“The Flight From the Enchanter” round-up and “The Sandcastle” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Welcome to the new #IMReadalong update, where we’ll put “The Flight From the Enchanter” to bed and move on to look at “The Sandcastle”. Left is a photo of the lovely hardback first edition I ordered for myself after enjoying a tax rebate. Hooray!

I might have reviewed “The Flight from the Enchanter” a bit late in the month, but we’ve had some lovely discussion and comments on it, with lots of detailed reactions and info on how people’s reading of the book has changed, especially in light of recent events with workplace harassment, etc. Do pop over and have a read of the review and comments here.

As well as the comments on the post itself, Jo put this review up on Goodreads. Brona’s Books talks about what people learn in the novel (not much) and who is the real power behind the throne (read the review here).

I’ll add more links if any come in in the meantime. If you have comments to make or links to blog posts to post, you can put them here or (better still) on the review.

Edited to add: look at this lovely new to me copy of the Penguin paperback my friend Laura gave me!

2 Flight from the Enchanter penguin

“The Sandcastle”

“The Sandcastle”, our January read, is a treat of a book, with a great discussion of art and one of Murdoch’s really good complicated arrangements involving physical feats (as in the hospital escape and chandelier-swinging we’ve seen so far). I have three copies of this book, with one on the way.

Sorry for the wonky blurb but this 1960 Penguin edition (bought at Arcadia Books in Oxford; I am trying NOT to collect all of there, there is a limit) but it’s a tiny bit fragile. This is the closest to the original publication date I’ve got (at the moment!) and has great quotes from Raymond Mortimer and a puff from the Catholic Herald!

This is my dear old original paperback, a Triad Granada published in 1985 and I assume bought a little after that, as I read my first Murdoch in around 1986. Raymond Mortimer is still being quoted, plus the New Statesman. The woman on the front is “Miss Lynn” by Claude Rogers.

And here’s my Vintage edition with an introduction by Philippa Gregory – a shorter blurb, as seems common with these.

If you have any covers to share of these or any others of the novels, do pop them over via Twitter, Facebook or email (find contact details for email on the Contact Me page).


You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along. Who’s starting “The Sandcastle” soon? Have you read it before?

Book reviews – three Debbie Macombers – and two more in … #amreading

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A quick round-up of some Chrismassy Debbie Macombers I wasn’t sure I’d read (thank you for the loan, Linda) and two more books that arrived today.

Debbie Macomber – “A Merry Little Christmas”

I’d already read both the books in this collection, but had forgotten the first one entirely. in “1225 Christmas Tree Lane”, Beth Morehouse has 10 puppies to home and a Christmas tree farm to run, while still yearning for her ex-husband. It brings in all the Cedar Cove residents you could possibly remember in a clever way that reminds you of them all and is a nice Christmassy read.

“5-B Poppy Lane” is tied together by a Christmas visit but is mainly about Ruth’s grandmother’s experiences in the Second World War. I remembered part of that but read it anyway, as it was short.

Debbie Macomber – “Not Just For Christmas”

This should have been the name of the dog one, right? I realised I had already read “Buffalo Valley” so skipped that one, making this pair of volumes count as three books, not four. “Love by Degree” featured sassy Ellen living in a house full of male students and sparring with the homeowner, with the inevitable results, although the ending was a little rushed. All nice gentle books which got me nicely through the end days of the year.


I know I posted a picture of 18 incoming books yesterday, but two things happened.

First off, I got a tax rebate. And I spent a BIT of it on this, “The Flight from the Enchanter”, which I’ve found is the rarest and dearest of the Iris Murdoch first editions (it’s her second novel). Don’t come round: they’re still not that costly, but she is my favourite author.

It arrived yesterday while I was out, so I popped down to the Parcel Depot today and collected it (and two running tops bought with a very handy Decathlon voucher). This is cute: I bought it from eBay from a company called The Book Cellar, and the owner sent me a handwritten note – how lovely!

We went to Oxford to meet up with my best friend and her family, and were back at dinner time so decided to try out a restaurant in Grand Central. We popped into Foyles on the way, as you do, and I spotted this lovely, HALF PRICE!

Well, it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it … except I didn’t have my book token with me! So I asked them if they could put it behind the till for me, and they did, and I collected it today. Oh, it’s lovely, the illustrations are super and the re-telling looks marvellous. What a treat! (and yes, I know the Neil Gaiman one exists: it also looks lovely and I have a bit of book token left, so …)

Have you been a-buying now the Christmas book season is over?

