And finally we’re on to October’s reads and a new picture of my TBR as of 30 September / 1 October. I’ve started the month off with some great ones, so four for the price of three in this set of reviews!

Stella Gibbons – “Nightingale Wood”

(26 Jan 2012)

Another charity shop buy. An engaging and absorbing but slightly odd novel – it does satirise (religion, over-use of psychology in books when it’s staring you in the face … ) as Gibbons is known for doing in her best-known work, “Cold Comfort Farm”, but can also be read ‘straight’ as a country house / family novel. There ware some awkward references to Jewish people, but then again this is of its time,  and it could of course be satirising the characters whose experiences are being described; it’s hard to tell. It also plays with whom our sympathies are meant to lie – the ‘heroine’ of the novel is introduced in a fairly sympathetic light, newly widowed and down on her luck, forced to move in with her forbidding in-laws, but undermined, and her sisters-in-law become less monstrous and more human. And it plays with ideas of Shakespeare and romance, too, with dashing heroes fatally undermined by their flaws, romantic woods complete with hermits, etc. So, overall intriguing and entertaining.

Elizabeth Taylor – “The Wedding Group”

(1989)

A good one, I thought, although some don’t rate it among her master works. I like the undertones of Iris Murdoch, and wasn’t the only one to notice this in the Year of Elizabeth Taylor LibraryThing Virago Group I belong to. Cressy longs to escape the stifling atmosphere of the ‘free living’ artistic commune in which she’s been raised. But, lost living on her own above an antique shop, she has soon gone from frying pan to fire as she meets and marries the older journalist, David, and encounters his mother, Midge, trying to hard to demonstrate that she isn’t clingy and always somehow getting her own way. When Cressy gets pregnant, even needing her mother-in-law to alert her to her condition, it’s certainly all that Midge could want.

Seen with a very clear eye to the nuances of married life and changing expectations. I loved Mrs Brindle, the go between and village maven, although the secondary characters were not all as rich and vital as they have been in earlier Taylor novels. The Murdoch parallels were legion: weird siblings, pale, pre-Raphaelite cousins, father in a frowsty home in London – although the book with the most parallels in the artistic sense, The Good Apprentice, was written many years later, this is very interesting.

Simon Armitage – “All Points North”

(21 January 2000)

Another Armitage read before going to see him at the Book Festival. This is an excellent collection of autobiographical (?) pieces about The North (mainly), including a marvellous day trip to Iceland with his Mum. Like his poetry, concrete (in language rather than form) and blunt, using down-to-earth words and images that nevertheless convey precision, beauty and emotion. Sometimes moving, sometimes downright funny: I’m glad I’ve been compelled to re-read this.

My review from April 2000:

“A delightful, wry, runny, lyrical, never-too-whimsical look at the North, as seen through this excellent poet’s eyes. The use of the 3rd person took a while to get used to, but this wonderful book is both absorbing and rewarding”.

Georgette Heyer – “Arabella”

(25 February 2012 – Bookcrossing)

One of the best and most rich Heyers. Impoverished Arabella is sent off to her godmother’s in London to hunt for a husband. On the way she meets Robert Beaumaris, the Nonpareil, who has the power to make or break someone’s launch into society. Jousting with him verbally, an unfortunate untruth escapes her, which is spread by the usual faithful sidekick; she then has  a bewilderingly good reception in the capital. But personality will out, and Beaumaris is charmed by Arabella’s kindness to people and animals and … well, you know everything will come out for the best, but we have a lovely time getting there. Lots of great cant and argot, and a very good dog: a real tour de force, showing off the immense amount of research the author did and her facility with inserting it into the text quite naturally.