Today we have two books about writers – and about two of my favourite writers! I have to admit here that I’ve held the Barbara Pym review back so that I could review it at the same time as the Iris Murdoch one, as I just couldn’t resist the perfect pairing! Maybe I’ve made a rod for my own back with this constant attempt to pair similar reviews in each post, but what the heck, it’s my blog and I can be as fussy as I like … I read this out of order, anyway, promoting the Pym book so that I read all of my books by and about her in her centenary year, and taking ages to savour the Iris Murdoch one!
Yvonne Cocking – “Barbara in the Bodleian”
(9 November 2013, Library of Birmingham)
I bought this book at an event I attended at the new Library of Birmingham where we were treated to a read-through of a dramatised interpretation of Pym’s novel “An Unsuitable Attachment” (two of the actors being related to a gym friend of mine: such is the working of One Degree of Birmingham).
The author has had access to the Barbara Pym archive at the Bodleian Library, as archivist of the Barbara Pym Society. Here she demonstrates the solid work that she has done in unearthing and synthesising material on Pym’s early life and loves (with some slightly shocking revelations about the Nazi activity of her pre-World War II German boyfriend). Then she goes through most of the novels, drawing together Pym’s own notes and drafts, mentions of the book by Pym and others, then reviews in the press and finally fan letters from friends and strangers. The latter are of course the least interesting, but these papers were originally presented at conferences of the Barbara Pym Society, and I know from my own effort at the Iris Murdoch Society Conference how much conference-goers enjoy and appreciate evidence of others’ love for their favourite author. (Obviously, this fact also means that the pieces would not have been encountered one after another as they are in the book; I can see that this could become repetitive for some, although I enjoyed the patterns and, as an ex-Special Collections library assistant myself, the mention of the physical files and formats in which the information was found.)
Written in a friendly, approachable way, this collection is a good addition to the Pym Studies canon, and to my own book collection.
Anne Rowe & Avril Horner (eds.) – “Iris Murdoch: Texts and Contexts”
(24 September 2012 – bought from fellow IM Society member, Michelle)
I can’t believe I’ve been reading this for so long – I think because it doesn’t add anything to my actual research project (but it’s still really interesting), I moved away from it when I originally started with it, so I only picked it up again recently.
This book sets out to offer new insights into IM’s work (philosophical and literary) by examining it in new contexts, for example in comparison to other writers’ work, in terms of power relations and theory around that area, and looking at Derridean, political and cultural contexts. I have to say now that I didn’t always grasp the detail of the pieces covering the philosophy, and I obviously need to read and understand that better before attempting this book again. But I did enjoy Pamela Osborn’s piece on mourning and Derrida, even though I’m not the biggest Derrida fan in the universe.
I liked Frances White’s chapter on T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” and IM’s little-known play, “The One Alone” (on a side note, I was lucky enough to see “Murder in the Cathedral” performed in Canterbury Cathedral crypt many years ago – wow) and the piece on IM and Canetti, the one on her childhood reading, and the assessment of the Iris film. Although I do feel there that I’ve gone for the ones by people I know or on the more accessible aspects of IM and her life and work. Then again, this book is not all accessible to what I like to call the “common reader”*, but it is interesting and another good addition to my book collection.
* I still persist in talking about Virginia Woolf’s “common reader” even though the participants in a couple of my book groups for my research project very much do NOT like that description!
A small confession. I went to the BookCrossing meetup yesterday; it was lovely to see the BookCrossing crowd again and we all had lovely piles of tempting books. So these two did come home with me – a Debbie Macomber Christmas novel that Gill had given Sorcha for her Secret Santa (and I’ve read already to give back to Gill!) and John Sergeant’s autobiography. Still, the TBR is looking remarkably low at the moment, with a space at the end of the ONE SHELF it occupies … however, none of the Christmas books apart from my own BookCrossing secret santa have made it onto the shelf yet!
I’m currently reading an excellent history of post-punk music (“Rip it up and Start Again” by Simon Reynolds) and I have the Hardy short story collection, “Life’s Little Ironies” saved up for New Year’s Eve. I’ve also read two more novels in this lovely time of reading between Christmas and New Year, so watch out for their reviews tomorrow!