Ali gave me the mug on the left, my friend Emma the one on the right. Aah.

The LibraryThing Virago Group have been choosing an author to read each month, rather than doing a specific challenge, and that’s going really well, as you can dip in and out, pick and choose, grab something by a favourite author. Hooray, May was Willa Cather month. Then, of course, loving Cather, I didn’t have any ones by her I hadn’t yet read. Fellow-blogger and real-life-friend (Heaven-)Ali was reading “The Professor’s House” and wasn’t going to take all month over it … and then we were both a bit laid up and didn’t manage to meet up until this last Monday. SO I didn’t read it all in May (fail!) and it shoved my first books from #20BooksOfSummer out of the way while I finished it (fail again!) but I did start it in May and it was fab (hooray) so that’s all good, right? And hooray for booky friends and ones who buy you mugs (various other mugs from various other chums not pictured but very much cherished).

Willa Cather – “The Professor’s House”

(29 May 2017 – loan from Ali)

A wonderful book which combines Cather’s marriage/family and lone narrator and city/New Mexico themes to great effect.

Geoffrey St. Peter is an ageing professor in a Mid-Western university whose life’s work has finally made him the money to build a new house. However, once it’s built, he decides he much prefers his old study in the old house, and grimly clings on to his routine there. Leaving his precious walled garden is another consideration he just can’t bear to make. He leaves his wife Lillian to enjoy her new house – he’s very honest about the fact that their marriage has only endured because she came with a small amount of capital, and she’s memorably described thus:

She had a very interesting mind – but it was quite wrong to call it mind, the connotation was false. What she had was a richly endowed nature that responded strongly to life and art, and very vehement likes and dislikes.

Their two daughters, pretentious Rosamund and the younger, more lost, Kathleen, have their own homes and husbands now – and Lillian enjoys the attentions of their husbands, also looking forward to being a young grandmother after being a young wife. But the two couples clash, mainly over money and the edge it gives Rosamund and her husband.

Geoffrey works and thinks often of Tom Outland, the best student he ever had, who precipitated the family fall-out by trying to do good. As we learn more of him and his relationship with Rosamund, we also get a section of his New Mexico memoir, which is very powerful and compelling and gave a lovely counterpoint to the dusty interiors of the Mid-West – although Geoffrey does repair to the lake as often as he can. The dual settings offer a real depth and extra dimension to the book, and the final section, back with an increasingly tired Geoffrey, alone and taking refuge in unexpected comforts.

It feels a little unfinished in some ways – the Professor starts to withdraw from his family as they plan to engulf him again, but other strands, like the claim on Tom’s work of the old physics professor seem to get a bit lost. But it’s still a masterful and satisfying read.

Here’s Ali’s review of the exact same book – same copy and everything!


I’m now reading my first two #20BooksOfSummer reads – one review copy (“Popular” – some slightly suspect science has been mentioned, so I’m a little worried) and the lovely Persephone “Every Good Deed and Other Stories” by Dorothy Whipple which, seeing it on the front of my TBR, I was totally unable to reserve for August as I’d planned.