Feb 2013 tbrFebruary has been full of excellent reading so far. Here are FOUR more great books I’ve finished …

K.M. Peyton – “Snowfall”

(borrowed from my friend Verity)

Well-written YA novel about a group of friends in late 19th century England who hand together to support one of their number who is restoring a house to live in near his much older lover. This is, of course, a bit shocking given the time it’s set and the mix of men and women involved. Central character, Charlotte, uses this situation and the Swiss mountain climbing holiday it springs from, as an excuse to escape the stultifying life at her grandfather’s vicarage and the threat of a loveless marriage.

The group of friends is well done, there’s a lot of love, but it’s missing the sex scenes Peyton usually likes to put in, and there are some horses to satisfy that side of our love for this author. Peril is signposted at the outset and copeable with, being handled well, and a useful epilogue brings the story up to date in as uncontrived a manner as possible – very satisfying and engaging.

Barbara Pym – “Excellent Women”

(02 October 2012)

The second month in the LibraryThing Virago Group Pym readalong and the second novel she published. Mildred is one of those “excellent women”, spinsters and sensible, the kind of women who always have an oven glove to hand and can be relied upon to provide unquestioning, unfailing support to anything from the furniture arrangements of divorcing couples to Church jumble sales to proofreading and indexing dry academic texts. Pym gives Mildred her own clear eye on the situation as she observes and occasionally disturbs, daring to suggest that we might not NEED all that tea, and giggling at the pomposities of anthropology, learned societies and Men.

The story is fairly slight, involving some neighbours who disrupt Mildred’s life in more than one sense, but it’s the details and characters, the observation and ‘unpleasantnesses’ that we’re after in Pym, isn’t it. A welcome sight of Archdeacon Hoccleve from “Some Tame Gazelle” rounds things off nicely – I’m looking forward to noticing more of these as I don’t usually read all of Pym’s books in close succession like this.

Tim Anderson – “Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries”

(Kindle, December 2012)

Tim is a gay American who decides to go to Japan to make something out of his pot-smoking layabout self. While there, he teaches at various schools, goes out clubbing, plays music badly in some bands and a duet, finds wonder and amusement, deals with odd housemates, may not take everything entirely seriously and has a few problems involving women. All of this is reported honestly, so it’s an attractive, if sometimes surprising, read – probably not for the easily shockable.

Interesting on Japan’s gay culture, and I would have liked more on this. Summed up by this quotation: “I find myself thinking about what I’ve learned on my Japan odyssey. A cloyingly American thing to do, but I am what I am, and I’ve got to tie this shit up somehow”.

Virginia Nicholson “Millions Like Us”

(borrowed from my friend Verity)

An excellent and very detailed piece of social history research, examining women’s lives during the Second World War across a range of classes, ages and contexts, through interviews, their published and unpublished diaries and books and sometimes interviews with their children and grandchildren. She finds people who were in all sorts of situations and weaves the strands together extremely competently, reminding but not repeating when she reintroduces a particular character. It also covers the post-war period and GI brides, etc., and updates us on many of the women’s lives through the rest of the 20th century. It was lovely to come across favourites like Vere Hodgson, Nella Last and Clara Milburn.

She does seem confused on whether women’s nurturing and homeward orientation is a product of nature or nurture itself, railing against assumption at one point and making generalisations herself at another, but this is a minor criticism of an absorbing and important book.


Coming up … I’m plodding through Tony Blair, really want to finish him this month (then I have something on Mrs Thatcher, but it’s a psychoanalysis by a Labour MP so should be more fun than traumatic) and I’m about to start reading John Lanchester’s “Capital”, promoting it up the book pile, as it only arrived on my birthday, because Matthew’s starting to read it on audio book today. We’ve just got to work out how long it takes me to read 45 mins’ worth of audio recording so we can keep in step …