Christmas book haul #amreading #bookhaul

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Huge pile of books

Having met up with my best friend and her family today, I now know there are no more books to come. Perhaps handily. Because look what’s come into the house this month. EIGHTEEN lovely books! Want to know more … ?

So first of all came our BookCrossing Secret Santa meal earlier in the month, where I was thrilled to receive from Lorraine a lovely old copy of Mary Webb’s Gone to Earth – one of her wonderful Shropshire novels – and Marcus Crouch’s The Nesbit Tradition: The Children’s Novel, 1945-70, which is again clearly right up my street. Then it was Christmas Day and before I went out to marshal at Christmas Day parkrun (which was a lot of fun), I opened my LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa parcel from the lovely Lisa and found We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (yes, I know the twist, but no, I’ve never read this, somehow), Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (looks very interesting), Barren Ground by Ellen Glasgow (a Virago Modern Classic; I read and enjoyed her Virginia a while ago) and The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch (from my wishlist, setting up a book shop in the town the Trigiani novels are set in).

Then dear Verity sent me some books she wanted to pass on in an unChristmas/unBirthday parcel (just something we do), so I was thrilled to unwrap Angela Thirkell’s Christmas at High Rising, The Brandons and Summer Half, plus Ann Bridge’s Peking Picnic and Stella Gibbons’ Starlight and Westwood.

I was also lucky enough to receive Sathnam Sanghera’s If you Don’t Know me by Now from the lovely blogger, Bookish Beck (however I fear Mr Sanghera or his publishers changed the name of his autobiography between the hardback and paperback editions, leaving me to put this on my wishlist when I’d read it under a different title – howls of rage and embarrassment and I promise to find it A Good Home, possibly tomorrow). Then I openedĀ How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis (which I had looked at in our local Oxfam Books earlier in the week, but remembered it was on my wishlist – phew!) and The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler (both lovely books about books) and Tina McElroy Ansa’s Baby of the Family, which had been on my wishlist for AGES, since I used to read her books from Lewisham library!

Persephone time – I did pick all of these for myself when I visited the Persephone Bookshop in November, but was thrilled to open Long Live Great Bardfield by Tirzah Garwood (a lovely biography which Ali is reading at the moment herself!) and Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan, and Diana Tutton’s Guard Your Daughters which of course Simon from Stuck-in-a-Book was instrumental in recommending they reprint.

What a lovely haul this is! And I have managed to fit them all on my TBR shelf with only a little shuffling around and moving of piles onto Mr Liz’s shelves. No TBR pic yet just in case I finish what I’m reading now and manage to shift it a little before Monday …

How were your Christmas book piles? I’ve seen a few so far. And have you got or read any of these?

 

Book review – Angela Thirkell – “Christmas at High Rising” #amreading @ViragoBooks

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I received this book in a lovely unChristmas/unBirthday parcel from dear Verity, opened on Christmas Day so joining the other mass of books tumbling over the sofa at the moment, and couldn’t resist picking it up to read now, for obvious reasons!

Angela Thirkell – “Christmas At High Rising”

(25 December 2017 – from Verity)

A slim collection of short stories, only two of which are actually set at Christmas (the skating one is set on Valentine’s Day!) but it’s a good collection and publishers must sell books, so I’ll forgive the slightly odd title.

Several of the stories feature the terrible Tony Morland, and also George Knox, the pretentious author; I’m amused rather than annoyed by these two, so that was OK. Thirkell does like a laugh at her characters’ expense and she writes them so consistently, it’s always funny to encounter them.

I enjoyed The Private View, all about an exhibition of an artist’s works, undermining the art scene and with the lovely heroine, niece of the artist and horrified to be known as the model for his most sappy painting, bemoaning her ordinary status. If only she could be a “courageous, pushing” woman “or even a brave, pathetic woman” rather than a “nice ordinary polite woman” who can’t push and gets trapped in situations. Haven’t we all felt like that at some point?

