It’s the start of my Month of Re-Reading in January and I have a confession to make. While “Some Tame Gazelle”, the Virago LibraryThing Group’s first Barbara Pym Centenary Readalong book, was selected for this month of re-reading and should have been read around now, I had a few bus journeys in the back end of 2012 which necessitated a smaller book than the current reads, Tony Blair’s autobiography and “Daniel Deronda” (there, I mentioned it again!). So I popped “Some Tame Gazelle” into my handbag, and there I was, finishing it before the year was out.
So, one book from last year and one from this, this time – but both re-reads …
Barbara Pym – “Some Tame Gazelle”
(29 Sept 2012 – although I have read this several times, I somehow didn’t have a copy)
I was introduced to Barbara Pym by Mary, a neighbour who was like a third grandmother to me – and introduced me to socialism, home-made ice cream, Elizabeth Taylor, Iris Murdoch and Barbara Pym, amongst others. She’s a quintessentially English author, as we’ll see, and her novels are set in a world of librarians, curates and spinster ladies in London bedsits and charming villages, of which only shadows now remain. But, oh, what a good read she is.
This novel is one of the village ones, with rectors and curates and late middle-aged versions of Pym and her sister, each with a clerical obsession. So English – here’s a scene at the Vicarage garden party:
“Lady Clara … bought some jam, two marrows, half a dozen lavender sachets, a tea cosy, a pair of bed socks, some paper spills in a fancy case and an embroidered Radio Times cover.”
Tiny slights and morsels of gossip are magnified and picked over, and the worst decision one has to make is whether one dares to make a jumper for a Man. The sisters are beautifully done, the Archdeacon is hilarious, and lost love can in the end be a comfort – as much as gardening can, in fact. Old acquaintances reappear, the opportunity for romance has not entirely disappeared, and lost-to-progress characters like the home-visiting dressmaker and the lady who buys your old clothes drift in and out.
A lovely book, although my favourites are the ones with the anthropologists and librarians (there is a librarian in this one, and a very amusing one at that, though).
K.M. Peyton – “Dear Fred”
(03 November 2012)
A book I loved as a teenager but had mixed up with the Flambards books. I was happily reminded of the title, bought a second-hand copy and saved it up gleefully for the Month of Re-Reading.
Well! As with my re-reading of “My Friend Flicka” last re-reading session, the adult-related – and ADULT – nature of this book took me slightly by surprise! It’s the story of Laura, who grows up from age 13 to 20 or so, and is in love with Fred Archer, the champion jockey, who exists in a world tantalisingly close to her own, making her passion for him even more all-encompassing. But it’s also the story of her mother, in love with Laura’s paternal uncle, who runs a racehorse training stables next door to their own (roundly mocked) genteel arts-and-crafts home (the book is set in the 1880s).
There is one love scene I remembered from my teenage readings, witnessed by Laura and the mysterious Tiger, a boy gifted in a curious and magical way, who tries to claim Laura away from her love for Fred. But there are several others, including a rather D.H. Lawrentian deflowering, and Lawrence does seem to hover, with some rough contrasts and slight obsession with women’s hidden sexual natures. There are also some rather odd practices in the mother’s bohemian past, so it’s a skewering of 1860s and 1880s fashions and crazes as well as a detailed and atmospheric portrait of horse racing at that time. This all makes it a more rich, but more adult book than I remembered.
So, as good as I remembered, but different; very atmospheric and the adult content make it a book for all ages.
I’m currently lapping up the first in the Susan Cooper “Dark is Rising” sequence as well as being part way through Jenny Diski’s rather odd “Skating to Antarctica” (and dear Daniel) so it’s a good, rich and varied start to my reading year!
Are you taking part in the Month of Re-Reading? (Even with one book – I must read another for the first time for LibraryThing Early Reviewers!) Do tell me all about it!