Two books from my #20BooksofSummer project here and they are also two Virago books, so feed into All Virago / All August (which has been very much Some Virago / A Bit of August but I do feel I have taken part, at least!). “August Folly” wasn’t originally on my 20 Books list, but I swapped it in for Jane Smiley’s “The Greenlanders” – see below for a very short DNF review on that one. I’ve done one more swap, too, info and a photo below. I feel I’m doing quite well with #20BooksofSummer and, given that we’ve got until 5 September to complete the challenge, I think I’m likely to do it this time!
Edith Wharton – “The Reef”
(26 September 2015)
The reef of the title is SEX, which lurks under civilisation, however civilised it seems, and affects everyone’s emotions to some degree.
Although the book is set in Paris and a chateau in the French countryside, all the main characters are American. George Darrow is headed to a reunion with his old love, Anna Leath, who is widowed and lives with her very strict and dictatorial mother-in-law, stepson and daughter. She puts him off, and while at a loose end, he encounters the beguiling but ultimately rather shallow Sophy Viner. The plot then conspires to throw everyone together in a miasma of lies, half-truths and imaginings which threatens to destroy relationships and bring heartache to everyone.
The excellent introduction by Marilyn French brings out the contrast between French and American ideas on love, marriage and fidelity, and poor Anna, outwardly always so cold, is thrown around in a storm of emotion and conjecture. Brave in its subject matter for 1913, as there is no doubt about what goes on, even though it’s not mentioned explicitly, this is a page-turner and tour de force, even with the coincidences that surely could actually happen in a smallish ex pat community.
This book was Book 16 in my #20BooksofSummer project.
Jane Smiley – “The Greenlanders” (DNF)
I do love Smiley’s brave attempts to write each book in a different genre, and she’s had some really good successes. This book opens exactly like the Icelandic sagas it emulates, is hundreds of densely packed, small-margined pages long and is apparently horribly bleak. I would really prefer to spend the time with a REAL Icelandic saga (see the photo at the top of this post for a big, thick book full of the things) so I abandoned this one only a few pages in.
This book would have been Book 17 in #20BooksofSummer but I swapped it for …
Angela Thirkell – “August Folly”
(25 December 2015 – from Ali)
The fourth of her Barsetshire novels, and I enjoyed the first three and asked for this for Christmas. It’s quite charming, but perhaps not entirely sure what it’s trying to be.
It’s August in the village of Worsted. Richard is sulkily back with his embarrassing parents, plus their insufferable donkey and his ignored sister, after fearing he’s failed his Finals, and of course the local Big House is putting on a play, with various cousins and village people roped in.
Love blossoms in unlikely places, there’s a dreadful earnest curate and a presumed confirmed bachelor confidant, and the locals play up (like in “Between the Acts”, which this book does not otherwise resemble). There are some sweet characters and perceptive descriptions of their psychology, and I loved the gentle satire of academics personified in Mr Tebben, always writing in to the Snorri Society and reading the Saga of Burnt Njal to his children as a bedtime story. But Thirkell plays the book for laughs more often than not, and this leaves it a tiny bit uneasy, somehow. Not enough to stop me reading the rest of the series, however!
This book WAS book 17 in my #20BooksofSummer project.
20 Books of Summer update / swaps
So, as you can see, that’s books 16 and 17 completed, and we’re nearly there. I have A.S. Byatt’s “Ragnarok” and Edith Wharton’s “Hudson River Bracketed” left to read, and one Icelandic book to finish.
As I’ve mentioned, I swapped the very odd “The Greenlanders” out and put “August Folly” in, and I’ve done another swap, too, with my Icelandic books. My lovely friend Deborah accidentally bought an Icelandic children’s book for her grand-daughters, meaning to buy the English version. She passed it to me, knowing I am learning Icelandic, but as the English copy I found in Iceland was horribly expensive, I hit on the plan of translating it, printing out the translation and sending it back to her. Blómin á þakinu (Flowers on the Roof) has the advantage of being shorter than the previous incumbent, Af Hjervu Gjosa Fjoll?, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to get most of it read by the end of the project.
In other news, I’m reading the rather lovely “Recollections of Virginia Woolf”, which is quite moving in places and a good read. I should have that done for the end of the month, which satisfies the section in the #Woolfalong project that covers biography and autobiography.
How are you doing with your summer projects?