Book review – Enid Bagnold – “The Loved and Envied” (Virago) #20BooksOfSummer #amreading

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I’m fairly galloping through my 20 Books of Summer now and I really think I’m going to do it, as I’ve almost finished “Princes in the Land” and then I only have one to go by the end of Monday! I have enjoyed my reading and seeing what other people have been doing, although it’s always bittersweet to know that the end of summer is coming along with the end of the challenge (having said that, it’s been very autumnal here for the past week, so that’s not particularly surprising).

Enid Bagnold – “The Loved and Envied”

(22 May 2018 – from Claire)

I feel a bit sad because my lovely friend Claire passed this to me when we met up with her in Birmingham, and I didn’t massively enjoy it. I think Bagnold is quite an odd writer: there’s “National Velvet” which you read as a child and it’s fine, but it’s actually pretty peculiar and very overwrought, then there’s “The Squire“, which is all milky and full of babies, then there’s this roman a clef which uses people from Bagnold’s own circles but adapted.

I have to admit here and now that I’m not keen on novelisations of real events and people. It’s fine, in my book, to put portraits of people you know in books, but a whole book based around the life (but not EXACTLY) of a real person just doesn’t appeal. I noted from the back of the book that this was based on Lady Diana Cooper, but then I couldn’t see how the heroine, Lady Ruby Maclean as she becomes, was English, and her husband certainly didn’t seem to be a diplomat. Isabel Colegate does point out in the introduction that it’s “best seen as a tribute, rather than a serious character study” (p. viii), which is useful. But then Bagnold uses her friend Count Albrecht Bernstorff as the Duca Alberti, and I wasn’t clear whether he and Lady Diana knew each other. In fact, these two affectionate portraits produce what I feel is the emotional heart of the book, a long and loving friendship, even though I think the theme is meant to be one’s relationship with one’s beauty, or mothers and daughters.

I was left confused and, I’m afraid, cold. The narrative skips about in time and place, with Ruby’s daughter making an unsuitable marriage and going off to Jamaica and then we start back with Ruby’s childhood. I lost track of who everyone is, and a sub-plot of Rose, eternal mistress, served to confuse even more. The warmest portraits and relationships seemed to be of and with dogs. There were flashes of insight over how the famous beauty wasn’t a very feminine woman and her daughter’s relationship with her mother’s beauty, and it’s interesting when Ruby finds it hard to identify herself with her own face. Miranda just wants looking after and nearly makes two bad mistakes, but you can’t really warm to her.

This just didn’t work for me and I’m not sure I would rush to another Bagnold novel.

This was Book #18 in my 20BooksofSummer project and another in my All Virago / All August project.


So nearly done with “Princes in the Land” – which I’m finding quietly devastating – and that should be done for review tomorrow. Apologies in advance for doubling-up which may happen: I have my Iris Murdoch round-up to post tomorrow, my State of the TBR on Saturday and my running update on Sunday, plus two reviews to post by the end of Monday, so something will have to be over-stuffed.

How are you doing with your reading projects? Did you do 20 Books of Summer and how’s it going?

Sedate lady running 20-26 August 2018 #amrunning #running

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A good solid running week this week and I actually got round to doing some of the strength training I have been given. Plus, bonus meetup with a friend I’ve known for over a decade but hadn’t actually met until Wednesday (who is also a running blogger who does the Weekly Wrap!).

Tuesday – Club run night and I covered Beginners for my friend Jenny as she’s poorly. I thought I was late so ran up to the park in a 10:35 pace frenzy, then covered 2.2 miles run/walking with a lovely lady who is returning to running with club and a lady who’d recently had her second baby and was getting back into it. We had another five who were up to continuous running after a few sessions, so they kept together and did another mile. Lots of nice stretching then I ran home with Trudie and Dave.

3.3 mi various paces

Wednesday – Managed to get all my work done and then get to Dave yoga, I couldn’t get into a shoulder stand but I don’t let that bother me now. Collected Cari from the train station and did a walk around Birmingham, then went for a curry with Matthew, two BookCrossing friends and two running friends.

