February 2015 TBRYes, we’re on to books completed in February now, so this horror of a picture of my TBR has to accompany all further posts this month. Eeps! I have taken another one to read from the extreme left of the front row and had a small shuffle-up, so all is not lost. Today I’m reviewing another book bought in April on our trip to the Lake District and the second volume of the “Forsyte Saga” …

Steve Hare (ed.) – “Penguin Portrait”

(Bought 17 April 2014 – Fireside Bookshop, Windermere)

This book is subtitled “Allen Lane and the Penguin Editors” and is a history of Penguin books and particularly the series and imprints that it engendered, with particular regard to the editors who worked on these books and series. The editor himself uses material drawn from the Penguin archives to look at the work of these editors and their series, pulling together internal memoranda, letters between Penguin staff members and John Lane and correspondence between authors and editors.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on Rieu, who edited the first Penguin Classics (which were all works in translation, even though we’re all used to those black-spined and red-topped editions of the Penguin Classics which featured Austen, Eliot, etc., aren’t we?) and Glover, who was taken on after he’d submitted lists of errors as a “mere” reader of Penguin books, and their passion for getting it right, and there were fascinating exchanges with the translators of the early Classics, as well as some on some inadvertently poisonous recipes in Alice B. Toklas’ cookery book (did you know she’d done one? I didn’t!).

The book is very detailed, especially on political machinations within Penguin and the fine points of some series. It perhaps suffered a little from my having fairly recently read “Penguin Special” and “So Much to Tell” – I might be a bit Penguined-out now! But it was a good and valued addition to my collection, and a signed copy, too, which is nice.

This book will suit readers interested in publishing, editing and Penguin; those with a robust ability to tolerate high levels of slightly dusty detail.

John Galsworthy – “In Chancery”

(Ebook, original copy owned since the 80s)

The second volume of the Forsyte Saga, taking place 12 years after the events of “The Man of Property”. The man in question, Soames Forsyte, has a new property in Reading, while his cousin, Young Jolyon, continues to live at Robin Hill, with his three children and their unfortunately ageing dog (sensitive readers watch out for the inevitable here, although it is well-signposted and not gratuitous). Robin Hill is of course the house Soames had built to please his faithless / depressed and trapped (delete as applicable) wife Irene. Irene herself now lives in London, more comfortable on an income provided by Old Jolyon, who became fond of her in his later years.

Now Soames has decided he wants to remarry (primarily to provide himself with an heir – a stark reminder of how different marriage arrangements are now, with said arrangements being made mainly with the young lady in question’s mother), and he must therefore consider the distasteful matter of divorce; this causes Young Jolyon, who looks after the administration of her legacy, to draw closer to Irene and try to protect her, especially as Soames becomes uncharacteristically (apart from where Irene is concerned) passionate about the whole affair and engages in some rather unfortunate encounters with her.

Meanwhile, Soames’ sister faces marital woes and the courts as well, as her dodgy husband proves true to the impression he gives as he enters a mid-life crisis, and their father becomes increasingly frail and querulous. Young Jolyon’s son gets off to a bad start with his second cousin, Soames’ nephew; although both are at Oxford, they revolve in very different circles and find themselves on the opposite sides of both political and personal disputes, showing the Forsytes’ propensity for feuds and fallings-out moving down to the next generation. The Boer War also starts to encroach on the safe and somewhat smug world of the Forsytes.

Cleverly done so that the reader isn’t confused, and fascinating as the cold lawyer must contend with hot passions and the burning embarassment of being on the other side of the life of the Courts. Being not quite a Forsyte turns out to be an advantage where Paris is concerned and there is deep and horrible irony when a company is engaged to follow someone and report back to someone else. The Forsyte ways and attitudes to property are seen to dilute as the generations march on. And someone rather important makes an appearance right at the end …

My previous reviews from 2007  (This does also include a review of “To Let”, the final book in this trilogy, so might contain spoilers). Bridget’s review, Ali’s review and Karen’s to come.

This book will suit people who’ve read the first novel – these aren’t really standalone books but as a series are most satisfying.


I’m currently reading a wonderful biography of Harold Nicolson by James Lees-Milne which is very entertaining and beautifully written. Once I’ve got a little distance from the Forsytes, it’ll be Trollope time! What are you reading at the moment?