The essay on parties in Shakespeare was unusual but amusing, and I laughed at Tony taking on horse-riding lessons: as the groom patiently says, “He’ll never learn to ride, not if he was to ride all his life, but he’ll stick to the horse somehow”. Doesn’t that just sum up Tony’s “triumphs”? My favourite story of the lot was the final one, A Nice Day in Town, as Laura Morland, in wartime, sets off to London and has very much not a Nice Day, fruitlessly chasing all sorts of objects. Although it’s light and humorous, it really does give a taste of the privations of wartime, and there’s even a rather pathetic mention of Tony, off on service.

An enjoyable and light read, perfect for this time of year, even if not all the stories are Christmas ones.


Have you read any Christmas-themed books this holiday season? I know some of you make a point of doing so. I’ve just been loaned a couple of festive Macombers and might succumb to them tomorrow …

Book reviews – Debbie Macomber – “An Engagement in Seattle” and Bill McKibben – “Radio Free Vermont” #NetGalley #amreading

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Two NetGalley reviews in one today as I’m reading quite a lot and I really don’t like letting reviews spill over into the next year; I also have the 31st reserved for my Iris Murdoch Project post and the 1st for my Christmas Acquisitions, State of the TBR AND What I’m Reading First post. So here we go. I read these in the opposite order to how they’re presented here, but I REALLY want people to read “Radio Free Vermont”!

Bill McKibben – “Radio Free Vermont”

(NetGalley 13 September 2017)

Vern is a 72 year old, widowed, radio veteran who has had to go on the run when he and Perry, a young IT ace, inadvertently became labelled as terrorists after flooding a new Walmart with raw sewage. They’re staying at Sylvia’s home, hiding when she runs her school for new Vermont citizens, showing them how to be good neighbours in a state where that’s important, and they’re joined by the marvellous biathlete, Trance, and Vern’s nonagenarian mum in inciting the citizens of Vermont to celebrate the small and local and push back against the big and impersonal. Rather than committing acts of violence or sedition, they prefer positive or amusing action and discussion, pricking egos and promoting the small and local rather marvellously.

I loved it when Ben and Jerry’s launched a special commemorative ice cream flavour and the creative acts the citizens embark upon. The women are strong and have full agency and people come in all types with different abilities and special talents. Elderly women share sewing instructions for the new flag on their Facebook pages and biathletes get on their skis to help – it’s a lovely read!

It’s a clever and funny satire which has a positive and strong message of hope and redemption which I’m sure will resonate with many people. There’s also a lot about nature and the environment, with Vern speaking at length about the way nature, once left alone again, will get itself together and start to repair itself, acting in quiet ways, unlike the more showy deer and bears of other states. The moral is stated in a lovely afterword by the author:

When confronted by small men doing big and stupid things, we need to resist with all the creativity and wit we can muster, and if we can do so without losing the civility that makes life enjoyable, then so much the better.

Being a new book, it references the pink pussy hats and non-violent occupation of airports after Trump’s election and the Muslim Travel Ban, but don’t worry if you’re bothered by Trump and tired of spleen and nastiness: this will restore your faith in human nature. I very much encourage people to get hold of a copy of this!

Thank you to NetGalley and publisher Blue Rider Press (Penguin) for making this available in return for an honest review. It was published on 07 November 2017 and I heartily encourage people to go out and buy it!

Debbie Macomber – “An Engagement in Seattle”

(NetGalley 13 December 2017)

Like many of Debbie Macomber’s books, this was made up of two shorter tales.

“Groom Wanted” wasn’t DM at her best, to be honest. It felt like it was one of her rebranded older books (the dates with the main character’s grandmother being able to fall in love at the start of WW2 yet be in her 80s for the story and the use of BlackBerries dated it to around 2000). That’s fine, but Macomber’s style has developed, and although this had a businesswoman heroine and an interesting Russian love interest, it was a bit formulaic and very repetitive in explaining exactly how people feel over and over, etc. It’s apparently the start of a series, and room was left open for the hero and heroine’s siblings to fall in love, but I’m not sure I’d read on. A bit disappointing.

“Bride Wanted” was much better. Although the Alaska series was a republished one, I really enjoyed it, and here we have a similar setup, with Chase coming down to Seattle from (very) small-town Alaska, having bought a billboard ad requesting a wife. However, he meets Lesley anyway, and then he has some explaining to do himself, and there’s a meddling ex-fiance making things difficult. It’s much more sharp and fun – when the two men meet, I loved the description of Chase: “The full plumage of his male pride was fanned out in opulent display”. There are some lovely side characters and the fun really begins when Lesley finds herself installed in Alaska … and Mom comes to visit. The book was worth it for this one.