Thursday – A run with Cari – how exciting! I’ve loved watching her journey to becoming a runner over the past 18 months or so. I took her on one of Jenny and my morning runs at 6am so she saw the suburban streets of Kings Heath and Moseley (Matthew kindly took a photo of us but I’d not set my camera up properly):

 

Cari and Liz on our street!

We did 4.4 miles taking in all the main sights, including a sweet little one-person bench that’s been put half-way up a hard hill (run to the bench! is our cry when toiling up it). Here we are a the end. Couldn’t believe it was dull enough at 6am to need to wear my flouro top!

Liz and Cari, run done

We then got showered and changed and went off to Stratford-upon-Avon for the day, then I saw Cari off from Stratford and came home. How lovely to meet her, and we got on really well. Here’s to next time!

4.4 mil, 12:52 mm

Friday – Did my first Paul strength training session before yoga:

Dumb-bell forward raises / Dumb-bell side raises 2 sets 8 reps each (3lb)

Dumb-bell lunges / Dumb-bell squats 2 sets 8 reps each (5lb)

Medicine ball twists 2 sets 10 reps (3lb weight held in both hands)

Farmer walks with Dumb-bells some tiptoeing forward and backward (5lb) – this is off Lee’s slightly more complicated sets of exercises: I’m working my way in gently.

Then went to Claire yoga which I found quite hard but there was a lot of quite difficult long holds and I think it WAS hard, it wasn’t just me.

Saturday – I knew I had double volunteering and an errand to get the bus into town for today then a visit across town to the in-laws Sunday, so decided to split my long run over the two days.

So Saturday I ran to the PO Depot to pick up a parcel (of Torq gel singles, rather ironically), back to the house and down to the park for parkrun. As it’s downhill, I challenged myself to do negative splits for the three miles and then did (11:23 / 11:04 / 10:46 with that GAP thing showing that even relative to the downhill I was faster on mile 3 than mile 2). I then volunteered at parkrun: here I’m at the first turn on the course to see them off along the first lap, before moving to the bottom of the slope to cheer the second lap on and then encourage people up the slope:

parkrun volunteer

It was a lovely day if a little chilly – I took my new rucksack with my London Marathon Top of Failure (the one they send you when you don’t get in) and popped that on to volunteer in. The park municipal planting was looking tip-top.

Then it was time for Run and Talk, the England Athletics / Mind-sponsored run, walk or talk and chat run by volunteers from Kings Heath Running Club and Bournville Harriers. We welcomed the new Mental Health Champion from the Swifts club to see what it was all about, too. I ended up running round with Jo, who’s training for a marathon, so we had a chat about training etc., I popped to the loo in the MAC cafe, and then ran home slightly the long way. I’d forgotten to turn my watch on for the first almost half a mile of that run, so under-estimated how long I’d gone and ended up doing over 7.5 miles on a normal breakfast very early and no extra drinks, etc., so was a bit tired when I got home.

3 mi / 4.66 mi, 11:05 mm / 11:55 mm

Sunday – Woke at 6am for my breakfast and it was RAINING! I actually put on long leggings and a top and then a light hoody (I was dressed entirely by cheap brand Primark, apart from bra, socks and trainers).

Before

I met up with Trudie and Mary Ellen and we set off on a really standard five-mile route of mine (I am getting sick of all my routes though and need some new ones – what do you do if that happens?). We were all quite bright so Trudie grabbed a photo of our cool legs:

Trudie’s photo, me in stripes, Mary Ellen in pink compression socks, Trudie in rainbow tiger stripes

And we had to have a pic at that chair on Salisbury Road, for Cari!

Liz, Mary Ellen, Trudie and a tiny bench

I kept shouting “I’m not hot yet!” as I’d thought I would be whipping off my hoody at some point. It is quite breezy with mesh sides – or it’s very efficient at getting heat away – so no I did not. Pleased with it, though. And was quite damp but really happy when I got home:

After!

