“Bruno’s Dream” roundup and “A Fairly Honourable Defeat” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch



It’s that time of the month again – we’re recapping our reading and discussion of “Bruno’s Dream” and looking ahead to “A Fairly Honourable Defeat”

A brisk and interesting discussion is going on on my review of “Bruno’s Dream” (do join in even if you’ve read it after October 2018!). We agreed that Nigel is odd (is he an incarnation of God or a weird, uncanny hippie?) and the book is full of rather unsavoury people and power relationships. Yet it’s a good read, very atmospheric, and not as gloomy and full of death as I thought when I first read it as a teenager (I remain endlessly fascinated by the process of re-reading and our changing attitudes to familiar books.

Also do post there in the comments if you’ve reviewed the book on your own website, blog or Goodreads page. So far, Jo has posted another of her excellent reviews on Goodreads as well as joining in the discussion on the review page. I’ll add more links as you let me know about them.

Now for some reader-submitted covers. Peter Rivenberg and Jo Smith have both sent me images of the Viking US first edition, not a cobweb in sight! What is that actually an image of?

That image from Peter, and here’s the rather lovely author pic, in Jo’s version:

Peter also has the most deliciously horrendous and inappropriate copy of the Dell paperback.

Really? And who is this: Danby and Adelaide or Miles and Lisa??? And the back cover blurb …

Really, really? Keep them coming: I love these!

“A Fairly Honourable Defeat”

This is one of my favourite of IM’s novels, and features, new readers will be glad to know, the character Tallis who I keep going on about in my reviews.

I have the customary three copies: my Chatto & Windus first edition, my 1980s Penguin reprint, and my new red-spined Vintage Classic with introduction.

More cover art from the first, as the disturbing image wraps right around the back!

Lovely! Competition to work out who all these people are coming soon!

So the blurb is quite straightforward in the first:

I love this: it explains who the main characters are, raises the idea of Julius and Tallis fighting over Morgan and discusses the final defeat. We go a bit more minimalist with the other two. Here’s the Penguin:

And well, that gives it away a bit, right? And the Vintage is getting into the whole Shakespearean thing but I’m not sure about that first paragraph. We’ll see.

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “A Fairly Honourable Defeat” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up)? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite?

You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along.

Book review – Jill Baguchinsky – “Mammoth” #amreading #LibraryThing


I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Programme, and it was a physical book for once, which was a nice change. It’s published by Turner Publishing in the US, and I’m grateful to them for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

The description makes it sound a bit chick-litty, and yes, there is romance, friendship, clothes and high spirits, but I think it has a lot more depth than the genre description might make you think.

Natalie, our heroine, is a plus-size fashion blogger and palaeontology geek who reinvented herself in high school, and no, not in that way they expect plus-size heroines to invent themselves: she did not lose weight; she learned to make the best of herself, developing a funky vintage style thanks to the support of her very cool aunt, who owns a vintage boutique, makes clothes and accessories and is a marvel in a thrift store.

I’m linking up with Grab the Lapels’ “Reading Fat Women” project here, because this is her aim:

to find positive representations of folks who identify as fat women in books. That positive representation will not hinge on the character being miserable and then happy after losing weight or falling in love. Characters can lose weight or fall in love, but it is not the catalyst for their happiness. I also will not recommend books in which the character pulls her body apart and criticize pieces (I call this the “chicken dinner”).

and I think this book fits into that aim.

Natalie describes herself as fat, both internally and to others, she is proud of her style and she is not interested in losing weight. She brings up some issues around choosing what to eat in the cafeteria as she doesn’t like being seen as eating too much for fear of being fat-shamed (but she doesn’t shame herself for her eating; it’s self-protection, because although she is trying to be awesome as well as live her lived experience, sometimes it’s hard, and I think it would be unrealistic for it not to be). She mentions sitting in a certain way so her thigh doesn’t spill over and touch someone’s leg, then reminds herself (and indeed this proves true) that it is a strong thigh (later, she’s shown as having an advantage in her strength when a wispier colleague finds it hard to kneel and dig on the mammoth excavation). And most importantly, while she does have a further transformation, it’s to remove some of her protective armour of thick makeup and a body shaper, rather than to lose weight and add more adornment. She’s celebrated for her abilities – she’s a talented palaeontologist and a great needlewoman. She makes mistakes and learns from them. She does seek love but it’s not the only thing she’s after or shored up by – her family (especially her marvellous aunt), female friendships and career are equally as important.

