Mar 2013 tbrI feel like I’m doing quite well with my reading this year so far – I read 14 in January and 13 in February and these bring my March total to 12 …

Sylvia Townsend Warner – “Lolly Willowes”

(16 June 2012 from BunnyB, picked up at Verity’s Virago Tea on our Virago Group weekend)

Apparently I fought with Ali over this – and now I appear to have written my name in the inside front cover – oops! But of course will be lending it to Ali still. This is an odd but ultimately wonderful novel about a “spare” woman in the early years of the 20th century, who ends up having to be taken in by her brother, but longs to escape and be her own woman – whatever form that may take. A beautifully drawn extended family and good musings on aunthood, and a lovely kitten (who comes to no harm – I always want to know that information about a book), and a rather glorious speech towards the end about the plight of the spare (or indeed “excellent”) woman. I don’t want to give the plot away, but it’s a very well done fairy tale in effect, with its roots very firmly in the real world, and therefore believable. Powerful and uplifting as well as being strange!

Read Heaven-Ali’s review here.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – “A Backward Place”

(September 2012, from Bridget)

My lovely friend Bridget was having a weed of her collection and I ended up with a lovely handful of this author’s books, plus some more that you’ll be seeing reviews for (and photos of!) soon. You know where you are with Jhabvala – you know that you’ll get a gem of a book with beautifully drawn portraits of Indians of various stations and stages of life, and the Europeans in India, written with a clear eye and a lack of pretension or acceptance of pretension in the characters. This one is no exception. We meet a loose group of European ex pats in Delhi: Judy is married to Bal and has to go out to work to support her family, while living in a traditional communal house; she works at a rather odd Cultural Institute which is somewhat failing to live up to its promise, and clustered around the group are brittle, ageing Etta, critical and lashing out as she starts to fail to attract the men she used to, ramshackle Clarissa, who fancies herself an artist blended in with Indian society but prefers to sponge off people with a decent bathroom, and an amusing German couple full of brisk discussions and sound psychological principles. In its deceptive simplicity, it reminds me of Narayan – and here, of course, we have an extended essay on how one is to live in another culture – or on the stages of culture shock: do any of these outsiders really fit in and remain themselves while blending with the society around them?

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I’m currently reviewing the (terrible) state of the TBR mountain (post and pic to come tomorrow!) and looking forward to next month’s Barbara Pym, which I might, shockingly, start today …