What a lovely, refreshing run, such a change!

5.5 mi, 13:01 mm (I forgot to pause my watch at the chair – d’oh!) Last half-mile 11:06 others between 12:13 and 12:46 with one 13:36

I then came home and did another Paul’s strength training session, the same as Friday but with no lunges or farmer’s walks as I was in my (wet) socks by then. Readers, I confess I did that because I knew I’d be writing this up today!

Miles this week: 20.9

Progress towards 1,000 miles in the year: 676 miles (10 miles past the target for the end of this month!)

Weekly wrapWendy’s weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here. I’ve really loved being a part of this for the last few months: long may it continue!

Book review – Stella Gibbons – “Starlight” #20BooksofSummer #amreading

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This is the book I started reading accidentally a week or so ago, mistaking it for a Virago somehow. But hooray – Virago published Stella Gibbons’ “Nightingale Wood” so she counts as a Virago author and I’m counting her therefore in my All Virago / All August total. I am saving the Persephone “Long Live Great Bardfield” for the time after #20BooksOfSummer when I’m just working my way through my TBR again.

So the picture to the left does not represent this book but is the pile of books I put together initially for my 20BooksOfSummer. I haven’t done one of these where I haven’t swipped and swapped, so it’s all good! And I’m excited that I only have three books to finish by 3 September, they’re all reasonably short, and I’ve even started Book 18 already!

Stella Gibbons – “Starlight”

(25 December 2017 – from Verity)

Well, I have to say this is a Very Strange Book, and I’m not entirely sure how it got published. The heroines are a pair of elderly and dotty sisters, Gladys and Annie, who live a precarious existence in a falling-down “cottage” in Highgate, London, with an elderly even-more-eccentric upstairs and a family downstairs … until the building is sold to what they identify as “the rackman”, Mr Pearson (after the notorious slum landlord), and he installs his beautiful, ailing wife there. Meanwhile, their daughter Peggy is a sort of assistant to a wealthy woman and her dogs, while her son sniffs around, trying to grab a squeeze and a kiss. A pair of clergymen in a fairly desolate vicarage, an odd German teenager who has been somehow sprung from an itinerant life by Mr Pearson, and a parishioner and friend of Gladys who is tempted by esoteric religion and wants her fortune told by Mrs Pearson and her accompanying spirit, make up the rest of the curiously unattractive cast.

It is an interesting read, as Gladys and Annie become more worried about Mrs Pearson and her odd “fits” and Peggy sits and waits for her life to begin, instigates it beginning and is slapped back down. Some kind and honest characters get a good fate, others really don’t, and it builds very slowly then suddenly all the cards fall and there’s a pretty melodramatic ending, including an exorcism, before suburban and rural life grab hold again and everything sort of smooths out.

The descriptions of Hampstead Heath are lovely and reminded me a bit of passages in “Old Baggage”. The perilous life of the unconnected poor and the attempt to subsume Erika the German girl into English life are shown in detail and convincingly. Details are beautifully done – when the Vicar, Mr Geddes, is being thoroughly frightened by the decidedly un-English Mr Pearson about his wife’s possible possession,

… as he spoke, he was very aware of the stout old cupboard that contained the choir surplices. Its glossy bulk was comforting. (p. 243)

and his mother’s arrival and adoption of the vicarage cat as well as the relationship between Mrs Corbett and her dogs and son are very nicely done, too.

But it’s an odd book, and I can’t deny that.

This was Book 17 in my #20BooksOfSummer project and also falls into All Virago / All August. Read Ali’s review here.


I’m currently reading Enid Bagnold’s “The Loved and Envied” and getting mixed up and confused by all the French and Scottish characters, but I’m sure it will come good.

