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?

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 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.

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!

 

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

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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

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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

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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.

Book review – Angela Thirkell – “Summer Half” #20BooksOfSummer #Amreading

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Book 13 read (a while ago, I’ve got a bit behind) and I feel like I might be keeping up now, although I’m currently reading a non-20Books book. My lovely friend Verity sent me a parcel of books in December that I opened on Christmas Day and it was full of lovely Viragoes and Vintages, what a treat!

Angela Thirkell – “Summer Half”

(25 December 2017 – from Verity)

Another great fun read – AT is always good for a laugh and I tend to ignore the snobbier bits (though I was glad those weird Eastern European projects didn’t come up in this one). Colin Keith decides to be “useful” and become a schoolteacher, then instantly regrets it. His family is phlegmatic and believe it will all sort out in the end (once they’ve actually listened to him and realised his plans). At Southbridge School, he encounters various odd masters and pupils, including the recurring character, Tony Morland (who some love to hate but I’ve always been quite fond of), who is now 16 (I know I’ve missed some out but will collect to fill in the gaps then go through them all again) plus Hacker and his chameleon. There are all the tropes of school-set books, of course, including midnight roamings and a sports day.

There’s fun sorting out romantic pairings and Colin’s galumphing little sister, Lydia, is a treat (a sort of female Tony Morland: I want them to end up together!) It’s also perceptive and a little bittersweet at times. I loved this pinning down of Colin early on, talking of his

belief in ideals and unconsidered action which it would take him several years to bring into any kind of relation with life. (p.5)

and I was also pleased to find Tony’s love of trains still going strong. The subtlety of Kate and Noel’s courtship (or is it?) and the careful settling of couples into those that suit was nicely done too, so it wasn’t all silly even though I was reduced to hooting and reading bits aloud. Yes, Mr Birkett does talk about his awful daughter needing a good beating, but took that as metaphorical (and, that awful thing, “of its time”) and no one was actually beaten.

Great fun!

This was Book 13 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


I’m currently reading Iris Murdoch’s “The Time of the Angels” which is thankfully not as terrifying as the first time I read it. Should get that finished tomorrow then on to “Peking Picnic”. I did accidentally start a Stella Gibbons in Vintage after this one but rewound hastily when I realised my error!

Book review – Ellen Glasgow – “Barren Ground” and some book confessions #20BooksOfSummer @ViragoBooks

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I approached my first Virago of this summer with a little trepidation, given that it was a bit of a hefty tome and by an author whose last book I had a bit of a problem with (read the review of “Virginia” here) but actually it was really readable and I steamed through it with relative ease, enjoying both the what-happened-next aspect and the detail and descriptions. Phew.

I also accidentally fell into The Works as I was leaving next door’s Holland & Barratt (vitamin pills and running recovery bars) and came out with three paperback novels for a fiver. My Cornish friends will know why I couldn’t turn at least one of them down …

But first to my first All Virago / All August read.

Ellen Glasgow – “Barren Ground”

(25 December 2017 – Not So Secret Santa from my Virago Group santa, Lisa)

As mentioned above, while more books by this author had been firmly on my wishlist, I was a bit intimidated by it, esp as I’ve sort of Fallen Behind a bit with 20 Books of Summer. No need to worry, though, as I plunged into the world of the strong Dorinda Oakley, seduced and abandoned, who re-forms herself in New York then returns to take over the family farm in Virginia. What a story, and I loved how it was written by Glasgow in her early 50s, the age Dorinda has reached by the end of the book.

It’s very powerful on how people get trapped by the land and their circumstances, needing a big injection of innovation and cash if they want to haul themselves out of the desperate struggle to keep going. Hard work isn’t enough, as Dorinda’s parents find: some luck and open-mindedness, plus cash, are needed, and hardly anyone gets this. It’s a small community where Dorinda and Jason’s names will be linked forever: will she be able to perform a final act of charity? A few pretty dresses have to come at the expense of a new cow, everyone knows everyone’s business and the broomsedge, pine and life-everlasting will take over lost fields, one by one.

The innovative and compassionate are praised but don’t always do well; and a bad character doesn’t condemn you as much as weakness and fear (Jason’s problem is that he’s neither good nor bad enough). Dorinda is ripe to fall in love with the first man who comes along, and her love is described in aching detail – but so is her rebuttal of love and reliance on land and hard work that comes afterwards. The scenes in New York are a bit reminiscent of “Pilgrimage”‘s dentistry sections, but the whole book, with its strong sense of predestination, its chorus of rural dialect and brooding landscapes reminded me of Hardy – and I was happy to be vindicated on this when Paul Binding pointed out in the introduction that Glasgow met Hardy and was very influenced by him. There’s a good level of detail on exactly how Dorinda improves the farm, which will always attract me to a book.

As to the problem I had with “Virginia”, well, the black characters are a little infantilised and you have to read with gritted teeth, reminding yourself this was people’s attitude in the 1920s. However, it’s not nearly as bad, and we have characters such as Fluvanna who is pretty well Dorinda’s equal in the running of the house – really, her wife, and definitely most constant companion.

These two quotations sum the book up for me:

She could never be broken while the vein of iron held in her soul. (p. 141)

and

At twenty, seeking happiness, she had been more unhappy … than other women; but at fifty, she knew that she was far happier. The difference was that at twenty her happiness had depended upon love, and at fifty it depended on nothing but herself and the land. (p. 365)

An enthralling book with a heroine the equal of a Bathsheba Everdene and more highly recommended than you would think at first glance.

This was Book 1 in All Virago / All August

This was Book 12 in #20BooksOfSummer


I’m currently reading Angela Thirkell’s “Summer Half” which is a delightful school-set romp I’m highly enjoying. Reading that, I’m not sure why I thought I needed some light relief, as what is more fluffy than an Thirkell, but I picked these up anyway …

Tracey Corbett’s “The Summer Theatre by the Sea” is set in Cornwall and features a picture of the famous Minack Theatre on the front cover. My friend Pam works there, so how exciting! Laura Kemp’s “The Year of Surprising Acts of Kindness” is about a Welsh village that gets rejuvenated by a mystery benefactor, and Clara Christensen’s “Hygge and Kisses” is about finding happiness in Denmark. All very much part of trends that are going on at the moment but I’m sure I’ll have a tired and delicate moment these will fill nicely.

What are you reading? Have you bought any new books yet this month?

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