The combination of a couple of quieter work weeks and a spell of mild poorliness has increased my reading hugely for this month! So here are three more of the books I’ve enjoyed in September.

Elizabeth Jenkins – “The Tortoise and the Hare”

(21 January 2012 – from Ali for my birthday)

This is a gorgeous Virago hardback edition (you can see it on the photo, second from the left on the front row. SO pretty. Imogen is married to Eveylyn Gresham, a barrister a good few years older than her who is Not Particularly Nice, but exerts a traditional patriarchal and also sexual hold over her. She keeps up her end of the marital bargain by being decorative (which she was obviously raised to be) and trying to run the house and family smoothly (not so successfully), buoyed up only by her flirtatious relationship with old friend, Paul, and her sustaining friendship with Cecil (who is a lady with a man’s name, contrasting nicely with Evelyn’s bi-gendered name). Enter Blanche Silcox, bluff and gruff in her ill-fitting tweeds, and elderly at 50, who is, it seems, determined to prise Evelyn away from Imogen. The women thus far mentioned are contrasted with a terrifying poetess who operates entirely through her physicality, a brittle wife and a neglectful mother: no one comes out of this particularly well.

The psychological suspense is almost unbearable – you want to probe the situation like you would a slightly sore tooth or a mild bruise. Redemption comes through the most unlikely of sources, and only once you’ve been put through the wringer. It is rather Elizabeth Taylorian (even being set near Reading) and, to put it mildly, exquisite.

Rosemary Bailey – “Life in a Postcard”

(26 January 2012 – Oxfam, Stratford)

The first of my immense haul of second hand books acquired on a lovely day in Stratford with a dear friend from America, who knew all the tempting bookshops better than I did!

Yet another British expatriate book, this time all about developing an abandoned monastery in the French Pyrenees, near enough to Perpignan and Montpellier to be familiar territory of sorts. As a writer by trade, Bailey is able to express her feelings and describe the surrounding landscape and village life beautifully, and she does, but she doesn’t shy away from the details of everyday life, the pull of England for her partner, Miles, the way their son, Theo, becomes maybe too integrated into village life, and their wrangles with local farmers. Celebratory of the huge variety of French resident and expats in the area, and a very good example of its genre.

Jennifer Venderbes – “Easter Island”

(26 January 2012 – Oxfam, Stratford)

A really good, multiply stranded narrative with a time shift element set predominantly on Easter Island. Lots of technical detail, but not so much as to become unbearable, I found. The sections set in 1912-15 read a bit like A.S. Byatt’s “The Children’s Book” and the inclusion of Alice, the heroine’s mentally handicapped sister, was carefully and well done. I disagree with other reviewers who didn’t like the “romance” or the ending – I actually found little romance in there, and many more complex and troubling relationships, and the ending was fine: you do expect some links or parallels in multi-time narratives and those that were there were not too clunky or obvious. An intelligent, and one could even say feminist, novel, with good, strong unusual women characters and an unusual setting.