It’s a moral book all through: we see issues such as parent-child relationships and bullying, stealing others’ work, needing to learn that no means no and keeping your own boundaries. When people step over the line, they’re punished for it and it’s explained why. Both women and men take leadership roles in the organisation we come across, and there’s talk of needing more women in STEM.

So it’s a book about getting an intern role on a mammoth dig and making discoveries and finding your hero has feet of clay. It’s also a book about being true to yourself, about beard one-upmanship and how sometimes you do need to wear flat shoes. It’s about following your dreams and daring to try hard at things, while accepting the consequences. I loved it.

Book review – Barbara Kingsolver – “Unsheltered” #amreading #books


Mr Liz and I are big Kingsolver fans. I have been for a very long time (since before I began book blogging!) and Matthew picked her up at Flight Behaviour, which he read with me, then went back to Prodigal Summer (for me, a re-read) and The Poisonwood Bible. Neither of us fancy The Lacuna, as we don’t like fiction about real people (yes, I realise that comes into this one) and don’t love a historical novel (again, but in fact this cemented that for us). I made the unusual move of buying this one in hardback on the day it came out, and Matthew got the audio book at the same time, narrated by Kingsolver, whom he highly rates as a narrator of her own novels.

Now, people do complain that what they don’t like about Kingsolver is that she’s didactic and lectures one. I’m fine with the fact that she’s got a lesson to share and information to impart, and yes, it’s a novel that teaches you things, but that’s not a bad thing in my book. In addition, I don’t personally feel it feels clunky, but arises naturally from what the characters have to say and what they do. We learn as other characters learn. I do appreciate that’s not for everyone and I would never try to force a writer like this on anyone – also of course she is somewhat preaching to the converted where we’re concerned, but you can’t be out of your bubble all the time (at all!) can you.

Barbara Kingsolver – “Unsheltered”

(18 October 2018)

In 2016 Vineland, Willa is living with her husband, second-generation Greek-American Iano, his profoundly unwell father, Nick, their tiny, dreadlocked, activist daughter Tig and an ailing dog. They have a son Zeke who’s the golden boy, new father, tech startup millionaire (on paper, anyway) with a lovely corporate wife. Meanwhile, Tig comes and goes, appears to be mending cars with the Hispanic lads next door and is unfathomable, and Nick, when he gets out and about, demands to listen to right-wing talk radio as he personifies the Trump voter. Their house is falling down around their ears but they came into it and can’t afford anything else, even though Iano is well-educated and Willa a freelance writer.

In 1871 Vineland, Thatcher Greenwood is struggling to come to terms with a new marriage (up for him, down for his wife) and life in an ailing house, which is falling down around their ears, but they came into it and can’t afford anything else. Thatcher is a schoolteacher and bursting to show his pupils the delights of Darwinian evolution, but is being stymied at every turn by his boss and the boss of the town. He meets an odd woman scientist, Mary Treat, and gets to let off steam with her. But his wife craves pretty dresses and ponies and for that he will have to buckle down.

In a huge way, this book is about underestimating people. Both Tig and Mary are seriously underestimated, but so is the threat from Trump. Nick seems powerless but his cohort brings in chaos. A headmaster with a hook for a hand on the wrong side of history turns out to be an enemy that can’t be beaten. The power of justice is overestimated. Everything’s a mess and people’s houses are falling down around their ears when they’ve made a good life and what should be the right choices. Even the structure of the novel is undermined: while you read the book you realise that most of the big events actually happen off-stage, and we’re left with the spaces between and around them.

As usual, against the backdrop of huge ideas and sweeping social change, Kingsolver is excellent at the minutiae of family relationships. The growing respect between Willa and Tig is gently and beautifully drawn, as Willa realises how she has let her down in favour of the golden boy, very much less golden it seems now. Who represents the future: the small-scale activist doing practical good in gardens and individual people’s lives or the tech startup with everything in the cloud?

This really sums up the modern half of the book with its interleaving chapters:

We can’t afford to stop doing the shit that’s screwing up the weather, and can’t afford to pick up the pieces after we do our shit. (p. 172)

Although Matthew hasn’t quite finished the book yet, I can speak for him too when I say we both preferred the modern chapters; however the 19th century ones were really well-done and involving, with good characters. It was slightly frustrating to see everything through Thatcher’s eyes, but also a good exercise in top-flight writing to make it believable, reveal things a bit at a time and follow what a man of his age would have thought.

