Miriam’s life, either when introducing them or reintroducing them. It’s left to us to work it all out. Now, even in quite experimental novels, like Woolf’s, we are able to keep track of who’s who. I think of Iris Murdoch’s party conversations and how it’s possible to work out who’s talking unless it really doesn’t matter. Reading Richardson is more like reading a diary, letters or memoirs, written almost in a shorthand, shifting tenses and first person / third person narrators – but when reading a diary, letters or memoirs, you would have footnotes to follow from a kind editor, explaining and reminding. It’s this lack of compromise which makes the books so hard to read and follow, in my opinion.

pilgrimage-medalSarah from Hard Book Habit came up with a great idea in our discussion of her review of “The Trap“. She suggested that such a marathon read deserved a medal and goody bag full of reviving treats. Well, I can’t provide the latter, but I have created a medal for us to post on our final, THIRTEENTH, review of the series. It’s not great art, I know, but I think we all deserve something, right?! So feel free to copy this image and share it when you’ve finished, too!

Book reviews – The Common Reader Vol 1 #Woolfalong #amreading #books


oct-2016-tbrI’ve just read two books for two challenges, but I know people are possibly interested in one or the other, so I’ve split the reviews over two days. I’m quite glad that the Woolf I’ve been reading has been non-fiction, as too much stream of consciousness might have been … too much stream of consciousness, really. I also have some book confessions at the end of this one – physical AND virtual!

Virginia Woolf – “The Common Reader” Vol 1

(2 September 2016)

I bought these two volumes especially for Woolfalong, although I did also need them for my Iris Murdoch research, mining them first to pull out information on what exactly Woolf said about the common reader and about critics. I was a bit disappointed to find that my lovely new paperbacks were reprints, and rather smudgy ones at that, of an earlier edition, as I do like the clear type you get in modern books. But I managed.

I loved re (surely re) reading this famous book of essays, so readable, even though they demonstrate formidable scholarship and strong opinions, and thus could feel a little intimidating. I went start to finish as my “downstairs” (dinner table and sofa reading) book, often sitting a little longer for “just one more”.

Yes, it does help if you know who the people are she’s writing about, and I did enjoy least the pieces where she speaks of very minor figures, but I so enjoyed the famous ones on “Modern Fiction” and “How it Strikes a Contemporary) and loved her pieces on Austen, the Brontes and particularly George Eliot, having forgotten these from my original reading, back in the day.

I don’t agree with Woolf on Bennett et al (although as Ali has mentioned in her review of the Writer’s Diary, she was sad at his death) even though she does concur that he’s a good workman, but the modernists had to have people to rail against, didn’t they, and she does back up her arguments! Her comments about the tyrannical conventions that make the modern novelist feel they have to provide plot, comedy, tragedy, love interest and an air of probability make you see why she and others like her felt their way of working to be important. A good read, and another one I’ve been glad to pick up for #Woolfalong.


Continuing the Woolf theme, Simon from Stuckinabook very kindly sent me this lovely book which he’d duplicated in his own library – I’d been talking about it ages ago and had totally forgotten so what a lovely surprise (I’m a right one for sending books to people ages after I’ve promised to, so it’s nice to know that that is a lovely thing to happen!).

I’ve also been a bit over-active on NetGalley. I received an invitation to read Grayson Perry’s new book, “The Descent of Man” and happened to click at just the right time, so I have that. Then I (fatally) had a look around and requested two more, both of which I got. Now, several of the books I’ve had via this method have been pre-approved by publishers or very near publication. The two I requested – and won – both came with emails asking me not to publish my review until at least 30 days before the day of publication, in one case, and the actual day of publication for the other one (also saying I mustn’t release any information about it before then!!) so I’ve thoroughly scared myself there, and I’m NOT GOING TO MENTION THEM, will read and review soon then schedule my reviews for NEXT YEAR and then hope I don’t accidentally publish a clash. This is common, right?

How are you doing with Richardson or #Woolfalong or just your autumn reading?

