I read these two on our nifty trip to Dorset to visit relatives earlier in the week. Hooray for long train journeys – I read the whole of the first one on the way down, and finished off the second on the way back up! I’m still marching on with All Virago / All August, and these two are both actually Viragoes, the Thirkell one of the new Modern Classics volumes with a lovely new cover, and the Tracey Thorn a standard biography Virago. Happy days! (It was a good trip, too, with plenty of sunshine and paddling on the beach, as well as visiting old haunts. What I didn’t do – amazingly – was visit any second-hand bookshops or charity shops, so the bookshops of Poole and Bournemouth might still be full of Viragoes and Persephones for all I know. Luckily, we will be returning!)
Angela Thirkell – “Wild Strawberries”
(21 January 2014, from Ali)
The second in the Barchester books by Thirkell; I was given the first three by my friend Ali for my birthday, and I can’t wait to get the next ones in the series.
This was an absolutely charming read. Mary comes to stay for a summer with the Leslie family, relations by marriage, and takes part in family and village life. We have the classic members of a gently satirised gentry family / household: the autocratic matriarch, quiet patriarch, playboy son, grandson set to inherit the estate, and argumentative family retainers, however, they’re all subtly made more interesting, and of course, more funny, by Thirkell’s keen eye and acerbic pen. For example, Lady Emily is brilliantly drawn in all her vague dictatorship and ownership of the family, yet touches of third party sympathy and explanation make it clear that she’s not a two-dimensional character.
We have a love story, and we do root for our heroine, who is only too human and conscious of her mistakes and of embarrassing herself. It is sparkling, as the back cover has it, but it does have more depth and lasting value than that description implies.
Tracey Thorn – “Bedsit Disco Queen”
(16 April 2014 – The Works in Kendal)
I bought this on our lovely minimoon in the Lake District back in the spring. And yes, it’s that Tracey Thorn, of the band Everything But the Girl. This is her (mainly musical) autobiography, and a fabulous read, just as amusing, honest, self-deprecating and insightful as you would hope it would be.
Growing up in a post-punk world where music suddenly became an obsession, she goes to great pains to describe her influences and the development of her musical interests and talent, as well as what it felt like to be in a band as the only female, in a band full of women, and as a member of a band made up solely of a couple.
Thorn is obviously reticent about adding in a lot of emotional stuff, relying on regaling us with tales from her teenage diaries in order to keep our eye off any inner turmoil she might be experiencing, but she does open up, wisely, appropriately, charmingly and with the right amount of detail about her relationships with her husband, Ben Watt, and their children.
It ends in 2007, which is a pity; on the plus side, there are lots of great illustrations of tickets and other ephemera as well as band pictures. It’s an engaging and fascinating read, and will make me go back to her music, too.
A good Virago session! I’ve now finished “The Persephone Book of Short Stories”, which I will be reviewing next, and I’m onto “A Passionate Sisterhood”, which is an interesting read about the women who were involved with the Lake Poets. But I have a bus journey tomorrow, and it’s going to be Thirkell time again!
Are you doing All Virago / All August? How are you getting on? Will this make me feel like having a month reading books only written by men in September? (It hasn’t yet!)