I wouldn’t put this above Flight Behaviour and Prodigal Summer, but that’s not to say it wasn’t good. Testament to its power and readability was the fact that I used up our extra hour of sleep hunched under the covers, reading and reading to see if Kingsolver was going to say there’s any hope in our world. Whoever it was I read who was looking for Great American Novels, I think this would count!

I’m currently reading Hal Higdon’s “Run Fast” which is less annoying than I thought it would be; and next up for review is Jill Balguchinsky’s rather marvellous “Mammoth”. What’s the best book you’ve read in October?

Sedate lady running 22-28 October 2018 #amrunning #running


A good running week this week with four runs, three of them under bright blue skies! I have to runfess that I still haven’t got back to my circuits (and it’s going to hurt when I do, isn’t it!) but I did go to yoga and I did also get some hamstring stretching in on other days (I need to remember it’s not a great idea to do that while drying my hair, getting it all hanging forward!)

Tuesday – I did the running club run tonight, 4 miles of route (the one called Feck Hill) and 1.4 miles there and back. I seemed to do the back quite quickly – I ran some of the start of the route with Ruth, then got separated and completely on my own (which wasn’t great: it was dark and I was running up a road there’d been a burglary on recently; I had my head torch on and one of my clippy lights on the front of my hi-vis vest but still felt anxious. Ran part of the way home with Ruth and managed to watch the whole of Great British Bake-Off before bed!

5.4 miles, 12:11 mins per mile

Thursday – Although Sonya and Sara have done their half marathon, so didn’t want a super-long run, they agreed to come out with me for something in the morning. We started at 9, handy for school drop-off for the others, and took in a nice route which Sonya had made up, stopping off mid-route for what I call a Pee Group Pressure toilet break (I didn’t need to go but took the opportunity to go anyway). Here we are, in the Mac loos!

Glam surroundings as ever! Thanks to Sonya (middle) for the photo

With a slight dash to get there and a sprint to get home and back to work, this was a lovely workout in the sun – my blue Primark top has mesh sides (and a top underneath) so I didn’t get warm enough to take it off.

6.5 miles, 12:05 mins per mile.

Friday – Claire yoga! Quite a gentle class but with a lovely squat (I do like squats, must be the strong legs from running or something) and a lovely guided meditation at the end. Oh, I also cleaned the whole house beforehand, which has to count as some sort of cardio and strength work!

Saturday – My old friend Jase, who I know via our mutual hobby of BookCrossing, had decided to do some parkrun touristing and came up to Birmingham from Wales for the day. He only started running in January, as part of his weight loss journey, and he’s been getting faster and faster so I had encouraged him to come up before he got faster than me!

Jase and Liz at the bandstand

Goodness it was cold! When I was getting ready to go out at 7.30 our Amazon Echo announced it was 1 (33 degrees) feeling like -4 (24.8) and I put on my cowl neck top under my club tshirt and packed my last year’s London marathon failed-to-get-in jacket in my bum bag. I ran swiftly down to meet Jase at the furthest (but free) car park, thinking I was late – a 10:40 mile ensued, oops! We spent some time chatting to my club and parkrun friends then were off.

It was sunny if freezing and the trees looked lovely. We ran with Tracie and Caroline from the Sedate Ladies most of the way, and Amelia and Baby Thomas joined us, too. Neither of us held the other back and we powered up the hill to get official times for me and Jase of 35:16 and 35:18 respectively. I was pleased to get a few PRs for bits of this route, though I’ve only run this route six times since I’ve had a Garmin! We then did a walk for run and talk as it was so cold and had a lovely coffee with Bournville Harrier folk from run and talk.

1.45 miles, 10:48 mins per mile

3.1 miles, 11:22 mins per mile

Sunday – I wasn’t up to my magic 20 miles for the week so Mary Ellen and I headed out on a lovely green route she’d worked out (nice and safe on a Sunday morning with lots of runners and cyclists, some of whom we knew).

Hazelwell Park

Hazelwell Park

Hazelwell Park was looking suitably autumnal with long shadows on the grass and lovely colours. Would you believe this was England’s second city, all urban and mucky? I was pleased with my pace, especially as I was a bit tired and had had my main meal on Saturday at lunchtime.