Book Review – Chatterton Square (Virago) #1947Club #amreading #books #reviews #viragobooks


1947 club logoI’ve been terribly lax with the 1947 Club, run by Simon at Stuckinabook and Karen at Kaggsysbookishramblings (see my post linked above for details). I knew the week of reading books published in 1947 was running from 10-16 October, I bought a copy of “Chatterton Square” to start reading when we got back from our holiday, I had enough time to read and review it and … everything went wrong. I had work stuff, I had running stuff, I was too tired after a bad half marathon to finish it on Saturday … and so it goes on. So here’s my very late entry to the 1947 Club – I know the next one will be centred around 1951 already, and I will try to Do Better!

E. H. Young – “Chatterton Square”

(Bought 15 September 2016)

Young’s final novel shows her mastery of both perceiving and writing about the ebbs and currents that flow within families and between them. In this novel, set in her favourite setting of the Clifton area of Bristol, two families live in a run-down square. The Blacketts consist of an arrogant and vain husband who has basically suffered from not being ‘squashed’ early on, and his wife, Bertha, who secretly loathes in and has drawn her only pleasure from her concealment of this fact – which will surely burst forth at some stage. The description of the little annoyances and physical revulsions of this marriage are delicately done, and Blackett’s dawning horrified realisation that his wife is almost totally unknown to him – with her laughter and her own newspaper – is horrific for the reader, in a way, too, although we have no sympathy for him. However, he is a monster whose origin story we can believe, not a cardboard cut-out cipher. Flora is like her father, and Bertha criticises him through her, and Rhoda is like her mother – again, Young excels at portraying their relationship.

Round the corner, the Frasers are dangerous because they have no visible man at the helm. Rosamund, who is claimed to be the central character of the novel (I don’t know that Bertha isn’t) is delighted that her children’s internal lives are almost totally unknown to her: she’s a self-confessed neglectful mother who sorts out the material but does not pay attention to the spiritual and emotional development of her children. Unlike the controlling parent next door, she does not interfere; interestingly, they grow up like her absent husband or like her all the same. Rosamund’s main sustaining relationship is with her childhood friend, the unmarried Miss Spanner, who now lives with the family, and most of the stories and emotions are played out in their respective bedrooms as everyone visits each other late at night.

The Fraser family is attractive to the Blacketts and a more free association is formed, especially when the Frasers install a wireless on which to listen to news of the impending war. Because it’s not just a light read about families in opposition (I wouldn’t call any of Young’s books light: they explore very hard lessons to learn and the minutiae of marriages and families), overshadowed by two wars as it is. World War 1 casts a long shadow from the past, with Bertha’s attractive but horribly wounded cousin Piers a reminder of the war duty Herbert Blackett somehow avoided; and World War 2 is coming. Although no actual events are referred to, the physical (checking for safe places, Miss Spanner getting her gas mask) and especially psychological effects of the shadow of war are powerfully drawn.

There are no easy answers as to what becomes of the characters even though this was written after the end of the war. A deeply absorbing book and highly recommended.

Well, that one took a long time to read. I’m still working on Woolf’s “Common Reader” (Vol 1) and I also have a review book to read for Shiny New Books and a rare NetGalley acquisition – how could I resist when I was emailed with an offer of Grayson Perry’s “The Descent of Man”, which I managed to nab. Then there’s the next Dorothy Richardson, too. Better get reading …

Book reviews – Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris and Prodigal Summer #books #amreading



Two more holiday reads here – I can’t quite believe I only read four books while we were in Cornwall, but then I did mine two more for quotations to finish my Iris Murdoch research (first draft done) so that took up some reading time. Oh, and I chatted on the train on the way down, which took away some reading time, too. Never mind, these two were great reads, and I had a lovely holiday still.

Paul Gallico – “Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris”

(25 January 2016 via BookCrossing)

A charming tale, reminiscent perhaps of the famous Persephone, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”, focusing on a charlady who comes into some money and saves up the rest, determined to have a Dior dress, having seen one in one of her clients’ houses (her London clients are just one part of this book that are beautifully drawn in just a few lines).