One small confession: I ordered myself a second-hand copy of Charles Thomas’ “Exploration of a Drowned Landscape: The Archaeology and History of the Isles of Scilly” as we’ll be going there in the autumn and I wanted to read up on the Iron Age etc. sites. My friend Liz recommended this one by a friend of hers, I picked it up at an OK price from Abe Books (I don’t want everyone rushing to look on Amazon and seeing how much it goes for there!) and it looks amazing. I did like the stamps on the package, too, the Brownie and Guide one dating from 1982!

 

Book review – Angela Thirkell – “The Brandons” plus book confessions #20BooksOfSummer #amreading #ViragoBooks

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I’ve continued my reading for 20BooksOfSummer with Angela Thirkell’s “The Brandons”, which also counts for both All Virago / All August and the LibraryThing Virago Group’s author for this month. Go me! I’ve swapped out that great big Tirzah Garwood’s “Long Live Great Bardfield” (the largest of those three Persephones) for Stella Gibbons’ “Starlight” – although my copy isn’t a Virago, Gibbons is a Virago author thanks to “Nightingale Wood” so, as I’d started it after “Summer Half” by mistake, I’m finishing that and leaving the Garwood for a more leisurely read in the next few months.

In book confessions news, I’ve had an old friend newly actually met visiting: she brought me several books and then we managed to buy some more, pics and details below the review …

Angela Thirkell – “The Brandons”

(25 December 2017 from Verity’s marvellous parcel)

I’ve read “Pomfret Towers” a while ago, which seems to come between this one and “Summer Half” so I’m all out of order and will need to do a proper re-read when I’ve collected the set. But this was great fun and near enough to my read of “Summer Half” that it was a joy to come across some of the same characters.

This is the story of the Brandon family: fragrant widow Lavinia, on whom everybody inevitably gets a crush, tall, handsome son Francis and daughter the deliciously bloodthirsty girl with a heart of gold, Delia, and their cousin (ish), Hilary Grant and his hilariously dreadful mother. The plot hinges around the decline, death and legacy for the monstrous aunt-by-marriage, Miss Brandon, and the Vicar and Miss Brandon’s companion, Miss Morris, who turn out (of course they do) to be sworn enemies, play important roles, too.

The Keiths from “Summer Half” and Laura and Tony Moreland (an older, wiser and more attractive and self-aware character again) also make notable appearances: Lydia Keith has been to Paris but it doesn’t seem to have taken the edge off, and we can admire her marvellousness as much as ever. Will she end up with Tony or Noel, I wonder? And of course, there being a Vicar, there’s a summer fete, leading up to and at which much of the action takes place.

There’s some patronising of the lower classes but thankfully no Eastern Europeans and Hilary’s Italy-obsessed mother is a type that is very amusing indeed. Nurse and Rose, doyennes of the Brandon household, are celebrated for their mastery over all who come into their orbit.

Mrs Brandon’s little mischievous moments and attempts to introduce drama into the proceedings are seen through by her son and her old friend Sir Edmund, although she still manages to invite confusions and confidences, and there’s a very funny scene where Sir Edmund feels moved to protect her from the Vicar.

I love Miss Morris’ dream, the dream of many characters in the gentle but sharp novels I love to sink into, Thirkell, Pym et al:

A parish, every detail of which was under her hand and eye. (p. 272)

Will her dream be fulfilled? I love how it’s respected, even if being gently smiled at, but pretension, controlling and calf love are pricked and deflated.

This was Book 16 in my 20BooksOfSummer project.


My friend Cari has been visiting – I’ve known her for years and years through BookCrossing and, later, running, having been cheering her on from across the ocean as she’s learned to run and learned to love running. When she was coming to London for a week, it was possible to arrange for her to come to see us, so she has had a whistle-stop tour of Birmingham (yesterday) and Stratford-upon-Avon (today). Being a BookCrosser, she brought me some books; being us, we then bought some more in Stratford (even though we didn’t comb through all the charity and second-hand bookshops).

Top two from Stratford, the rest from New York!

