May 2013 tbrI’m hacking through Mt TBR quite briskly at the moment, although those two large volumes from the other day aren’t helping hugely, and I just moved my Great British Sewing Bee book upstairs, too (yes, I am going to read it, I didn’t just buy it to get it signed!). So I’ve got two novels to tell you about, both by writers whose books I’ve read many times before, and one a re-read. And yes, a small confession, too, but it really does NOT “count”, I promise. Read on to find out why (not)!

Jane Smiley – “Mystery Horse”

(29 September 2012)

This is the third in Smiley’s series featuring young Abby and the horses on her father’s farm. They’re interesting, because they’re as much about her friendships and family as they are about the horses, and they’ve also got a religious angle, in that her family belong to a very small church and at the moment she goes there too (I don’t know if this will change in subsequent volumes). They are quite big and satisfying books, with the plot moving along nicely in each one, and enough reference made to previous events that you can feel happy to be reading a series, but they do stand alone, too.

In this instalment, Abby “buys” a beautiful grey horse whose mysterious owner has died suddenly. It’s nothing to do with the horse, but he’s left abandoned, with no one to pay his boarding fees and no one to claim ownership. So, Abby takes him on and is just starting to learn how he ticks when disaster strikes and she’s unable to ride. As if this isn’t enough, an incident at Church threatens to decimate the congregation, and Abby feels like she’s being blamed, and then some ghostly happenings start up, triggered or increased by the appearance of a small (and exquisitely described) kitten at the house.

I’m not sure that the ghost bits worked that well. There was a twist, as you’d expect, but it didn’t really explain things at all, either in terms of explaining them away or in terms of what it’s all about if there is a ghost. That was the least satisfying bit of the book for me (but then I don’t like ghost stories much) although it was well woven in to the plot, with Abby’s friends sharing their own tales. But apart from that, it’s a good read, and I was pleased to see that books four and five will be along shortly. I wonder if pony books are as compelling to write as they are to read!

Oh – and don’t worry – nothing bad happens to the kitten! I always want to know that kind of detail …

Barbara Pym – “A Glass of Blessings”

(Bought 1990s – date not written in!)

I have to say straight off that this isn’t my favourite Pym novel. Sorry! I like the ones featuring anthropology and librarians, or mad offices, or both, best – so I enjoyed last month’s read, “Less Than Angels“, which some other people in the LibraryThing group that’s reading all of Pym this year weren’t so keen on. For this one, we’re almost in Elizabeth Taylor territory, with the heroine, Wilmet, one of those ladies who doesn’t really have quite enough to do, living with her husband and his mother in comfort, with old friends and the time to indulge in the odd crush and light flirtation. She’s a vulnerable and rounded character, but not a very identifiable-with one, and normally this doesn’t really bother me, but it leaves a sort of space in the heart of the novel.

There are many of the usual Pym accoutrements, of course: female friendships, tolerated pink husbands, churches and church houses, timid mousy ladies and overbearing mothers. There are also satisfying references to previous books scattered liberally throughout the story, and in fact one character in particular rather intrudes (I won’t say more than that for fear of adding a spoiler). I didn’t have many postits out in the garden with me where I read much of this book, and had to split them into smaller and smaller shreds as I noted references to Rocky Napier from “Excellent Women”, Archdeacon Hoccleve from “Some Tame Gazelle, Julian and Winifred Malory from “Excellent Women” and Prudence from “Jane and Prudence”, and there’s a reference to one of Catherine from “Less Than Angels”‘ stories, and speculation as to her character, as well as others whose postits surely fell out in transit. In fact, this seemed to be my favourite bit of the book, although there were some delightfully waspish and eccentric chaps associated with the church who raised a chuckle or two, and Wilmet’s “disappointment” (hardly enough to be an “unpleasantness” is subtly and well done.

In the end, nothing really happens, there are a few plot resolutions and Wilmet and Rodney will perhaps find themselves in a rather new situation. Maybe they’ll find themselves living next door to some anthropologists in a future book. Just because this isn’t my favourite Pym novel doesn’t mean it’s not a good novel – it’s wry, clever, witty, perceptive and atmospheric, of course.

A new acquisition

May 2013 bello1So, when someone connected with a new imprint that’s reviving out of print novels and offering them in print-on-demand and electronic versions contacts you because they’ve seen you discussing a particular author, and they offer you a choice of novels to have sent to you, and you choose the one that you don’t yet have and haven’t in fact read, but have promised to a group to read later in the year, that doesn’t “count”, right?

So in that case, this nice print-on-demand copy of Barbara Pym’s “Quartet in Autumn” doesn’t count in terms of books in and is perfectly acceptable. Well, whatever, it’s got a nice understated but well-designed cover and it looks OK to read inside and it was very kind of Pan Macmillan to send it to me – thank you. Although it doesn’t come up in the reading schedule until later in the year, I may well try to squeeze it in before the Barbara Pym Conference in July, so watch this space for a review.

May 2013 bello2And here’s some information from inside the book about the Bello concept. You can find out more from their website.