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

15 Comments

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

27 Comments

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

12 Comments

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

14 Comments

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

17 Comments

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 the  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

28 Comments

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

11 Comments

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!

 

Book review – Claudia Gold – “King of the North Wind” @ShinyNewBooks #amreading

4 Comments

When I took up this book to start reading about the life of Henry II – and it’s a lovely object in itself: just look at that cover – I have to admit to being slightly discombobulated by the sheer number of Mathildas and volume of family trees and maps with arrows. It didn’t help that Certain People appeared to give the same name to their illegitimate and legitimate sons! But Gold’s careful hold on her material and confident narration meant that it wasn’t as challenging to pick through this now little-known reign as I feared.

Structuring the book into five “acts” (The Bargain, Triumph, Pariah, Rebellion, Nemesis) means that Gold takes us on a vaguely chronological journey, but because of the complexities of lands held, battles fought, marriages forged and families created, she does have to skip back and forth a bit, referring to the Great Revolt of 1173-74 before she describes it fully. In addition, there’s such a wealth of detailed information to share that she sometimes has to divert into a long discussion of the Jews in England, the creation of a more modern legal system, the relationship between the Saxon and Norman kings and their archbishops, etc. … it’s to her credit that these are well-signposted, headed and created and not confusing.

Read the rest of my review on the Shiny New Books website here.

I read this one last month, so it’s nice to see it up there now.

In other booky news, I’ve finished the rather odd “Peking Picnic” by Ann Bridge and hope to review it tomorrow, and I’ve started Diana Tutton’s rather marvellous “Guard Your Daughters”. I might get 20BooksOfSummer done after all.

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Time of the Angels” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

36 Comments

Well I can cheerfully admit that this book scared me silly when I first read it – aged about 15, I’d imagine. What DID I make of it then? The death of God and the rise of the avenging angels, all that quivering violence, all those secrets, all that fog pressing around the house … It’s still an unnerving experience, but I’ve read it at least three times before this time, and could remember most of the story and – more importantly – the atmosphere. I don’t think I changed my opinion on any of the characters for this one, though. Maybe they’re set out to be more black and white (literally, I suppose) with less room for ambivalence.

Iris Murdoch – “The Time of the Angels”

(27 February 2018)

It’s a short book but it’s festooned with post-it tags, so I hope I’m able to get my thoughts into some sort of order.

First of all, I’m disappointed to say that I don’t THINK we have any women in white dresses running off into the night, do we, although Muriel flees at one point but is not pursued. That’s the first time for a long time and I hope that theme comes back, because I have been enjoying spotting it.

The book is full of horrible foreshadowings which you will probably only notice on a re-reading: most notably on p.2 where Marcus brushes against Pattie, touching her neck and sweeping her with his cassock. The fog has a good go at being its own character, and there’s quite a lot of what I remember as being the Pathetic Fallacy (OK, I’ll admit it, I had to look that up, but I remembered there was such a thing, at least), where the weather reflects the happenings and emotions in the book. It also gives us some sublimely beautiful scenes, most notably when Eugene takes Pattie to the river in the snow.

The massive theme of this book is of course the loss of religion in society and the vacuum into which nothing has actually come rushing in. Norah talks about this and the “modern young” where “it’s as if her sheer energy has taken her straight over the edge of morality” (p. 13) and Muriel and Leo talk about going beyond morality; this then gives weight to Carel’s ravings about the death of God and the time of the angels: are they really ravings if everyone’s talking about this in their own way? Poor old Norah is rather satirised, her “brisk sensibleness of an old Fabian radical” (p. 14).