Sarah Henshaw – “The Bookshop that Floated Away” – the story of the famous British Book Barge

George Eggleston – “Tahiti” – a 1950s travel book with lovely hand-drawn maps

Lisa Tamati – “Running Hot” – female ultra runner takes on the Badwater Ultra

Craig Childs – “Finders Keepers” – investigating the ethics of where archaeological artefacts get to be kept

Bart Yasso – “My Life on the Run” – famous road runner shares wisdom and insights

Sarah Reinertsen with Alan Goldsher – “In a Single Bound” – para-athlete and triathlete’s life story

Cy A. Adler – “Walking the Hudson” – guide to walking the Hudson River

Book review – Diana Tutton – “Guard Your Daughters” (Persephone) @PersephoneBooks #20BooksOfSummer

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One of the three lovely Persephone books I have lined up for my 20 Books of Summer challenge, and this has been on my radar for ages, having been championed by the lovely Simon at Stuck In A Book, who reviewed it back in 2012, finally seeing it picked up and republished by Persephone Books to the delight of many. It was very exciting to see part of his review in the Afterword to this one, as well as an excerpt from Ali’s review! My best friend Emma, one of four sisters herself, bought me this one for Christmas, and I’m faintly surprised that I managed to hold back on reading it for this long!

Diana Tutton – “Guard Your Daughters”

(29 December 2017 – from Emma)

A wonderful, delightful book, reminiscent of “I Capture the Castle” and other Dodie Smith books, particularly in its voice, with a touch of “The Brontes Went to Woolworths” and even of Barbara Comyns (more of that later), and all the odd, whimsical families we all adore in literature.

It’s a joy, but not all froth: there’s a real poignancy underneath the very English, weird family fun. I love our narrator Morgan and her collection of sisters, and although they all get a bit overwrought sometimes (echoes of the Mitford sisters making each other wail over the “death” of a match), once you know the ending, you can see that the undercurrents were always there. There’s a hint of something a bit awry right from the start, when married sister Pandora, who has escaped theĀ  eccentricity for a suburban life in a small house, explains to Morgan that she’s been checked by a doctor and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t all marry and have (lots of) children. Morgan says,

“Well, that is good, isn’t it? I always meant to marry, but I used to think I’d have to be sterilized or something. (Doesn’t it sound horrible? Like a milk bottle.)” (p. 18)

That really encapsulates the tone of the book, too. That and Morgan’s fear of stepping on a dead face in a darkened cinema bring to mind Barbara Comyns and the darkness beneath the matter-of-fact and almost flippant narration. There’s a delicious reference to “Cold Comfort Farm” when Thisbe and Morgan are ragging someone richer in money but poorer in imagination than them, and I love it when the two of them simultaneously do this and worry that they might actually be “really quite ordinary” (p. 171).

We have plenty of adventures and a few Young Men to provide interest, although the main interest is in the interaction of the sisters and their odd household. It’s a perfect read.

This is a delightful book that it’s impossible to put down: I could have done with it being twice the length or having sequel after sequel, and it’s definitely one I will read again – what a marvel.

I should address the Afterword, which I have to say is a bit odd – it’s a collection of reviews from through the ages, from publication up to bloggers we know and love, but about half of them are really quite negative, and while no one wants to sugar-coat, it just seems odd to include those. I’d love to know why Persephone did that. But I agree with the positive reviews of this gem of a book.


This was Book 15 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

Sedate lady running 13-19 August 2018 #amrunning #running

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This week has been about recovering from the Canal Canter last Saturday (race report here if you missed it) and looking at building strength and endurance. I’ve lowered the miles on purpose, as wanted to make sure I’d recovered properly: actually I’ve felt pretty OK since doing the race, however tired I felt during it!

