Two Viragoes today and also two bFeb 2014ooks in which the central character suffers in the comparison with her more attractive and conventionally successful younger sister. Two books, also, that examine the place of women in society, the expectations of their reactions and behaviour, and their acceptance of their role in the family hegemony as well as that of society. And two good reads, although I did prefer the length and themes of the first one.

E. Arnot Robertson – “Ordinary Families” (Virago)

(15 July 2013, Penrith Bookshop)

Lalage is the second daughter in a large family which has its ways of doing things – not being sentimental, relentless mocking of any sentimentality, interest or oddity, enjoying the most unpleasant of sailing experiences, in particular – which must be adhered to at all times. The Rushes are an extraordinary family amid some other ordinary and odd ones in Pin Mill, and life revolves around tall stories, odd colleagues from the father’s exciting life and being that particular family.

Lalage feels that she doesn’t fit in, and tries to keep her friendships and especially her love of bird-watching apart from the boisterousness of family life. It’s a coming-of-age novel, but unusually for books written in the 1930s, this has a no-nonsense approach to the discussion of periods and the awakening of desire in its awkward and appealing heroine, only too well aware that she’s no match for her devastatingly beautiful younger sister.

Taking place around the post-First World War period, the war has its effects on the characters and story, with brave Father’s unsuccessful war being contrasted with those who fought and fell or came back shell-shocked. It also covers the screaming and fervid party-going of the 20s generation, even in quiet rural areas, but all in all it’s a wonderful evocation of sailing and bird life and village life, with an attractive and memorable heroine. Some reviewers have found that there are too many descriptions of sailing; I really like reading about sailing, so this was not a problem for me!

F. M. Mayor – “The Third Miss Symons” (Virago)

(15 July 2013, Penrith Bookshop)

A short book – really a novella – taking that unpromising subject, an unmarried woman through the late Victorian era, who never has her character faults addressed and therefore ends up wanting to love and be loved, but essentially unloved and pretty unpleasant, and using it to examine the expectations of love and marriage and the position of the ‘extra woman’ in society in this first novel which she was also to address in her later ones, such as The Rector’s Daughter. There are a lot of what-ifs in this book that make it very poignant – what if there had been fewer children, if Henrietta had been taken in hand or accepted the warnings about her temper and tried to change herself, what if her sister – another attractive younger sister – hadn’t played around with her one suitor? It’s a quick and absorbing read, once more addressing the issue of what to do if you don’t fit in with the prevailing society that we saw in Holtby’s “The Crowded Street”.

High Street Books, New Mills, postcard and business cardWe went up to New Mills yesterday to see my editing friend Laura and her partner, Mark. They have a wonderful bookshop – High Street Books (also on Facebook) – only a few minutes’ walk from their house, which has a huge selection of excellent fiction and non-fiction, beautifully arranged, with owners who know every inch of their stock. They do loads for the local population, too, organising book orders for those who don’t have access to the internet or credit cards, and helping to build and hold this community together. Highly recommended if you are in the area, or even vaguely in the area – and they do mail order, too, so you don’t have to be anywhere near them to use them!

Feb 2014The books that Laura bought me for my birthday came from here, and I picked up these two lovelies – a copy of Hardy’s “Life’s Little Ironies” in the Macmillan Pocket Hardy Wessex Edition that I gently collect (this was one of the only Hardys I didn’t have, and I borrowed Ali’s copy for last year’s read of the book), and a really sweet guidebook to Iceland published in 1981 although based on earlier editions.

Currently reading: “Rip it up and Start Again” is still on the go, though I’m over half way through now. I have some more Viragoes coming up, but might dip into a book I bought at the same time about Jane Austen … What are you reading at the moment and what have you bought recently? Do you collect any special editions?