Thank you to the publisher Harlequin / Mira for making this book available in exchange for an honest review. It was published today, 26 December.

 

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Flight from the Enchanter” #IMReadalong

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First of all, I’m sorry this is a little later than planned – I have had a funny old month and a poor reading month, with a great big biography and a reviewing commitment taking up a load of reading time and energy. I hope you haven’t all been waiting anxiously to post your reviews!

Oh – and do please share any cover images you’ve got of your copies of this one – inexplicably, I’ve only got ONE copy of this, and I’d love to see what’s on yours. Tweet them to me, pop them on Facebook for my attention or use the email address you can find on my Contact Form.

On to the review. I had some interesting thoughts on the different ways I’ve read this one and my different allegiances to characters as I’ve read and re-read it over the years …

Iris Murdoch – “The Flight from the Enchanter”

(14 October 2017)

What a dense, absorbing read this was. I found it more of a succession of scenes concentrating on one particular character or strand rather than the single coherent narrative that “Under the Net” provided, no doubt because we had an omniscient narrator rather than a character-as-narrator, so we were free to flit around London looking at what people were up to.

There are, of course, so many Murdochian themes – in this one, the sea, stones (Annette’s jewels and the pebbles on the beach), doublings (two suicide/attempts, two arms in water, brothers, two pairs of brothers and sisters, plus Peter Saward and his dead sister, two burnings, two heads of department, two main ex-suffragettes, two breast-barings, two scenes in Annette’s green dress), siblings (as before), in fact breast-barings (there’s one in “The Italian Girl” and surely some more), women’s hair, either long and falling out of its pins, horribly constricted into weird waves or short and gamine, girls looking like boys, terribly messy rooms (Peter Saward’s almost-sapient study), netsuke (for the first time? They will reappear again and again), artificial women (generally “bad” rather than “good” characters, right?), and even fast cars!

“Tworavensrose” has posted an amazing report which I hope she’ll copy here about all the links with “Under the Net” but I was particularly struck by Jan and Stefan’s story of the schoolteacher they pursued being just visible in her white dress in the dark, like the woman Jake followed in Paris. I feel there is a link in all the running around London but the book is maybe more traditional and is certainly less philosophical in that there aren’t treatises and bits from books included. Murdoch’s love of detail and describing complicated physical arrangements is here again with Annette swinging on her chandelier in the first scene.

Who is the enchanter? Superficially, it’s Mischa, but Jan and Stefan are reliant on Rosa and she worries about her power over them, and Peter Saward seems to have power over Mischa, chiefly by telling him his own story (like naming someone in myth, perhaps?). Annette seems to cast some kind of spell over people but eventually runs from herself and everyone else and indeed spends most of her time flying from people. Or is it Marcia, who always seems to swoop in and make everything better, but never looks her husband in the eye or lets him know what she’s thinking? Peter is definitely the Saint, in my opinion. I loved his self-knowledge that he was “lost” in his researches, but in his acceptance of the loss of his study of hieroglyphics he is accepting rather than passing on defeat or “failure” and thus showing himself to be passive and “good”. He’s given the final word, “One reads the signs as best one can, and one may be totally misled. But it’s never certain that the evidence will turn up that makes everything plain. It was worth trying” (p. 287). Of course, he can’t be the enchanter, because he never uses his powers to affect or influence others, but they come to him – he’s the only character who remains static, with everyone else running around him.

There’s so much humour in this novel again. I loved the description of Annette “trying to catch in the depths of her large restless eyes the flicker of a tragic discontent” (p. 59)in the mirror and indeed the description of her by her headmistress is hilarious “Your style of entertaining is distinctly Continental , and as I had occasion to remark the other day, you still go upstairs on all fours like a dog” (p. 12). Rainborough, “had never been able to distinguish typist. They all looked to him exactly alike. He could see their smile, but no other features,” (p. 83) in the way that some people can’t tell undergraduates apart. Indeed, the rise of these women through SELIB is very funny, and something I kind of missed last time, I think. I particularly like the way that Miss Casement starts a trend and it repeats, but dimming, through all the other women. Miss Wingfield is often hilarious in her directness and you have to smile along with her, redoubtable to the end. And of course the scenes at the Artemis AGM are very funny – “This young man is under the impression that women have been emancipated!” (p. 173). Rainborough is often the butt of Murdoch’s jokes, always being undermined by taxi drivers, etc.