Tuesday: I had a fitness testing session with Paul, one of the coaches from our running club (we have three coaches who have been through the England Athletics CiRF course and they’re all great). I was originally going to only do the strength and flexibility tests with him but then realised the other half of the test was a run he trusted me to do on my own. I fully believe I did this as well as I could do given that I had a flat part of the park to run in and just went round a few times; I didn’t have any noticeable fatigue and my pace of mainly 10:14 mm (last part slower when I turned back on myself – why? so an average of 10:23 mm) was what I can get flat out on the track. I had to run as far as I can for 12 minutes and that gave me 1.16 miles. This was in the average zone for all women in my age range.

I then had to do a plank and a side plank each side for as long as I could hold it. I chose straight-arm not elbow for the side planks. Front: 1:50 min, left 1:57 min, right 1:48 min (all at the top end of average). Then I had to do as many sit-ups (proper ones with arms crossed on chest) push ups (non-girl ones, straight legs, on toes) and standing squats as I could in a minute. At 11 and 4, the first two were at the bottom and middle of below average respectively (which did surprise me, but Paul reckoned most people used their arms to help). Squats were better (as befits a runner!), at 28 at the top of average. Then stretches – back hand reaches and right hand reaches (where you hold hands with yourself over your shoulder, I was at the top end of very good with my right and off the scale on my left. Sit and reach (how far over your toes you could extend to in a forward fold sitting down) at +7 cm was also in the very good section. All of those I’ll put down to yoga.

I was pleased with how I did (and I coped, Paul was very patient!) and there’s room for improvement. I now have a list of stretches and exercises from both Paul and coach Lee to put together into a programme. I’ll do that for 12 weeks then get tested again.

Have any of you done anything like this and did you see an improvement?

I ran to the park and back so got another mile in.

2:2 miles at various paces.

Wednesday I went to Dave’s yoga class, a really nice one with a really good stretch, esp of the sides.

Thursday I had a hair cut first thing and met my friend Linda in the afternoon, plus there was much stress over a parcel – no, two parcels – suddenly arriving when I wasn’t expecting them. So I only got three miles in in the end. But running in the middle of the day in coolish weather – yay! I did the first mile in 11:24 and wondered if I could push it slightly (I was a bit tired) to get even splits.

yes, I could!

When I got home, my bestie, Emma, had sent me a picture of herself v red and hot after her run and claiming that I never looked hot after a run. So I snapped a pic of my damp self.

and this, friends, is why I always wear a buff when running:

boing!

You wouldn’t want that flapping round your head when running, would you.

Does your hair get smaller or larger when you get hot? Mine definitely gets larger!

3 mi / 11:29 mm

Friday Claire was away so we had a cover lady – lots of concentration on the lower core which was great and gave us some techniques for keeping everything tucked in, but it was also hard work! I’d already cleaned the house that morning, too. Argh!

Saturday I volunteered at parkrun and we had Olympian and also Commonwealth Gold medallist boxer Galal Yafai visit (there’s an initiative posting Olympic athletes to parkruns over the next few weeks). He was so lovely, really engaged with parkrun, met a lot of people and chatted, and then tailwalked the whole course with the official tailwalker AND came and had a cuppa in the cafe afterwards. A really genuine nice person and it was so interesting to hear about his life and also see pics of him with other UK athletes he’s met in Team GB.

(note: it was cool enough to wear my new running club hoody over my t-shirt!)

Sunday Ruth and I were going to join with the group run that was available but decided we would do our own thing as the weather was deeply unpleasant. It wasn’t HUGELY hot but humidity over 80% and a dew point in the mid-60s made it challenging work. It was lovely to see our Sedate Lady friend Emma, who we spotted but couldn’t catch then saw a bit later; our friend Dave cycled past as we caught up with her, in a weird synchronicity. We jeffed a lot of it (walking and running) and I was in awe of Ruth, who had done 3 miles before we met, so she got in 13.1 and I then rounded my run up to 11.3 (for the .5 in the total miles) running home.

At 11.7 and 8.7 miles respectively

It was a real struggle and very sapping. Almost couldn’t breathe at some points. But what the heck, it was still 11.3 and 13.1 miles and that’s not to be sneezed at. Good resilience training, as I tried to frame it. I naturally failed to pause my watch at a road we could not get across.

