I’ve been a bit slow on my reading since my last little flourish, but I’ve had quite a lot of work in. I actually read one of these books last weekend.

Felicity Ashton – “Call of the White”

(January 2012, BookCrossing)

This was a failed BookCrossing book, as there was a label on the front but no BCID inside. And so I also failed to be able to catch it, or record when I acquired it. Anyway, Aston, an explorer and outdoor pursuits instructor, who has lived and worked in Antarctica, decides to recruit eight women from Commonwealth countries and walk to the South Pole with them. She tries to find ordinary women, and the search for them is as interesting as the expedition. Of course, as ever, it is more about the personalities and group psychology than about feet and sledges: it seems fairly and honestly told, and is interesting.

Elizabeth Cambridge – “Hostages to Fortune” (Persephone)

(25 December 2o11, from Bridget)

I suppose one would call this Persephone book a psychological novel, as there is nothing much in the way of action, but we become heavily involved in the interior lives of a family – especially the mother – between the wars, struggling to make ends meet in an ordinary village, even though the husband is the local doctor. The mother is a frustrated writer, and much is made of the growing characters of her children, and the contrast with their seemingly more carefully raised older cousins. Nothing really happens, but the small, incremental changes of village, social and family life are painstakingly and beautifully portrayed, with the modern world claiming its victims, whether literally, in the case of people engaging with new fashions like motoring, or metaphorically, in the case of people engaging with modern ideas of marriage. As I move away from finishing this novel, I appreciate it even more. There wasn’t an introduction, though, which was a shame.

Thomas Hardy – “The Return of the Native”

(1988)

Amusingly, this was my copy bought for my A levels – we had an open book exam for the classics we studied, and I suppose you had to have your own copy so you could annotate and mark passages. Which brought an extra level to the re-reading aspect of this read, as I was forced to engage with my rather literal minded younger self, all themes and having to show off for the examiners, as I read along (at least the annotations go all the way to the end, unlike my copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”, bristling with pencil marks until p. 100!).

I do love this book, but having done it to death for A level, I am not sure that I’ve actually read it again since. What a difference in my perceptions: I found this aspect fascinating. I remember thinking Eustacia was marvellous (I named cats after her and Bathsheba!), Thomasina a bit wet, and Mrs Yeobright a horrible, interfering woman. And I preferred the “new” ending imposed upon Hardy by the readers of his original serialisation. This time round, I thought Eustacia was pretty awful, admired poor, plucky Thomasina, and could understand Mrs Yeobright: after all, Clym is given a pretty clear-eyed understanding of her which he expresses at several points. I also feel that I would prefer the original ending now. I have always loved good old Digory Venn, though!

The landscape really comes through as a character in this novel, and also the characters’ reactions to it govern their fate in a way that is perhaps strongest in this novel. If you hate Egdon Heath, beware … Fate and the Pathetic Fallacy of the environment matching the characters’ emotions also play their part, but not, I think, in a clunky way. There is also gentle humour about human relations, in the lost glove and Clym’s misunderstanding of Thomasina’s intentions, which give light to the shade of the more serious matters. A magnificent novel, and I’m already looking forward to my next re-read.

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Talking of re-reading, I’ll be sorting out and posting my choices for the Month of Re-Reading Ali Hope and I are organising … watch this space!