So many echoes in this one. In my head, I’d built up the bits of The Book to come all the way through it, but actually we only have one chunk of Marcus’ writing and one of Carel’s. Of course someone writing a book is a constant theme that we’ve had in many of the novels. But going back to echoes, I was interested to see Norah and Anthea as almost the same character, doubled (in fact, I have a feeling I thought they WERE the same person in my memory of this book), both trying to do good. Both of them are remarkably unchanged and cheerful by the end, which might be saying something against Marcus and Carel’s hatred of do-gooders. Pattie has lost a younger brother, like Carel and Marcus have, and Eugene his sister. Marcus falls through two doors holding chrysanthemums.

As well as the doublings and echoes, we have the usual hair – Elizabeth’s flat metallic strands, Muriel’s boyish crop and Leo’s animal fur. Leo has some Japanese prints but I don’t think they imply that he’s a saint or an enchanter or have any significance. Maybe the fact that they’re only stuck onto the wall takes their power away. He associates looking at girls through screens with Japan, so maybe using the country for nefarious reasons takes that away, too.

Who is the enchanter in the book? Fairly obviously Carel, with Leo trying to do a mini-enchanter act but actually just being one of those annoying prancing boys who are another stock character. Elizabeth is a “magical child” who certainly engenders obsession in her father and her uncle, but is too passive to be an enchanter, and is more enchanted. We see him in relation to Pattie: “Carel was her whole destiny” (p. 152) and in fact we see both enchanter and saint defined by poor Pattie. They are “the white figure against the dark one” (p. 177).

Who’s the saint? I’m saying Eugene. Although Pattie is passive, she’s in thrall to Carel and doesn’t really do any good for anyone, actively or passively. She lies “inert like a chrysalis” (p. 28) but can’t find a “normal” way out of her situation, only fleeing violently for another continent when her hand is forced. And she WANTS to be a saint, which surely must be the way not to go about being one. Eugene is a classic saint, isn’t he?

Eugene did not suffer much from anxiety. He had spent too long sitting at the bottom of the world and hoping for nothing to suffer from any precarious play of tempting aspirations and glimpses. No object lay just beyond his grasp since he had long ago ceased grasping. (p. 42)

and when Pattie thinks of him “Some plainness about him, some absolute simplicity attracted her” (p. 96) and later, “He was a man without shadows … and offered her a life of innocence” (p. 152).

Talking of this simplicity, Carel does define goodness in the book, stating that it’s impossible and unimaginable. But Norah and Marcus don’t think it is, and elsewhere Murdoch shows us goodness, I think, here and elsewhere. Carel’s imagining that it can’t exist is perhaps his downfall. As Norah says, “Ordinary morality goes on and always will go on whatever the philosophers and theologians have to say” (p. 193). In fact, the Afterword by Richard Holloway sort of echoes this:

We have to remember that it was written by a philosopher and philosophers tend to think too much – it’s what they are paid for, after all. Most people negotiate the intricacies of conduct without too much agonizing about how to treat their neighbours, even if they think God is dead.” (p. 242)

There’s not much humour in this one, I have to say, although Marcus’ and Norah’s tea parties manage to get in some satire of the bishop and comments about the price of jam vs chutney. There’s a lot of perceptive stuff about women’s characters, whether that’s Pattie lacking someone to lick her into shape or Norah needing somewhere to direct her energy: although they’re not hugely positive characters, they are rounded. Marcus’ pomposity about his book is nicely pricked: “Let his critics assign him to a tradition and a school. He would speak simply, with the sole authority of his own voice” (p. 67) (I’m uncomfortably reminded of my own adherence to Reception Theory here!). There’s also a moment of farce for Marcus, too, when he falls in the coal hole, although the scene is quickly jerked into almost horror.

