BARBARA STRACHEY – Remarkable Relations: The Story of the Pearsall Smith Family

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04 Jun 2009 – Cinema Bookshop Outside (half price!), Hay-on-Wye

Logal Pearsall Smith and Alys who married Bertrand Russell certainly make it into the firmament of my favoured Bloomsbury biogs and autobiogs, so I was intrigued to find this one at the marvellous Cinema Bookshop outside shelves.

Strachey (niece of Lytton) makes a good job of her family history, keeping it all clear in our minds so we don’t need to consult the family trees on the endpapers too often.  We follow three generations of strong and rather eccentric women, all deeply in love with often unsuitable men, but with their own strong personalities and morals which may not follow those of their times.

It was a bit odd to find Barbara writing of herself in the third person when she makes an appearance, but it would be difficult to know how to pitch this.

An unusual, well-researched read and livelier than I feared it would be, with a lot of primary material drawn directly from the sheaves of diaries and letters the women all seemed to keep on with at all times.

Books in

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I had some Amazon vouchers left from Christmas 2008 / Birthday 2009 – because they are so close together I like to save up my Amazon vouchers and treat myself in little batches through the year.  Then I went to Hay-on-Wye and the TBR shelves got a bit scary…

With some hard work over my week off, I’ve managed to get my TBR back to a shelf-and-a-pile-and-a-couple-of-library-books, so I allowed myself to place an Amazon order.  Having hived off the fancy hardbacks onto my Christmas 2009/ Birthday 2010 wishlist of course!

RACHEL FERGUSON – The Brontes Went to Woolworths – this is one of the very rarest Virago Modern Classics, reprinted in a LOVELY Bloomsbury paperback edition and affordable!

DAVID CRYSTAL – Just A Phrase I’m Going Through: My Life In Language – how he found time to write this I don’t know, as he has a phenomenal output of linguistics books. This looks fab – a look at his life and the linguistic interests he has and has written about

DAVID LODGE – Deaf Sentence – hard to wait for his new novel to come out in paperback, but I managed! This has a linguistics professor who is going slowly deaf and looks both entertaining and moving

CLAY SHIRKEY – Here Comes Everybody: How Change Happens When People Come Together – there has been some negative and positive criticism of this so it will be interesting. All about wikis and online collaborating etc. It features LiveJournal, Twitter and Meetup…

MEG WAITE CLAYTON – The Wednesday Sisters – five women discover a mutual love of reading and writing as events mid-20th-century wash around them.  Clayton seems like a lovely lady, she’s on LibraryThing and Twitter, and I’ve been wanting to get and read this for ages!

I will probably get to these around Christmas time or January, although I do have another week off coming up in November which should see me getting through a bit more of Mt TBR…

ROBERT ARTHUR – The Mystery of the Screaming Clocks

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Bought Sept 2008 (charity shop)

Another excellent Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators book (no 9 in the series) which is an odd series of mystery/adventure books written in the 1950s and published by Armada in the UK in the late 60s and early 70s.  I remembered Jupiter Jones and his two trusty sidekicks from early reading days and have gradually been tracking these down; not as popular or common as the Hardy Boys etc but findable in charity shops and second hand bookshops*.

Anyway, in this one, a clock with a scream instead of an alarm raises Jupiter’s interest; little does he know that it’s all mixed up with a trick-loving ex-radio and film actor and an international art theft team.  As usual, at least one person is tied to a chair and there’s mild peril but it’s funny, clever and jolly and just the thing for a chilly morning off, tucked up in bed with the cat.

* I have a few of these now BUT if you ever come across one, please buy it and let me know. I know at least one other person who collects them and they are infrequent but not "rare" as such (ie they’re usually cheap)

FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG – My Brother Jonathan

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Loaned from Ali

Ali and I are going on a Francis Brett Young Day on Saturday and the event includes a screening of the film of this book.  So my week off was an ideal opportunity to get it read.

Anotther unputdownable novel.  Jonathan always seems to have to bend to the needs of his younger and more attractive brother Harold.  Whether it’s education, his inheritance, even their loves, Harold seems to get the cream of the crop.  Jonathan works hard and seems to be improving his medical practice with the help of the quiet and lovely Miss Hammond, when the First World War comes along and turns society upside-down.

A lot happens, and in the inexorable fate of the characters, their isolation in a small community with watching eyes all around, and the twists and turns of the plot remind me of some of the Canadian novels I’ve read recently (I’m thinking Mary Lawson here) as well as the more commonly compared Hardy.  I liked, as always, the detail that went into the book – we know exactly how a Black Country medical practice was set up and run, how it looked, what there was on the tables, how the community was structured.  And somehow, even with this detail and the usual lyrical descriptions, you still bowl along with the story, not getting bogged down.  I liked the Cricket Ground and the University Medical School featuring, of course, too!

Somewhat of a shocking ending, but fate will out and I shouldn’t have expected anything else.  I’m looking forward to the day (although I still don’t feel I’ve read enough of the novels) and the film (and I know when to look away now!) 

IRIS MURDOCH – The Sacred and Profane Love Machine

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Bought 1990s?

Next in our Iris Murdoch A Month project and another typical Murdoch (if not so seemingly-parodic as The Black Prince), with tangled families, contrasting women, a reclusive writer, an angelic son and a cherubic chorus-figure.  A good read; pacy and funny as well as dark, with some interesting side characters and surprising plot turns.  The end, cheery and Oxfordian, punctures the philosophy and moralising.

Hopefully I’ll get to post my thoughts soon as I made my notes as I was going along and just need to note them in their "themes" and type up my thoughts!

VED MEHTA – The Ledge Between the Streams

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05 Jun 2009 – Hay-on-Wye Bookshop (Bookends), Hay-on-Wye

This particular Bookends had a  big section of second-hand books, and I stumbled across a rich seam of these volumes of Mehta’s autobiography, enabling me to fill in nearly all the gaps.  I also now understand that he did a couple of summary-type volumes, which explains the strange overlaps I’ve found.

This volume covers Ved’s younger years, up to the time when he went to America in his teens to study at a blind school in Arkansas.  Notably, it covers the years of Indian Partition, vividly and movingly without being inappropriately gruesome. He is honest about his feelings about Hindu behaviour during the time, and gives such a vivid picture of the time – I’ve read a lot of memoirs and novels about this period and this really takes a detailed approach to what it was actually like for a normal family, all the more exceptional as Ved went blind at the age of four.  There’s light relief too – he learns to ride a bicycle and forms friendships and allegiances among the families and servants.  A great read – I love this series and am looking forward to the next few, although I fear I’ll be compelled to read them all in strict order at some stage, since I have nearly all of them now!

EDNA HEALEY – Part of the Pattern: Memoirs of a Wife at Westminster

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05 Jun 2009 – Hay-on-Wye Bookshop (Bookends), Hay-on-Wye

Having read a lot of political history and biography of the actual politicians, refreshing to read an account of life in Westminster by a politician’s wife.  Of course, Edna Healey is an accomplished author in her own right, so this is well and delicately written and, indeed, makes the point that the happier political wife is the one who has her own life and interests, however strong the marriage.  Fascinating inside information about what it’s like to live in those official residences and her love for family and friends shines through.  Excellent and very interesting.

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