6.6 miles, 11:50 mins per mile

Miles this week: 23.1

Progress towards 1,000 miles in the year:  863 (30 miles ahead of my end-of-October mini-goal)

Weekly wrapI take part in the Weekly Wrap run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Wendy’s weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here.

Book Review – The Pool – “Life Honestly” plus book and mag news #amreading #netgalley


I was really excited when I got an email from the publisher offering me the chance to read this collection of essays from The Pool, a refreshing platform for busy women which publishes honest and interesting articles with a feminist slant, founded by Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne which is transparent about its sponsors and which I’ve been reading for a while now when its articles crop up via social media.

So a quick review because without picking out millions of articles in detail, I can only talk about it in general terms, and I just urge you to go and look at the platform and/or the book, and then I’ll be sharing some magazine and book loveliness. Yes, more of it! Oops!

The Pool – “Life Honestly”

(16 August 2018, from NetGalley)

I really enjoyed this collection of essays and enjoyed its intersectional nature, featuring issues and writers from a range of communities, not just middle-class white women. Put into sections that feel sensible, with no essay or section so long it gets boring, these are great reads which I would press into the hands of any woman who doesn’t already read The Pool. I have to say that as an occasional reader with a photographic memory, I did recall having read some of the pieces already.

Covering major sections on gender politics and power, work, friendship, body, relationships, wombs, mind, money, parenting and style, there’s something to pique everyone’s interest, whether that’s centred on dealing with coercive control, womanning up about your finances, what kind of friends you should get rid of to how black women source and share information about wedding planning when the ‘mainstream’ media don’t feature them at all.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for making the book available in return for an honest review, via NetGalley.

So, when we got home from our holiday, as well as the book I’ve highlighted already, I was excited to find in the post two of the magazines I now read, with another appearing in the week. Two of them had mentions of me in them!

The Iris Murdoch Review (No 9) is an A4 format journal which has a few essays on IM, often developed from conference papers, something about some primary texts (here, letters to her last PhD student), reviews and reports from conferences and events. I was a little nervous as I knew there was a review of my book, “Iris Murdoch and the Common Reader” (scroll down in the link to see the book and links onwards) by the ever-lovely Pamela Osborn: I knew she wouldn’t savage it, of course, but I do fear academic rigour and feel myself lacking in it (as, indeed, she pointed out, very kindly in the review). But it was a lovely review, and I was particularly happy that she appreciated my warm and friendly but still academic tone, as that’s something I strive for in all my writing.

Saga-Book, which is the journal of the Viking Society for Northern Research, has some really meaty essays on aspects of the sagas and other Old Norse literature. I rejoined the Society having been a student member 30 years ago, and don’t get to the meetings but do enjoy dipping into these publications and seeing familiar names from my student days still going strong.

The Persephone Biannually highlights the new publications from Persephone and also has short stories, reviews from the papers and Our Bloggers Write – the latter including an excerpt from my review of “Princes in the Land” by Joanna Cannan – how exciting!

Unseen: I still enjoy The New Statesman, especially for the reviews and for catching up with news in different parts of the world. I had mag-lag with that one, too, as one arrived just before our holiday and one during.

I’m proud to say I’m all caught up now, with only Saga-Book left to read!

And so to new books in.

Mr Liz (Matthew) and I are very keen readers of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels. I’ve been reading them since her first, slimmer works, and have loved her ever since, and we even “did” “The Poisonwood Bible“, which hadn’t appealed to me for years after it was published (we’ve still not read “The Lacuna”, as I have a strong dislike of the use of real people as central fictional characters in novels, but I bet we succumb some time, just because her writing is so excellent). Anyway, I was writhing in envy when a few bloggers I read had got hold of review copies of her new one, “Unsheltered” and so took the unusual for me step of getting hold of a hardback copy as soon as it came out. Matthew’s zooming ahead of me in the audio book (read by Kingsolver herself, which is always a treat as she does it so well, apparently) and I’m very much appreciating the clever zeitgeisty workings of the early part of the book (although the situation the modern characters are in feels like an Anne Tyler situation, which is confusing me a little!). More to follow on this one. Who will finish it first?