In echoes of other books, I was curiously reminded when Muriel is regarding the last moments of Carel of the scene in The Philosopher’s Pupil where Rozanov lies dead/not dead in the thermal baths. Eugene with his rusty moustaches reminds me a bit of Finn in “Under the Net” and also prefigures Fivey in “The Nice and the Good” perhaps (and Carel’s comment about life being some dusty feathers in a cupboard reminds me of a scene in that novel, too). Elizabeth and her court are reminiscent of the willing captive in “The Unicorn” – who is keeping whom in the house? Norah’s lost Fabian ideals remind us of “The Book and the Brotherhood” characters trying to find their old ways in a new world. Pattie’s childhood might remind us of Hilary’s abandoned life in “A Word Child”. Our Russian emigres remind us of those in “The Italian Girl”, even with their lies about their origin story. Marcus’ thought about Carel being mad comes at him “obscure and disturbing as a large unpleasant looking object rising through deep water” (p. 87) – did that remind anyone else of the monster in “The Sea, The Sea”? Marcus seems to have a weakness for boys, although not so explicit, like Michael in “The Bell” – has Leo actually got some scandal over him or does he just exploit his emotions? Marcus has a cold at one point, and annoys Norah by sneezing – shades of Palmer in “A Severed Head”, or have I gone too far? Another too-far one is probably Eugene’s handcart taking his precious pot plant to their next home: was IM thinking of that when she gave Tallis his handcart in “A Fairly Honourable Defeat”?

So, a complex book and a lot of intertextuality with IM’s other novels, perhaps. I agree with Richard Holloway’s practical assessment at the end of his Afterword:

Carel Fisher might have reached less dramatic conclusions about life if he hadn’t lived mainly inside his own head. He should have got out more. But then, if he had, we wouldn’t have had this strange novel to trouble our sleep. (p. 242)

and I hope I’ve done this book justice, even though I never found a good order in which to put my thoughts on it.


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.

Sedate lady running 06-12 August 2018 including Canal Canter race report #amrunning #running

34 Comments

This week was mainly about the 18-mile Canal Canter race I signed up to back in March when I wasn’t able to do the Manchester marathon. I downsized to the 18-miler from the marathon when I went to do an easy 10-miler the appropriate amount of time before and found it not easy enough. My training runs in the week then the report below.

Tuesday – The One With the Wrong Rucksack. I thought I’d better test out my running rucksack so got it out of the cupboard and put it on to run to running club, round the club route and home. But no, I picked up my normal (actually a cycling so extra long) rucksack and was surprised it was all wrong, rubbed my neck etc Mary Ellen and Ursula did sterling work trying to sort it out, but. I was very whiny then got home, at which point my husband helpfully pointed out that the running rucksack has pockets on the waist straps and is smaller. Oh. So a good run in the (hot) circs.

5.5 mi 12:20 mm

Thursday – I panicked over rucksackgate and somehow bought myself a whole new one – the Geila Hydration Backpack by Aonjie, a mere £24. I had to wait for it to arrive so then went out for a quick run around the block with the ever-long-suffering Mary Ellen and Caroline. It was great and solid so all good for Saturday.

2.5 mi 12:15 mm

No yoga this week, I was really sore of hand and elbow from bites on Wednesday and didn’t want DOMS from Friday. Should have stretched and rolled more. And slept more. Oh well.

Long Distance Walking Association Canal Canter 18-mile edition

Preparation

I’d done a 16-mile run last week and gone over the beginning of the route: very important and useful. Thank you, Claire! I had my usual mixed mild chili beans and other veg with brown pasta and a tea cake for dinner and tried to get an early night.

The day

Bernice came over at 8.15 and after saying hello to the cat and Matthew, took us round to the rugby club. It’s not far away but of course I didn’t know the way to drive there … Bernice is a lovely Sedate Lady who I’ve been running with for a few years and through four marathon campaigns (three of mine and one – London! – of hers) and it was lovely to be running together again after she moved away from the area.

We got to the rugby club and met a load of our running clubmates. It was a mixed walking and running event with 18 and 26.2 mile options: all of the runners and the 18 mile walkers were setting off together. We had some club pictures, comparison of kit and “pee group pressure” visits to the loo (I need a wee – now I do!):

Sole sister running chums!

