A double review today or I’m never going to get caught up, basically! However, they do go well together. For a start, they’re both published by Virago. I was given both by the same person for Christmas (thank you, Belva!). They are both part of – get this – my #20BooksofSummer challenge (books 15 and 17) and my All Virago / All August reading month AND my Reading a Century project (covering 1947 and 1937). That brings me up to 68 books covered in my Reading a Century project – no more coming up in my TBR so I might have to start doing some judicious book-picking soon. And they both evoke a very intense sense of time and place, which gives them a link that otherwise a book about the black experience in 1930s Florida and a village in post-WW2 England might not have. Both also have sudden amazing lyrical passages but a real sense of what being in that situation would actually be like.

Mollie Panter-Downes – “One Fine Day”

(25 December 2016, from Belva in my Virago Group Not so Secret Santa)

Set on one day in 1946, this perfect short novel examines what it feels like when war and danger are over and people have to settle down into a peacetime life that is both familiar and horribly new. Like many Virago and Persephone heroines, Laura has had to get used to mucking in and doing for herself when her servants went into war service; now husband Stephen is back, his job in London a mystery but his anger at the state of his once-perfect garden palpable. Daughter Victoria is alternately clingy and coolly observing and has her own complicated life at school and with friends.

There is some absolutely beautiful lyrical descriptive writing, often describing the landscape but also often, in the manner of poetic writing, inserting a clever reminder of death and destruction woven through it, so we find “sandbags pouring out sudden guts” which are contrasted with the timelessness and relative unconcern of the countryside itself.

The book reminded me of “Mrs Dalloway” – yes, the writing was just this side of that good – with Laura considering an impending visit from her mother and ruminating on her house and its demands and us inhabiting her head, so the subject-matter and the style are reminiscent. Meanwhile, social commentary comes in with the fact that the manor house is being vacated for a boys’ school, the old guard moving cheerfully to smaller quarters.

Will Laura dare to carve out a few moments to live her own life? A trip to the local gypsy’s camp to retriever her naughty dog (there is also a very neat and disdainful cat) gives her an opportunity which might also give a jolt to their carefully polite family world.

This was Book 15 in my 20BooksOfSummer project and completed 1947 in Reading A Century.

Zora Neale Hurston – “Their Eyes were Watching God”

(25 December 2016, from Belva in my Virago Group Not so Secret Santa)

An amazing and absorbing novel: don’t be put off by the dialect as it’s a very good story and a wonderful portrait of a particular place at a particular time. The dialect is fairly internally consistent, so you get the hang of it quite quickly, and there are sections of narrative which are smoother reads. Oh, but it’s worth it anyway, so worth it.

Must of the novel is set in Eatonville, Florida’s first incorporated black town, and this provides a fascinating portrait of the birth of a town, as Janie, the central character, and her husband arrive just as it’s being set up and he takes charge … as he always takes charge.

We follow Janie from girl to woman, age 16 to 40, through a series of husbands, the first two of whom crush her spirit and the third of whom, however unsuitable he seems, lets her spirit fly. We know from her return – watched and commented on by the chorus of the town’s gossips, head held high – that something has gone wrong in her life, but the book then takes us chronologically through her life to that point, with Janie’s history stretching right back to the time of slavery, through her grandmother’s stories, and also giving her the genetic heritage that leads to some fascinating discussions with other women about race and wealth. This, more than her relationships – or this and her sexual and self-awakening – will be what looks like a story of a woman progressing through marriages an important text for black American writers and feminists.

Janie is a fabulous, rounded and flawed character and the narrative moves briskly through her outer life while at the same time building her inner life. Some parts near the end might seem a little melodramatic but are still believable – it will take me a long time to forget the vivid description of the storm and flood and there are also some strikingly lyrical passages of nature description which seem to echo Janie’s sexual awakening.

I loved this and highly recommend it.

This was Book 17 in my 20BooksOfSummer project and completed 1937 in Reading A Century.


I have read Scott Jurek’s “Eat and Run” which was Book 16 in 20BooksOfSummer, in case you were wondering where that had got to, and am now reading Amber Reeves’ “A Lady and Her Husband”, a Persephone, which is excellent so far. This lady has no work to do today and is about to dive back into it!