Another thing I don’t often do these days is put in for a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book as they all seem to be genre fiction (and the genres are sci fi or thrillers, which I’m not keen on) but I did go for “Mammoth” by Jill Baguchinsky and a nice paperback proof copy duly arrived. Blogging and palaeontology with a bit of light romance thrown in: it does look fun. I have to remember you’re supposed to read and review LTER books within the month, however, so it will have to go in after “Unsheltered”.

I have just finished Cathy Newman’s “Bloody Brilliant Women” which was well-done but I’m reviewing it for Shiny New Books so will share that in due course.

What new books have you let into the house recently? What magazines or journals do you read? Have you got mag-lag or do you assiduously read them as soon as they come in?


Book review – Iris Murdoch – “Bruno’s Dream” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


I will admit to finishing reading this book a good few days ago, but I need a chunk of time to write these reviews that I really didn’t get in the week back after our holiday in Cornwall. I was slightly worried about reading this one as it’s traditionally been one of my least favourite, however I recall liking it a lot more last time, and I found even less to feel weird about this time. Maybe it’s a book that gets better with increasing maturity (or age!). Discuss! Let’s NOT discuss any further how Vintage didn’t do a “red spine” edition of this one. It’s fine. Honestly.

EDITED TO ADD: After some comments and some thinking about this on my own part, I’ve realised that I’m using these ‘reviews’ of IM’s books as sort of notes for discussion rather than traditional or formal reviews, using a kind of shorthand regarding themes etc. I’ve realised this might be a bit offputting to the casual or new visitor, or the person visiting IM for the first time, even, so I’ve added this comment here and tweaked the piece slightly to hopefully make it a bit more approachable. I’ve made additions in italics on 23 October in the early morning, so the first two comments on the post were made before that.

Iris Murdoch – “Bruno’s Dream”

(August 2018)

Bruno, very elderly and frail, is dying slowly in his son-in-law Danby’s house. Across London, his estranged son, Miles, lives with his second wife and her sister in some sort of domestic harmony. Meanwhile Danby dallies with the maid, Adelaide, who is mixed up with a pair of twins, weird actor Will and Nigel, Bruno’s nurse. As the Thames threatens to flood, Bruno mulls over his indiscretions, his obsession with spiders, his stamp collection and the metaphor of his dressing gown as he sinks and the waters rise.

When I first read this book, in my mid-teens, it really did feel like it was all about Bruno’s slow death, and I found it morbid and alarming and really wasn’t keen. But there’s so much more to it than that, including a range of interesting other characters and their tangled relationships. What I hadn’t realised, though, or remembered, was just how much Adelaide (like Patty?) is abused and mistreated.

We’re straight into Bruno’s consciousness at the start of the novel, and it’s amazing how she “gets” his life and his slow decline. With the description much later, “He felt as if the centre of his mind was occupied by a huge black box which took up nearly all the space and round which he had to edge his way. Names not only of people but of things eluded him, hovering near him …” (p. 278), it’s almost impossible not to think of IM’s own Alzheimer’s, isn’t it (or is that just me, ignoring my Reception Theory / Death of the Author underpinning?).  But it’s not all about him and soon we meet Danby, and a great pithy summary of his character:

Danby was the sort of man who, if civilisation were visibly collapsing in front of him, would cheer up if someone offered him a gin and French. (p. 11)

There’s not so much farce and humour in this book as there is in some of the others, even if there’s some drawing-room stuff and some partner swapping going on. It’s more irony: Bruno saving the stamp collection for a rainy day has pathos and humour when he considers what he could have done with the money, and then savage irony when it’s an actual rainy day that takes it away. There is the farce of everyone thinking Danby has crept into Miles and Diana’s garden to see them which reminds us of other misunderstandings in other novels. The duel, again, could be farcical but is odd and disturbing and leads Nigel to make a strange claim about who he loves. IM does seem to like amusing when she’s describing a house: she’s done that before and she does it again in Auntie’s house: “Not everything which ought to be against a wall had a wall to be against” (p. 45)

I think something which might be unique in this book is the flash forward to Adelaide and her marriage and children: does this happen in any other of the novels? Also quite unusual is the brief flash of feminism on p. 220:

‘My name is Nigel. I’m the nurse. Nigel the Nurse. I suppose I should say the male nurse, the way people say women writers, though I don’t see why they should, do you, as more women are writers than men are nurses. Wouldn’t you agree?’

Another weird thing I found: Nigel refers to Adelaide as taking the stamp “for Will Boase” – however Will is his twin and Danby knows this (doesn’t he?) so why would he refer to him as Will Boase and not just Will?

