Mary O’Hara – “Thunderhead”

(bought 1980s)

Sequel to the excellent “My Friend Flicka”, reviewed earlier in the year. Ken and Howard are growing up, Flicka has an unfortunate throwback colt, and as the farm slips closer to financial ruin, Nell and Rob’s marriage starts to creak. Not a pony book, but a powerful portrait of the horse and his master, and of horses in general, as well as farming life in mid-century America. Again, much more about Nell and Rob than I remembered. Superb – wonderful scenes and perceptive family and individual moments make it a marvellous all-round read.

Seth Godin – “The Library Book”

(Kindle)

A set of pieces about libraries – memoir, polemic and fiction (and I’m not even sure it’s ‘by’ or edited by Godin, but that’s what comes up on my Kindle), of which the memoirs work best. I particularly liked Hardeep Singh Kholi’s piece about coming of age and Scottishness in the local library. Fairly slight, but good for a travelling read.

Elizabeth Taylor – “The Soul of Kindness”

(1989?)

My customary sticky backed plastic and bookplate with ‘Elizabeth’ written on it date this to pre-1989. A portrait of a self-deluding monster, but a more subtle portrait of a monster than “Angel”, maybe because Flora here doesn’t have a ‘talent’ to share with the world, just an unwavering self-belief and a need to bestow herself on people. In this melancholic novel, there are unlikely pairings that will never work, and unlikely alliances that do, such as the invisible lines that put the marvellous painter, Liz, in secret cahoots with downtrodden Meg, and Flora’s husband helping her mother to escape her self- and Flora-created prison.

A novel with an empty heart and marvellous, rich minor characters – Richard’s father, Percy and his mistress, Ba, and Liz especially. I loved the housekeeper, Mrs Lodge, with her yearning for birds and the countryside (in fact, birds occur throughout). In the lost London souls and unrequited love, a bit reminiscent of Anita Brookner, with the piercing skewering of tiny moments of human interaction – especially the excruciating scenes between Mrs Secretan and her companion, Miss Folley – all Taylor’s own.