I’m still reading up a storm as I’m finding quite a lot of bits of time to curl up with a book – although I have slowed down a little bit recently as am on two quite meaty ones at the moment. Today I’ve got two period pieces – a Francis Brett Young novel published in 1935 and a work by Virginia Woolf and Quentin Bell produced in 1923-27, the latter being quite a slight work with a short review (are you getting tired of all these reviews yet? I keep thinking I can slack off and then I finish ANOTHER book …).

Francis Brett Young – “White Ladies”

(04 October 2016 – Newlyn Books, Penzance)

This is the signed first edition I felt a bit guilty for buying in a town where I know there’s another FBY fan – turned out she knew it was there and happy for me to run off with it back to the Midlands. Phew. I have been interested in FBY since I worked with his archives in the University of Birmingham Special Collections, and have been lucky enough to find and read a few of his novels. The best editions are these lovely hardbacks.

This is the story of a love affair – between a magnificent woman in her prime and a beautiful late Tudor house buried in the wilds of the Midlands. It’s also the story of the Industrial Revolution and specifically the iron and then steel industry in the Midlands, from the mid-19th century until just after WW1. It’s populated, for all its didactic intent, with marvellous, slightly too impetuous, handsome women, who far outshine the men in their lives (who tend to being dictatorial or weak) and make strong, hard decisions quickly when they need to.

As usual with FBY’s novels, I loved the descriptions of the barely disguised Birmingham and Black Country towns and villages, the teeming industries and the layers of people rising and falling. He’s particularly interested in the decay of the old landed gentry and the robustness of the self-made industrialists, and the effects – genetic, social and psychological – that occur when the two groups come into contact.

It’s a historical novel written in the 1930s (why do I not mind these? Because they’re closer in time to their subject?) and so yes, women to an extent have to protect and better themselves through marriage – but men get trapped in this process, too, and interesting contrasts are drawn between the several unmarried women and the mothers in the book, giving a wide range rather than a stereotyped view. When it comes down to it, I gulped down almost 700 pages in a few days, and that’s the recommendation you need. Do pick up FBY if you chance on him in a second-hand shop!

Virginia Woolf and Quentin Bell – “The Charleston Bulletin Supplements”

(22 October 2016 – kindly sent to me by Simon from Stuckinabook)

A British Library reproduction with transcriptions and an extensive introduction to these supplements to the Bell family newspaper, produced and illustrated by Quentin Bell and his aunt Virginia. Amusing but sometimes very obscure even to a devoted Bloomsbury fan (there are copious footnotes and there’s a list of people at the back) – it’s a lovely little read and I know someone who would enjoy this as much as I did …

I’m currently wading through the somewhat sleazy memoirs of Jools Holland (there are some really interesting bits but he comes over as rather a rum chap) and a book called “My Bookstore” which has lots and lots and LOTS of short essays by authors (most of whom I haven’t heard of) and which might need to be interspersed with another few books so as not to get too samey. I have finished the Reykjavik Murder Mysteries series and those reviews will be next up, probably tomorrow. Because I wrote this up on Wednesday and I bet I’ve finished another one by the time my next review slot comes around … sigh.