Who could resist taking a picture with these weird headless rugby players? Bernice, Afshin, me, Dave, Paul, Thomas, Suki (Kevin not pictured)

Stretches and poses before the start. “Rugby poles” we would be desperate to see at the finish.

We had been issued with instructions which were unlike anything I’d dealt with before. Bernice had had them at another race by the same people in the Malverns and was a complete star reading them out – combined with my knowledge of the route we did OK. We had this green card to get stamped at the checkpoints.

Instructions (Bernice = a star) and the card we had to get validated at each checkpoint.

We set off down a grassy slope – I am very much a ROAD RUNNER and this was outside my comfort zone already! We were careful and stayed at our pace even though we were quickly at the back of the runners. We did run with a bloke for a while. We came to a split in the path and felt left was correct but found an arrow on a tree that pointed right … up a big hill on a cat-littery sort of surface and … oh, a lot of other runners and walkers and a canal where it shouldn’t have been (I think this was actually on our way back). So we turned round, found the right way and on we went.

A lovely surprise: we ran into our club’s 9 mile half-marathon training, led by the lovely Grace, Sara took this pic of us as there were her, Sonya and Caroline from our Sedate Ladies group among them.

Taken by Sara when we ran into the club’s half-marathon training. Just before another section of green pathway next to the river.

On along the River Cole valley and across the horrible green webbing stuff that I fell over (not in this location) the other month. I was SO GLAD I’d run this part with Claire already. We gathered up Imogen, who was running on her own, and took her the rest of the way with us. Yay, new running friend! And we got to the first checkpoint at the Ackers (remember that weird ski slope from my 16-mile run). We had a loo break and could have had a cuppa and toast, I topped up my lucozade sport bottle with cold water. A bit complicated going in and out of the place but I knew about the hill up by the ski slope.

First checkpoint reached! Tea and toast!

A few people thought we’d gone wrong but thank you again, Claire (I shouted Thank you, Claire!) and I knew what to do. Finally we’re on the canal. And very pretty it was, too. It was quite sunny but not as hot as it could be. I look a bit desperate in all these photos, not sure why!

With our new friend Imogen on a picturesque canal bridge

There was a really challenging bit now. I’ll share the route at this point:

Route and profile

Highlighted is mile 10 which had 72 ft of climb. There had been some canal bridges and tunnels that were a bit rough under foot or steep and challenging, and we walked up these, but this section was brick underfoot, with slopes next to locks where we had raised bricks for grip / tripping over or flat bricks. My right glute and ham started to protest and my calves, and I got a bit nervy and upset (no actual tears). It was fascinating to go under Digbeth and Aston and see it all from this angle, but also stressful.

We made it to the most complicated part around Brindleyplace where the canal divides and braids and goes around itself, past the Barclaycard Arena where we attended the National Indoors a bit ago. We were walking through the crowds here – not having a race number meant we just looked like runners and it was a bit hard to get through.

Imogen and Liz going through Brindleyplace. Rucksacks looking good – and we matched!

We got a bit worried coming under Broad Street and along, esp as Brindleyplace was the second place where the marathon runners/walkers left us and did an extra loop. But we were right! And then we were out and “Where’s Five Ways station?” “There’s Five Ways station” phew, and we reached the second checkpoint at the Vale, the University of Birmingham’s main residential area. More great volunteers and a cake stall!

At checkpoint 2 – the Vale

 

Cakes!

I didn’t partake of cakes but I filled up my bottle with orange squash.

I was getting very fatigued and a bit upset, with aching legs. We’d agreed on a 9 min run / 1 min walk strategy from Checkpoint 2 but I was flagging, and upset about that. Then we got to my favourite bit on this canal – the aqueduct over the Selly Oak bypass and I cheered up and steamed over it, with Bernice grabbing an iconic shot.

Liz is cheered by the aqueduct

I am running, honest. And that’s a drop to the road on the right – so cool!