11.3 mi / 13:27 mm

Miles this week: 16.5

Progress towards 1,000 miles in the year: 655 miles (on track)

Wendy’s weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here.

Book review – Ann Bridge – “Peking Picnic” #20BooksOfSummer #amreading @ViragoBooks

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Hooray, 20BooksOfSummer no 14 and I’ve almost finished no 15, too. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll manage the set by the end of 3 September … Another of Verity’s lovely parcel of books, this was another green Virago cover. I’ve read a couple of Bridge’s books before (“Illyrian Spring” and “The Lighthearted Quest“) and while this was different from both of them, it was similar in its strong sense of place.

Ann Bridge – “Peking Picnic”

(25 December 2017 – from Verity)

A rather odd book, I felt, set in the British diplomatic community in Peking in the 1920s. It spends most of its time building up the characters and situation, then suddenly throws them into a violent and frightening situation very different from the norm (I say that: they’ve already been through seven sieges, apparently) when they’re kidnapped by brigands on a long trip that’s more than just a straight picnic to a temple compound outside Peking.

It’s all observed by a couple of outsiders: an American novelist who seems drawn from life but doesn’t do that much interesting and Professor Vinstead, an expert in psychology from Cambridge. He comments, about their blase attitude to “bad joss” (bad karma caused by helping a monk pick up his prayer beads):

It was most peculiar, the indifferent way in which all these people went casually about among them, taking their pleasure as if in the most complete and suburban security.” (p. 110)

And it IS odd: they are really in a kind of bubble, only interacting with the locals in the form of their servants and knowing the stiff upper lipped way of dealing with trouble. It has been compared to “Passage to India” and I sort of understand that, in the disconnect between the Europeans and the locals.

The sense of place is beautifully done, especially around our heroine, Laura Leroy, wise and fastidious, who is constantly dwelling in both China and England, where her beloved children are, and seeing scenes in her mind’s eye of both what they might be doing now and what she might have been doing in the past – having, she realises, through comments made by one of her nieces, a much more honest time and conversations than she does in the brittle diplomatic world.

Bridge is known for writing travelogues but this is more of a treatise on national character, because we get a lot on the love style of the French, plus discussions of the Chinese. These can feel a bit patronising, but then Laura’s ability to converse with them fluently gets them out of disaster. Similarly, perhaps, her lower-class maid is mocked and the book feels quite snobbish, but it’s the same maid who rescues them at the point of no hope. So efforts are made to understand others and it’s generally positive rather than, for example, the awful descriptions of black people in Ellen Glasgow, but it’s a bit uneasy.

In fact, to be honest, I found the whole thing quite uneasy. There’s lots of 1920s style love affairs and casualness about sex, and indeed Laura speaks of her infidelities quite lightly, which I didn’t really like, as she also appears to have a strong and supportive marriage. I know it’s only a novel but I haven’t liked that kind of thing since I got married! However, there is much to enjoy about the novel and it’s very self-assured for a debut (even though she obviously used her own background for it, making the research presumably easier), with foreshadowings and the holding together of a large cast of characters confidently marking her out as technically very competent already.

This was Book 14 in my 20BooksOfSummer project.


I’ve almost finished Book 15, the delightful “Guard Your Daughters” by Diana Tutton. In other book news, I’ve bought the next tranche of Iris Murdoch in the new(ish) Vintage Classics edition, and was busy lining up red spines from “The Nice and the Good” to “The Black Prince”, but to my horror and semi-fury, they never did “Bruno’s Dream” in the red-spined / graphic illustration format, and it looks like “The Sacred and Profane Love Machine” and, which I knew about, “Jackson’s Dilemma”, weren’t done either. Who reissues 23 of a novelist’s 26 books in a uniform edition and not the other three? “Bruno” has an introduction, but he certainly doesn’t match!

 

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