It’s a fairy-tale, of course, with Mrs Harris’ simple charm winning people over and bringing people together all over the place. You could see the dialect-filled dialogue she’s given as condescending, but she’s clearly an attractive and charming lady who the author loves, so that can be overlooked, in my opinion. It’s incredibly sweet – some might find it too much so, but there are elements of peril and some sad bits, too. The portraits of London and Paris are charming and it’s a lovely escapist read.

The only downside to this book was that it was in a bizarre 1980s edition with hugely anachronistic illustrations which paid no heed to the post-war feel of the book and were really odd. It was originally published in 1957, which means that it fills in one of the years in my Century of Reading! And, because it was a BookCrossing book, I left it in our holiday cottage!

Barbara Kingsolver – “Prodigal Summer”

(25 December 2002 (I wonder who from!))

A re-read of this excellent novel, set in the Appalachian Mountains, because Matthew, having read and loved “Flight Behaviour” with me found that the audio book for this one was also narrated by the author. I read it first back in 2003, I expect, so it will be in my paper journals but was before I started an online book journal.

Linked to “Flight Behaviour” by its themes of nature, renewal, the peace of solitude, family, community and science being used for good, we follow a summer (and a bit more) in the lives of a set of interesting characters. There’s independent Deanna, who used to live in Egg Fork and had a conventional life but now lives alone in the forest, with her dream job maintaining and researching the forest and its wildlife. Her search for the coyotes she believes are spreading into the region is interrupted by the arrival of a possibly more powerful predator. Lusa, product of blended civilisations and trying to fit into what she sees as a very traditional mountain family, must use all her wiles to survive and has some big decisions to make. Elderly neighbours are feuding over organic farming methods and the Bible, with comic relief but real passion.

Everyone – and indeed everything – is connected, and nothing truly disappears, even if it’s thrown away. From the throbbing fecundity of springtime nature (and there is a fair bit of throbbing fecundity in this book, one episode of which confused me!) to slowly warming human relationships and slowly dawning realisations, it’s beautifully drawn and observed and highly engaging. Recommended.

I’m currently reading the lovely “Chatterton Square” for the 1947 Club, although I fear I won’t get it read and reviewed by the end of the week as I’ve suddenly had all my work projects come in to roost. I’m also working my way through Woolf’s “The Common Reader” for #Woolfalong – that’s not a chore at all, and I keep muttering “Just one more essay”, so beautifully are they put together.

Bookshops of Penzance and St. Just


book-haulWe’ve just had a lovely week in Cornwall – Matthew visited the Isles of Scilly for a few days of fantastic birdwatching in the middle of the holiday while I saw friends and had reading and relaxing time, and I managed to get to Penzance, Newlyn, St. Ives, St. Just and up to Chapel Carn Brea, which is the last hill in the West, with the sea on three sides.

Of course I visited a few independent and second-hand bookshops and of course I picked up a few books – so here is some information about the lovely bookshops and interesting books I picked up. I’ve included links to the bookshops which you are free to pursue if you wish, to say thank you to them for being there and being fab (of course, no one asked me to do this).

Edge of the World Bookshop

The Edge of the World Bookshop on Market Jew Street in Penzance was my first port of call. This is an independent bookshop with a lovely range of titles which are packed into its small space, but it never seems crowded. They have everything you’d expect from a general bookshop: fiction, new releases, local interest, mind-body-spirit, history and travel, with some lovely cards, too. I picked up “The Man Who Made Things out of Trees” here, a book about a man who sets out to use all of the wood in a tree to make stuff, with help and a bit of history, of course.

The Edge of the World Bookshop can be found on Facebook and on Twitter as @Edgybooks.

barton-books-1Next is a bookshop I didn’t actually by anything in – but I will next time – Barton Books. This small and new bookshop (it only opened in March 2016) on Causewayhead at the other end of Penzance from Edge of the World has the most beautiful selection of art and design books plus really lovely quality children’s books and a huge selection of cards. They also have a box of Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers on the counter – what’s not to love? Art and high-quality children’s books are a bit large to cram into a protesting suitcase unfortunately, but I promised to spread the news of this lovely shop. Note the shadow of PALM TREES in the photo. I always get excited when I see palm trees.