Through Selly Oak, Dave and Thomas overtook us, doing the marathon, as did a few other marathon runners, cheering us on very matily. Then a cheer and it was our clubmate Helen, running home from work! She caught this classic urban canal shot for us then said hello and ran with us for a while. What a lift for us!

Typical Selly Oak canal view – an urban canal. By Helen.

She managed to get a shot of us from the front, too – so lovely! She said goodbye and we pressed on.

Strong ladies / struggling ladies. By Helen.

After Bournville Station we were on the club’s Thursday evening canal route which meant a bit less stressing about getting lost. We had a sit down on the bridge by the lock keeper’s cottage at one turn then Checkpoint 3 with its savoury snacks was there. “Are those pecans?” “Um, no, pork scratchings”. I had some crisps, glad of the salt, and a squash and water top-up. This is by a guillotine lock which is pretty cool.

Checkpoint 3: The guillotine lock. Savouries available and taken advantage of. Yes, it says “fool” on the bridge.

We knew we’d be over 18 miles because of the error at the start but we kept pressing along the canal, up and over the road where we normally come off for the club run and round behind the leisure centre. We met two ladies who had done extra mileage in error and more marathon runners. [edited to add: a bloke shouted out of a canal boat when we were doing a walk break, “Oy, you’re supposed to be running”. I might have shouted back, “Jeff Galloway method, mate!”] Where was the bridge to turn off? More forest and cat littery path and I had a brief resurgence of energy at about mile 18. But when would the foresty bit end?

Then, oh cruelty, we came out at the bottom of the grassy slope we’d run down at the start. I helpfully pointed out that no one could see us until we crested the brow of the hill, so, with Imogen going ahead, Bernice and I marched up the hill then started running. Up the hill, among the tussocks, along the car park bit, squeeze round a low fence, up the road, where’s the finish? Don’t know. Round the back of the commentator’s booths and there were our husbands and Bernice’s mum-in-law and small son with a bubble making wand, very much making up for the lack of a balloon arch.

Coming through the finish! By Matthew. Bubbles supplied by Bernice’s mum in law and son.

Apparently I was smiling just before Matthew captured this truer representation of the morning.

It was great, honest!

And here we are at the end. All photos by Bernice except those mentioned as being taken by others. I’d consumed about 1 litre of drink, a banana and four gels (2 gu, 2 torq).

Three relieved ladies. By me.

There was food but I didn’t really want any as I never do after a long run – I had my banana milk Matthew had brought and we got our certificates (we hadn’t realised the time on those was the time we went into the club house to request them so isn’t quite the same as our watch times). Said hello to everyone who had finished and was around (Kevin had done 14 by midday and gone home as planned; Suki was still out on the course) and Matthew and I walked home.

Afterwards

The inside string behind my left knee was hurting on the way home and I was a bit worried. A big bowl of Shreddies and a shower, a lie-down, some bread and cheese, fishfingers, chips and mushy peas, and an early night. Sunday morning I was tired and a bit achy but that has subsided through the day.

I was feeling a bit ambivalent about this and nearly didn’t blog about it. It was hard and although I’d practised on different surfaces and on the canal, and in the heat, but I hadn’t reckoned with the brick-based slope bit in town, which did me in. I felt I should have felt stronger for the second half than I did, but I just hadn’t practised for that – stairmaster at the gym would have helped.

Moving foward, I don’t love racing and don’t need to do it to run (I know that’s quite unusual and I’m lucky). I am going to ask our club coaches for some gym sessions to build strength, as well as going to more of their sessions. I think I’m going to attempt the 26.2 mile no 11 bus route in October but with plenty of rest breaks and sit-downs.

You should be able to see the relive of this run here.

19.23 mi 14:05 mm (I forgot to pause my watch loads, though), 4:30:52 “moving” time (Bernice made this 4:18); 4:49:29 elapsed time

Miles this week: 27.2

Progress towards 1,000 miles in the year: 639 miles (on track)

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

Older Entries