With our main themes that we find in most of her novels, and which make IM’s entire oeuvre something many people read over and over again, rather than having a particular favourite, in the descriptions of women, Diana “tucked her hair well back behind her ears and thrust her pale smooth large-eyed face boldly forward at the world” and I think if we came upon that in isolation we’d know it was IM, wouldn’t we? Adelaide fulfils an important theme by having her hair cut off and then carrying the cut-off bit around with her. With siblings, we have Diana and Lisa and their swap in importance and power; Lisa also becomes a sort of child in Diana and Miles’ marriage. Miles and Danby are brothers-in-law and of course we have nasty Will and creepy Nigel, weird twins grown up but torturing each other rather than conspiring. Why was it Bruno and not them I found horrifying on my original reading of the book?

In further doubling, Lisa resembles the dead Gwen, Miles’s first wife, and Nigel goes to do the job Lisa originally signed up for in Calcutta. Bruno has written his Great Book but it wasn’t a huge tome after all and we get a wryly amusing passage about its decline from a planned great work to a couple of articles. Nigel spends quite a lot of time looking through windows from damp gardens, and then Danby has his foolish climb into Miles and Diana’s back garden to look through their window, causing the horrible almost-farce in the garden. Water is of course a main theme, with the threat of the Thames flooding and the flood scene, plus Danby’s escape from the duel by swimming the Thames. Adelaide’s tears make more water appear. And who can forget London and its fogs, redolent of “The Time of the Angels” or “A Severed Head” as almost another character.

IM is often talked about as having a central enchanter and a saint figure in her novels. Who is the enchanter and who the saint? Poor old Adelaide feels herself not to be like other people, lives in clutter and “did not feel herself in any way attached” which is quite a classic indicator of Murdochian sainthood. She’s in the power of Danby and Will but is maybe enchanted rather than saintly? Lisa is spoken of as having a vocation and she is a “bird with a broken wing” but also very strong: she works in an “atmosphere of dirt and poverty and muddle” and “lived in a real world” (p. 148), and of course she cares for Bruno without revulsion and tries to go and do charity work but finds her role is back healing the folk around her. She is also described has having “superb negativity” (p. 254) and being detached.

I’m not sure there IS an enchanter. Nigel claims he’s God but I think he’s just a creepy hippy – and certainly no enchanter claims to be one and usually becomes on by his subjects making him one. Or maybe he’s a saint: he gives Diana advice to “Let them trample over you in their own way” (p. 223), although he doesn’t seem to follow his own advice. But again, he talks in his letter to Danby of being a saint, and the way to be one is not to strive to be one, isn’t it. Diana learns to let people do as they will and to look after Bruno without recoiling, so is maybe moving towards goodness. As Bruno fades, she realises, “She tried to think about herself but there was nothing there” (p. 289) so in helping Bruno she’s subsumed her own person – and become saintly?

Echoes of other books: First of all, the pursuit of a woman is back, when Bruno chases Janie through the department store early on. Miles also sees a woman in a pale dress walking across the paving stones in the dark and doesn’t know whether it’s his wife or sister-in-law.  Gwen and Danby meet on the Circle Line Tube, a line which will of course assume prominence in “A Word Child” (taking a forward echo on for once). The fog and London echo “A Severed Head” and “The Time of the Angels”, and of course Will Boase and/or his sons are mentioned in “The Sea, The Sea” (which I love).

I’ve really been feeling my way as I’ve written my review here rather than formulating thoughts on the book in advance and putting forward full hypotheses. I certainly reacted viscerally to some of the scenes and like it a good deal more than when I first read it, 30-odd years ago. I hope this piece isn’t too muddled and is clearer now!

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 15-21 October 2018 #amrunning #running


This week I have to runfess that I have NOT gone to yoga and I have NOT done my Coach Paul circuits. We only got home on Monday and it’s been laundry, collecting the cat from the cattery, and lots of work (I did NO WORK on holiday, apart from answering a few emails – hooray!) including a very urgent booking that overlapped with Friday yoga. I will do better in coming weeks. I have also run the requisite number of miles, (feeling very much that lack of stretching!) and formulated the beginnings of an ultra plan. I haven’t run continuously during any of my runs, taking a “jeffing” approach, but that’s completely OK, as we all know. More importantly, as, having had a not-great run last Sunday, I was starting to worry I’d booked an ultra then immediately stopped running so much/ fallen out of love with it, I enjoyed my running week.

