I do usually theme my posts but these two have nothing in common! I have a Persephone coming up soon that would go with either the Virago or London theme, and more autobiographical work, but I do like to have things TIDY at the end of a month, so here’s a bit of a ragbag (there will be one September book reviewed in October as it was a review copy and I want to post the review on Monday. Bear with, bear with, as they sometimes say on the local radio station). I’ve had a really good reading month this month and you’ll be amazed by the state of my TBR when I post that tomorrow!
Rhoda Broughton – “Belinda”
(23 October 2015 – from Verity)
Another wonderful book from the set Verity kindly sent me – I’ve loved four of them (but found Sarah Grand’s “The Beth Book” a bit icky in the early stages and couldn’t be doing with it – I have a good friend to pass that on to anyway). It had me turning the pages in a frenzy, sometimes with a frown of consternation or even a gasp!
What a wonderful portrayer of character Broughton is. Unlike her flighty and popular sister, Sarah, Belinda, our heroine, has a warm heart but a freezing and forbidding demeanour – because she’s shy and not very good at expressing herself. I wonder if people who haven’t been called stuck-up a million times when they’re just shy would understand this lady so well (I gave up being shy because this annoyed me so much, but it took some doing and I don’t live in the 1880s). While Sarah’s busy mocking her seventh consecutive fiancé on their trip to Dresden with the grandmother who is their only close family, Belinda can’t really express to her beloved how she feels, and he persists but feels rebuffed. Here’s a classic quotation that sums up Sarah:
“Never write! Whatever else you give up, adhere to that one golden rule! In the length and breadth of Europe … there is not a square inch of my handwriting to be obtained!”
When everyone has to return rather suddenly to various bits of England, Belinda ends up feeling sad and unwanted – the fact that she’s irritable, ornery and snappish as well as tired and faded makes this a really good portrait of depression – and makes a hasty move that we think we can see coming but hope against hope won’t happen. All I’ll say here is that there’s a character modelled on the same person George Eliot modelled Mr Casaubon. From there on, the story moves towards what you think will be an inexorable conclusion, but there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you reading on.
There are lovely characters, beautifully drawn, including an Austenesque meddler and two excellent pugs and a terrier who could be around now, in this page-turner.
The introduction tells us that Broughton’s early novels provided covert sex education for the girls of the 1870s and 1880s – so she was the Jilly Cooper or Judith Krantz of her day – but they are obviously very readable today for their lively characters, clever plots and beautifully drawn relationships.
Danny Baker – “Going to Sea in a Sieve”
(25 December – from Sian)
First volume of his autobiography, taking us, as celeb autobiographies always do (and I should be grateful for this, as several of the ones I’ve worked on as a transcriber to the ghostwriter have been subsequent volumes (not of his: I think he wrote this himself)) to the very beginning of his TV career. Better and more clearly written and less whimsical than I’d expected, it’s a great portrait of a happy childhood in Bermondsey, with a right old character of a dad and an interesting perspective on the reaction to the advent of the music and fashion of the 70s. He gets involved with the Sniffin’ Glue fanzine and the music scene almost accidentally, and there are some great stories, told with huge enjoyment and a keen sense of the ridiculous.
Apparently volume 2 is a bit wandery and not nearly so good, but I will look out for it.
That’s nearly it for September’s reading – watch this space for the last one on Monday. How has your early-autumn (or early-spring) reading been? Any themes or challenges? I’ve been away from challenges except for the Dorothy Richardson, but expect some Woolfalong fun early next month!