Barton Books has a website and is on Twitter too.

Next, I went with my friend Liz to the wonderful Cook Book Bookshop in St. Just. We got there via this amazing place:


This is Chapel Carn Brea, with the sea on three sides, and that’s Liz, clinging to the map in the high winds. Incidentally, Liz has just started a wonderful new blog at The Lane of Evening Lingerings on Nature, Gardening and Life. I suggest you visit!


The Cook Book Bookshop is that lovely thing, a cafe and bookshop. There are lots and lots of enticing second-hand books upstairs and a great cafe downstairs. I bought four books here, two were for presents (Matthew loved his 1969 Birds of Britain and Europe) and I picked up Diana Mosley’s “A Life of Contrasts” and Jools Holland’s “Barefaced Lies and Boogie-Woogie Boasts” for myself. A good cup of tea and a cake / tea-cake each and we were suitably reinforced to go back up and over to Penzance!

The Cook Book has a lovely website and is on Facebook, too.


The last bookshop I visited was Newlyn Books on Chapel Street in Penzance. You can’t see them here, but I was lured in by the sight of lots and lots of orange Penguin spines peeking through the door. I was amazed to find a SIGNED Francis Brett Young here – “Whiteladies”, in the lovely Shropshire Pear edition and had to snap it up even though it’s a substantial volume and not the best to transport home in a suitcase. Who wouldn’t, though?! Newlyn Books have loads of Penguins and Pelicans as well as a general stock of good, old-fashioned second-hand stuff, including a Cornish section and an art area. Apparently, Matthew had spotted it a few times as we walked up that street and ushered me past each time!

Newlyn Books (in Penzance) has a Facebook page and are on Twitter.

penzanceAnd finally, I can’t forget the many charity shops of Penzance. I live on a High Street with lots of charity shops myself, but it’s always worth looking at other people’s! This was the first day I was on my own, when I was relatively restrained. Market Jew Street is one of the main streets in Penzance (I ran down here on Wednesday morning after moving inland from the sea front and wheeeeee!) and has a good mix of high street shops, independents and cafes.

charity-shop-haulThis is my “relatively restrained” selection from these charity shops. Who could resist a slightly torn-covered (it’s “The Riddle of Cliff House”) 1950s girls’ school story from the 1950s, one of those oh-so-pretty Bloomsbury reissues, a book from your wishlist or another book on running? Not me!

So, that’s a quick run-down of the bookshops of Penzance and St. Just that I visited, and a somewhat large book confession. Fortunately, I read three books while I was there, giving two to the aforementioned Liz and leaving one plus another I discarded (I didn’t really take to that Hazel Holt cosy mystery), leaving me with PLENTY of room in my suitcase.

Have you read any of these? What have you been up to while I’ve been away? Any confessions of your own?

Book reviews – My Salinger Year and Stranger in the House


oct-2016-tbrTwo works of non-fiction / memoir here, although one is about a deeply personal experience working in the literary field in New York and the other about mainly British experiences of returning servicemen after World War Two. Both rely heavily on memory and perhaps edited pasts, although with flashes of what can only be truth, and both were good reads.

Joanna Rakoff – “My Salinger Year”

(25 December 2015 – from Bridget)

A surprise gift that I didn’t know I wanted, this turned out to be a very interesting read. It’s a memoir of a year spent working at the agency that represented J.D. Salinger. Set in 1996, the details of clothes and office life are fascinating (I’ve just realised that I must be the same age as the author and was doing the same kind of temp office work while working out what to do with my life (and saving up to go to library school) at the same time!), even without the interest of it being set in a literary agency. Not quite in the computer age, they use typewriters for everything (I remember having to type invoices with carbon paper at this time!) and Joanna has trouble breaking out of secretarial mode.

A coming of age story more than anything, and you can feel for the protagonists, but it might make more sense reading it if you were their age – much like “Catcher in the Rye”, of course. The parts where she raves about Salinger’s work when she finally gets round to reading it felt a bit unnecessary, and the workarounds to maintain the anonymity of the agency and her boss (odd, as surely a quick Google would find this out) are a bit clunky, but it was nicely written and edited and I appreciated the epilogue bringing us up to date.