Monday – OK, hauling my (4-wheeled, runs along vertically SOOO easily, right) suitcase through Penzance made my biceps ache for a day or so. So I’m counting that as strength and cardio!

Tuesday – I was supposed to go to club run. It was the route some people had some hassle on the other week. None of the Sedate Ladies were going (or maybe one, who is faster than me). I was TIRED. And I wimped out, but usually when I don’t want to run there is good reason, so fine. And I got a nice early night in.

Wednesday – Jenny, who is working her way back into running after being unwell for quite a while, suggested a before-lunch run. It was nice not to have to don day-glo colours (I know some bloggers I follow like the bright colours and matching outfits; I quite like slipping along quietly in the daytime at least).

I started off a little late and had to dash up to our meeting point, scoring a 10:41 minute mile (way fast for me) and a couple of Strava segment PRs. Phew! Had to have a pause when we met (not late!) then we took a gentle run-walk around for around 4.5 miles before I nipped back home again. Lovely to catch up and put the world to rights. It was pretty sunny, too, and I was a little warm in my black top.

6 miles, 13:26 mins per mile

Thursday – Our running club runs a “5k and beyond” course twice a year, autumn and early in the year, to support new or returning runners through a couch to 5k type programme then progressing onwards to 4 miles (I know, mixing the units!) to enable them to run with our weekly Tuesday club run. It’s led by the excellent and supportive Lee, helped by three volunteers from the rest of club each week. I LOVE LOVE LOVE helping with this and have usually done a few sessions covering for people who can’t come for whatever reason, but today was my first run out with the current group.

New lights!

I tried out my new little lights, bought from Lidl a while ago for a small amount of money each. A flexible loop on the back clips to the clip you can see on the orange one, so they’re great for on your rucksack or belt and I hung them round the wide elastic bits joining the front and back of my hi-vis tabard. One is red, one white and they do continuous or two kinds of flashing, and they worked well.

I ran up late as ever so quite fast for me, then supported the lovely Chloe to do 8 mins run, 5 mins walk, 4 mins run, 2 mins walk, 2 mins run. She did very well and we covered 1.45 miles. I love it when people don’t think they can do it, then they can. Hooray! I then ran back home with fellow-volunteer Kate and did some local loops to make up the miles.

0.7/1.45/2 miles for a total of 4.1, 10:33/14:33/11:38 mins per mile

Saturday – Off to Wolverhampton with my clubmate Paul to officiate at the Cross-Country Relays. Good fun as ever, though a long day as we had junior races in the morning then seniors/masters in the afternoon. I was in the start/relay changeover team, so had variously over the races the roles of looking after the start, then sending off the B and C runners as I saw their A or B runner cross the finish line (with an experienced colleague: I’d never done this before and it’s a bit nerve-wracking to start off with; I will confess that I messed up the first start line we did and had to be told to get out of the way!); checking there was a runner in the start pen for each runner coming to the line; checking numbers and letters going into the holding pen; and then sending off B, C, and D runners for the seniors and masters again (so many of them!). It was lovely weather, amazingly, and another experience for my record to put towards achieving Level 2 Endurance Official certification. My lovely husband cooked us a great chili with brown rice for dinner.

Sunday – Long run day. I had some cheese to deliver to my friend Ali, who lives about 4 miles away, so based my route around this. I met Trudie and Ruth on my doorstep just after 9 and we had a brief encounter with Jenny on the way, who ran with us for about 10 minutes before veering off home.

Ruth, Trudie, Liz, autumn leaves. Thanks to Trudie for the photo.

What a lovely sunny day it was. Tracie joined us, she’d run down our route from home and stuck with us for her 4 miles of recovery run after the Royal Parks Half last weekend.

There was a more flattering one of me but this shows our friendship as a group. Thanks to Trudie for these two, too.

Ambitious shadow selfie!

Trudie left us to pop to her mom’s; lovely to run with her again after a bit of a gap. Tracie turned back when it was time, leaving me and Ruth jeffing along happily (we were doing a 1 min run / 30 sec walk ratio). We got to Ali’s and delivered her cheese, which had done well in my backpack with an icepack the other side of the cheese from my back.

Ali’s photo of the day!