There’s also so much lovely and precise writing: I’m thinking of the descriptions of the sea, but also when Annette is making a long-distance phone call: “… beside her ear a long corridor of sound was opening out telescopically, section after section, and the last piece was to contain the voice of Nicholas” (p. 243).

The introduction, by Patricia Duncker, makes much of how you can’t really judge what you’re meant to think about the book, and quotes the passage said by Peter Saward that I quoted above. Well, that’s fine by me, as I’m not looking to be told by the author what to think, given my espousal of Death of the Author and reception theory. It claims that no one is changed by the book and that we don’t care about Nina’s fate, something I don’t necessarily agree with. It’s also horribly relevant in the portrayal of the refugee’s tenuous experience.

How has my reading of this changed? I had a lot more sympathy with the more middle-aged characters – I was slightly horrified to find that the “elderly” Peter Saward is in fact, at 44, a good year younger than me! When I first read this as an early teen, I found Annette the central and fascinating character, but now I find her precocious, arch and self-obsessed, and I even had more sympathy with the weird, damaged, two halves of a whole Calvin and Mischa, and with Rainborough and Peter. Well, not so much Rainborough, because he’s a bit of a weirdo, always lunging at women, and although he makes pronouncements about accepting randomness and contingency, I’m not sure he follows that through, but certainly Peter Saward, the central “good” character to my mind. I’d remembered the plot well and loved the old feminists as much as ever.


OK, over to you! Please either place your review in the comments, discuss mine or others’, or post a link to your review if you’ve posted it on your own blog, Goodreads, etc. I’d love to know how you’ve got on with this book and if you read it having read others of Murdoch’s novels or this was a reread, I’d love to hear your specific thoughts on those aspects, as well as if it’s your first one!

If you’re catching up or looking at the project as a whole, do take a look at the project page, where I list all the blog posts so far.

Book review – Helen Thorpe – “The Newcomers” #NetGalley #amreading

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I’m having SUCH a slow reading month this month, this is only the fourth book I’ve finished! Acquired from NetGalley on 19 September with thanks to Scribner for making it available for an honest review.

This wonderful book, just published, is set at South High school in Denver, in the first ESL classroom children (loosely defined, as they’re young people up to the age of around 20) find themselves in when they arrive in the US as refugees. The author gets involved with twenty young people in one class (they arrive throughout the year) for a year, sharing their stories in the classroom and the background they give about their lives before reaching the US. She visits the families of a few of them, along with interpreters. In addition , she shares research on education, refugees and trauma and the histories of some of the many countries they come from, and she even visits the Democratic Republic of Congo to trace the relatives of a pair of brothers and experience the camp they lived in before managing to emigrate.

Mr Williams, the main class teacher, and the other class teachers, assistants, volunteers and interpreters, as well as ex-students of his who pop back in, are all committed to helping these young people settle in and learn about America, and it’s heartwarming to read about all the details of how they learn and are taught. Thorpe basically sat in on hours of classes, so there’s loads of detail which is fascinating.

It’s all set of course against the backdrop of Trump’s ascendancy, and we see the effect it has on the population at large and the young people we have learned all about. I’m not going to go into politics here, but I couldn’t help think of myself and friends at the anti-Muslim-travel-ban demo in my home city at the very time the events in the book are taking place.

It’s a lovely book, with harsh realities and struggles but also perseverance, kindness and hope. The author and her interpreters become interwoven into the subjects’ lives in a way that she states journalists shouldn’t really be, but which brings her so much joy. She’s fascinated and open-minded, accepting how little she knew about the world as a middle-aged, white American (for example, did you know that many African languages have huge numbers of loan-words from Arabic, because of trade, so that a person from Syria and one from DR Congo can find words they have in common?). She proudly reports the progress of the students: all progress and some do mind-blowingly well.

Although this was preaching to the choir in my case, I think this should also be required reading for people whose experience maybe hasn’t included many people that are different to them. An excellent read that will stay with me for a while.


I am finishing off “The Flight from the Enchanter” so any Iris Murdoch Readalong folks will have the opportunity to discuss very soon. It’s been a funny month, that’s all I can say – and sorry for the delay!

 

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