Julie Summers – “Stranger in the House”

(acquired via BookCrossing 10 October 2015)

Some friends read it for a book group (I don’t think the person who owned this copy was that thrilled by it, oddly), and I forgot to ask to borrow it, then happened upon it on a book trolley at a pub where they meet and I volunteer at a social media surgery. So that was handy.

This is a fascinating and painstaking work of social history tracing the effect on the lives of all sorts of women of the return of soldiers after the Second World War. With chapters focusing on mothers, wives, widows and daughters, plus special chapters on the men who were POWs in the Far East and on babies born after the war, the book uses powerful first-person narratives to great effect. Some of these are drawn from diaries of the time, published through Mass Observation, but most are drawn from the author’s own direct research. They express stories and feelings that often had not been told or told of before the research was being done, and feel very honest.

Some of the editing was a bit off, but an interesting and vital work of research and synthesis.

I’ve been doing some initial reading of Virginia Woolf’s “The Common Reader”, mainly mining the two volumes for quotations to complete the first draft of my research work (Tick: hooray!) and am now looking forward to going through them properly. I’ve also started “Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris”, which is charming, and Barbara Kingsolver’s “Prodigal Summer”, first read in 2002 and being re-read along with Matthew listening to the audio book. What are you reading? Have you done your 1947 Club book yet or are you waiting, like me, for the week itself?

Book review – Winifred Peck – “Bewildering Cares” (Furrowed Middlebrow)


Furrowed Middlebrow Winifred Peck Bewildering CaresThis book was kindly sent to me by the publisher in return for an honest review. Furrowed Middlebrow, based on the blog of the same name, is a new imprint of Dean Street Press, which exists to “rediscover and reissue entertaining and important works by lesser-known British women novelists and memoirists”. Well, we like that kind of thing around here, don’t we, and it’s so lovely to see so many people rescuing these great authors, remembering the Margery Sharp and Mary Hocking reissues earlier in the year. You can see a list of the first tranche of books behind that link – there’s lots to enjoy, published in the 1930s to 1950s, with a bit of an emphasis on the WWII experience and with some crime as well (see the postcard in the image).

The books are available in print or e-book format, and this book has a lovely cover illustration by Eric Ravilious, enclosed by the house roof frame which seems to be used throughout the range.

Winifred Peck – “Bewildering Cares”

Published in 1940, this is the fictional diary of a week in the life of a clergyman’s wife in a small town near to Manchester, which operates as a ‘teacup’ with its own storms, including inappropriate sermons from the curate, whispers of middle-aged love affairs and, being set in that year, the first inklings of wartime shortages and privations.

I find books written and published during the war very moving, thinking of how the author didn’t know how it was all going to work out, and this was no exception. As with “Mrs Miniver” and “The Provincial Lady in Wartime”, as well as Peck’s own “House-Bound”, which I read and reviewed back in 2010, the comedy moments and scenes from general life are underpinned by very real worry and the tang of the horror of war:

Living in war-time is rather like skirting the edge of a bottomless pit. The least slip over some tiny obstacle may make one lose one’s footing and sink into the black gulf of despair awaiting you.

There is of course much gentle humour around the situations of dealing with one’s ‘help’ and the inevitable items that go from one jumble sale to a next via special drawers in which such unwanted items are placed on arriving home. There are a few very English and very Anglican musings from a lovely central character whose philosophical husband despairs of her as being too fond of analogies; these are punctured by the everyday interfering as ever.

Thirkell, Whipple and Delafield are mentioned – and preferred by the central character to George Eliot, amusingly – and the clergy and small town setting would appeal to lovers of these authors as well as those keen on Pym, Taylor, D.S. Stevenson, Ann Bridge and Margery Sharp.

A lovely book; quite a quick and gentle read, but very comforting and satisfying, and I will definitely watch out for more from this new imprint!

You can find out more about Dean Street Press on their website and the books will be available via the usual outlets, including Amazon, from today.


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