20BooksofSummer logoHere we go with books 3 and 4 in my #20BooksOfSummer challenge – I will admit to being a bit worried, as some of the upcoming reads are NOT on the list, but enough are that I should be able to do it by early September. And I’m really glad that I’m doing both this challenge and my own on-going Reading a Century challenge, because if I hadn’t been doing those, I probably wouldn’t have got back into Arnold Bennett (I have read something of his before), and that would have been a big shame, as he’s my new author obsession now!

Amanda Cross – “No Word from Winifred” (Virago)

(bought 25 September 2014, Oxfam)

No Word from Winifred

Possibly one of the most 1980s book covers I possess

Amanda Cross is the pen-name of Carolyn Heilbrun, renowned humanities professor and feminist scholar, and her academic background shines through in this engaging Virago Crime novel about a professor of English and part-time detective. Her feminist credentials are displayed through the many strong women evident throughout the book and controlling its progress, although she’s no separatist, and the protagonist, Kate Fansler’s, marriage is shown as strong and supportive, and beautifully drawn.

The novel plays with literary characters (I definitely spotted references to Mary Renault) and the tropes of both campus and crime novels while exploring the disappearance of the enigmatic Winifred, who has always been a bit of a loner and a mystery; while the women’s lives are seen as texts by Kate, they are also presented in different texts, so we get diaries and letters as well as narrative and dialogue – all very nicely done. And the story is a good enough one to stand on its own, too.

I particularly liked the scenes set around the MLA and at conferences, and the casual mentions of the New French Feminists (the book was published in 1987). There’s even a reference to my research interests, when someone says that the lives of authors have to be studied in books on their works nowadays, “not like the New Criticism days when people weren’t supposed to have lives, or to have put them in their work”.

So, a very good read, which reminded me of “Oxford Exit” and how I need to read the others in that series – this one is part of a series, too, and Amanda Cross is definitely going on my wish list!

This book is the third read in my #20BooksOfSummer challenge.

This book will suit … people who like their crime to gloss over any possible gory bits, and enjoy something with an academic background.

Arnold Bennett – “Clayhanger”

(e-book, bought 10 May 2014)

Bennett’s “These Twain” is the 1916 book in my Reading a Century project – fortunately or unfortunately, that’s the third in the Clayhanger series. So I have to read “Clayhanger” and “Hilda Lessways” before I can even get to that one (and “The Roll-Call” after than), but that’s FINE because I have another author obsession to add to my later-in-life loves for George Eliot and Anthony Trollope (hooray!).

This is a lovely and absorbing account of life in the 19th century Potteries (the towns around Stoke-on-Trent, given fictionalised names here), centring on Darius Clayhanger’s printing business and the growth to manhood of his son, Edwin, met at the beginning on his last day of school and left coming up to 40 with a lot changed and a lot still the same.

The lives of the Clayhanger family, which also includes sisters Maggie and Clara and their dead mother’s sister, a bit of a Terrible Aunt, are intertwined with those of the Orgreaves, the father of whom is an architect, and Edwin’s in particular with Hilda Lessways, a friend of the Orgreave family, although he learns to lean towards self-education, architecture and book collecting from the family as a whole.

The web of community that George Eliot portrays so beautifully is evident here, with strong secondary characters drawn from the employees of the printing works through to the vicar and doctor siblings with their mealy ways. And like Trollope, Bennett is essentially humane, with a strong regard for social justice and interest in the position of women – especially, here, unmarried daughters. Indeed, the portrayal of a timid man pushed to locate the extremes in his character could be drawn as a theme from Trollope, too. There are some uncomfortable moments in the novel where Edwin is nearly brought to violence, but this is clearly delineated, I think, as the result of some parts of his character being under-developed then flowering out suddenly, which does not seem to be A Good Thing.

So, while Virginia Woolf rejected Bennett in particular, I actually think that the clear delineation of characters’ interior monologues and psychology could be seen to be part of a continuum that led to the Modernists, rather than something cosy and conservative that had to broken away from. Anyway, I would rather read Bennett than Woolf in a recently laboured-over garden while suffering from a summer cold! (Do you agree?)

This was book 4 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

This book would suit ... Anyone who likes a good story, a web of relationships, a tale set firmly in its geographical and social milieu.


I’m currently reading Tony Benn’s memoirs, which will be Book 5 of the challenge, and I’m going to go on to the next Forsyte Saga book, to finish off the second of the three trilogies. Then it will be another Robertson Davies and perhaps a new Trollope … so many lovely series and obsessions at the moment!