Three excellent novels to start off the month in style, all rather different, with different settings and characters, but all written with that clear and slightly satirical style which I do like in my novels. And then there may be a small confession at the end …
Barbara Pym – “Less than Angels”
(29 December 1994)
We’re in the academic world of an anthropology institute this time, where students train towards (hopeful) distinction in The Field and elderly academics guard their dusty trunks of field notes like a lion guards its prey. Young Deirdre falls for a seemingly unattainable chap who has the glamour of someone who has been in The Field; we meet the impoverished students, Mark and Diggory; Esther Clovis has her starring role at last, after mentions in two other novels (and we are brought up to date with Mildred and Everard – again, I love this interweaving of previous characters into the narrative); and the rituals and customs of suburbia and academia are compared rather marvellously with those of deepest Africa that are deemed worthy of publication and study grants. There’s more “story” in this one, but just as much delicious detail and excellent characters, from solitary Catherine with her writer’s eye to a solid succession of Aunts.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – “The Householder”
(12 September 2012 – from Bridget)
More delights from the pile of books passed to me by my friend Bridget. This one is pretty well a novella rather than a novel, but so lovely and absorbing. Prem is in a new (arranged) marriage and feels like his wife’s a stranger – except at night, but then he feels guilty about that. He works as a teacher and is struggling there, too. As he and his wife negotiate the incursions of the outside world – their mothers, a party at the school, a foreigner who befriends Prem and their garrulous neighbours/landlords – they have their effect on the interior world of their marriage, and Prem’s wife is individualised and humanised in his eyes. Will the couple be drawn together into a unit after all? A simple story, simply and wonderfully told. If you like R.K. Narayan, you will love this author, and vice versa.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala died on the day I read this book – RIP a great writer.
Jane Austen – “Sense and Sensibility”
(pre-1989 – another Penguin Classic with sticky-backed plastic cover)
My friend Ali and I have been reading some Austens in our Months Of Re-Reading in January and July but it somehow wasn’t enough to only read one every six months, so I was very pleased when Ali suggested this reading treat for the Easter holidays (her review will be up soon and I’ll link to it when it is).
So familiar even though I haven’t read this for ages, and complete with Student Liz pencil notes, the story of sisters, Elinor and Marianne, their love lives and their different approaches to life, love, husband choice, landscape and friendship based on their adherence to the concepts of sense and sensibility, respectively, is as captivating and absorbing as ever. Austen’s wry, clear eye is as satirical as it needs to be without tipping into parody (themes explored in Northanger Abbey, which I adore even as it does slightly tip over into parody, about the Romantic are stronger here than I remembered), and there is a cast of lovely characters as well as delicious villains like Lucy Steele. You know that almost everything will come out right in the end, but the twists and disappointments are real and affecting and the characters steal into your heart – even dear stuffy old Colonel Brandon.
Although the book has a moral heart and a lot to say about the appropriate way to behave (not necessarily matching the mores of the time), but is in no way preachy, but instead a joy to read. It’s a bit of a cliché to bang on about how “timeless” Austen is, but how can you say anything else about a classic which you can’t put down for the sake of the story, the characters and the wry asides?
It was Matthew’s fault, maybe? Hm. He was back from his work trip abroad and I worked hard on Friday to put Saturday aside for him. He said he’d like to do our usual wander up the High Street. I went with him to all the shops (International Stock Warehouse of random smoke-damaged stock; the Free Zoo, aka the pet shop; Lidl for a pastry (for him)) but drew the line at Computer Exchange, and went to WHSmiths instead. Which had a clearance section.
This is a memoir of life on horrible camping trips in the 70s. I have never been camping – NO, THANK YOU! – but I did grow up in the 70s so I’m looking forward to this read in many months’ time when I get to it!
It’s on my wishlist and it was only £1 … as if my TBR wasn’t bad enough, however!
Coming up on the reading front I have a Mary Webb Virago and then the excitement of reading Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge, which I have in a beautiful edition and is set on the Dalmatian Coast, a beloved place for me. How exciting! I also have one more Prawer Jhabvala and then I’ll be hitting a rich seam of non-fiction for a while … What are you reading at the moment?