July 2015 TBRCatching up hurriedly with my book reviews after my flurry of seaside reading (well, mainly reading on the lovely long train journey there and back – roll on the 5.5 hour journey to Cornwall later in the year!). In other news, I’ve set up a page for my #20BooksOfSummer challenge now, because I was confusing myself when I was trying to check where I was up to. Visit it here – and it will be updated with links and the last little list when it’s time to post that.

John Galsworthy – “Swan Song”


The sixth book in the Forsyte Saga finds the horrible situation that was brewing in the last book and especially its interlude coming back to bite Soames Forsyte, still the central character, still going strong. Poor old Michael Mount, devoted husband to Fleur, finds the political system he’s previously espoused untenable and is looking around for a new cause, having been told that you have to have a noticeable “cause” to get on in politics – and he’s finding that people are only interested in politics when it directly affects them (funny that – I sense a theme). Then his wife Fleur finds out that her first love, Jon Forsyte, although devotedly married himself, is back in London, and she can’t help scheming to see him (and more, something which I think I missed in my first reading of the books in my teens!). Meanwhile, Soames is worrying about inheritance, trying to work out a successor to his faithful old retainer at the firm that still handles a few family trusts, and gets a new interest in tracking down the family ancestors, even taking a trip down to the ancestral lands to trace the graves of the original Forsytes.

Things must come to a head, of course, and there’s a genuinely moving scene at the end (how had I forgotten it? I suppose I’ve read a few books since I last read this one in 2008 (my wisp of a review is here)) when Soames casts aside the prudence and carefulness of a life of habits and inflexibility just at the right moment … but is it too late?

This is a cracking read; I think my co-readers of this series agree that it’s better than the previous volume in this trilogy. Ali’s review is here and Bridget’s is here. I’m taking a short break now, and will start the last three books in September.

This book will suit … I will say that really you have to have read the other books in the series to get the full value out of this one and understand all the references and minor characters. The series as a whole will suit anyone interested in the 20th century, its history and politics.

Tony Benn – “Years of Hope”

(29 November 2014, charity shop)

One of a small haul I bought perilously close to Christmas, on the grounds that no one was likely to buy me the first volume of Tony Benn’s letters and papers as a Yuletide treat. And I was correct.

It did take me a while to get through this one, as there was a lot to it, and in small print, too! It covers the years 1940-1962, so there are interesting (and sad) details of his wartime life and then his entry into politics, and it finishes with the horrible situation when his father dies, he inherits his peerage and then has to be barred from sitting in the House of Commons – then a long battle to change the law to allow people to rescind their inherited peerage, which got VERY detailed, although the points where he actually engaged physically with The System and represented himself in court were excellent.

It is a good read on the whole, with an engaging and caring author. It was a bit uncomfortable to read about my hero, Nye Bevan, from the point of view of a sometime opponent of his, and I did get a little bogged down as I’m not that familiar with the history and politics of the late 50s and early 60s. What made the book for me, although a little bittersweetly, was the air of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose about so much of the content. The Labour Party is in disarray and split along left / centre lines. Young people are sick of the parties and demanding an alternative choice to vote for. The Labour Party must remain the party of the working class and not split from the unions. How interesting that we are still hearing all of this 60 years later (or depressing, of course).

There are lovely flashes of humour, too – for example a description of the way to get two teas at a Buckingham Palace garden party (nip in at the start when everyone’s looking at the Royal Family arriving, and do the same at the end), and it’s nice to see people like Flanders and Swann pop in. I also loved the support he drew from his wife. So an interesting if challenging read. I’m not sure whether I’m going to read all of them (certainly the final volume is meant to be quite distressing, as he realised this would indeed be the final volume).

This was Book 6 in my #20BooksOfSummer project

This book will suit … people interested in mid-century politics and history; people interested in the Labour Party and the Left in general.

Currently reading – funnily enough, given that I was reading it yesterday, I’m still reading “Our Hearts were Young and Gay” by Cornelia Otis Skinner. If I get these reviews written up speedily enough, I might just finish it before Mr Liz gets home. I’m not sure what’s next – I really should make a start on the scary Iser book on reader response theory, which will help towards my poor languishing research project, too … but I opened it the other day and know I need to sit down with a notebook and a set of post-it tabs to read it properly. Hm.