Then we worked our way back, popped to my house to shed my rucksack and retrieve Ruth’s jacket, which we’d posted through my letterbox on the way out, then I did another 2.5 miles up to the park, round a couple of times (running into Louise doing a Pokemon event, somewhat surreally) and home to make up a decent and comfortable distance. I did run continuously for this last bit, just to get it done, I think, and because I hadn’t set up the intervals on my watch.

10.5 miles, 12:51 mins per mile

Ultra plans

I’m not going to go on about the ultra every week until I’m on the 24-week programme, but here’s my plan for the rest of the year:

October – keep at 20-25 miles per week for one more week.

November – December – build to 25-28 miles per week. Stretch 5 days out of 7. Do 1 building to 2 Paul circuits per week and at least one yoga session per week. Continue with head on pillow, lights out between 10 and 10.30 pm (this is working well for me and Matthew at the moment).

January – start the 24 week programme to allow for missed weeks as I go along.

Does that sound feasible to experienced ultra-runners? I will try to get some trail shoes and do some off-road stuff gently, too.

Miles this week: 20.6

Progress towards 1,000 miles in the year:  840 (target to reach by the end of this month: 833.33)

Weekly wrapI take part in the Weekly Wrap run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kimberly’s (standing in for Wendy) weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here.

Book review – Jackie Kay – “Red Dust Road” plus holiday book confessions #amreading #bookconfessions


I’m just back from a holiday in West Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly – had a lovely time, with lots of walking, some running, a bit of horse-riding (once every two years is about my record on that one) and, of course, plenty of reading. I read all the books I took with me and left them in our two hotels, but of course acquired more while down there from some favourite shops and the great charity shops of Penzance. And then finished reading one of the acquisitions on the train home!

Jackie Kay – “Red Dust Road”

(12 October 2018 – Penzance charity shop)

My friends in the Very Small Book Group had read and raved about this a while ago (Ali will let me know when, I’m sure) and so when I spotted it in a charity shop I couldn’t resist. Ostensibly the story of her finding her Nigerian father and family, it’s also an autobiography and tribute to her adoptive parents.

It’s a lovely, warm, self-deprecating but strong read, and I did indeed love it. I giggled at times and I did have a tear in my eye at one point. I really loved the stories of her mum’s down-to-earth Scottish reactions to the more outlandish parts of her “journey” as well as the heartfelt descriptions of her meetings with her birth mum and dad and musings on what it is to be adopted and the howling wind-filled centre of your mind that is never truly still. As a poet and novelist, Kay is full of stories, of course, but she shares this with her mum and talks movingly of how the two of them wove together a story of what happened to her birth parents that sustained them and drew them closer: “It was a big bond, the story” (p. 44).

Kay is so honest, especially sharing how she’s an open and trusting person and so all the secrecy around her adoption really got to her. She’s thrilled to meet her Highlands of Scotland aunts and draws interesting comparisons between the Scottish and Nigerian villages she originates from. She’s generous in her thanks to the people who support her along the way, and while it’s not an easy read as such, the pages slip by. I will be looking for some of her poetry to read now.

Here‘s Ali’s review of the book, which brings out some quotations I loved, too.

We had a sort of “extra” day in Penzance on Friday, as our boat from the Isles of Scilly was moved forward because of storms coming in on Friday and Saturday. We didn’t do much (we had a trip out on Sunday, instead, which we thought would be our down day) but I scoured the charity shops and the wonderful Edge of the World Bookshop for lovelies. Eric Newby’s “A Small Place in Italy” is about restoring an Italian house and not one I had or had even read! The Jackie Kay we now know about. “Bird Watching Watching” by Alex Horne (who we know from the rather wonderful programme Taskmaster) is about a year birdwatching with his dad and was not to be resisted.

I bought Philip Marsden’s “Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place” because it centres around West Cornwall, where we were. This seemed the ideal book to buy there. I love this shop so much – website here – it’s so friendly and has a marvellous stock, and has just moved a few doors up the road into larger premises. If you’re ever in West Cornwall, do pop to Penzance to pay them a visit.

There are a couple of other lovely bookshops in Penzance. Barton Books does art and design and children’s books and lovely notebooks, and Newlyn Books has a wonderful selection of second-hand books and art books, including a wonderful local collection.

Amusingly, I bought a copy of Colin Duriez’ “The Oxford Inklings” there – I say amusingly because of course Tolkien was a son of Birmingham, and last time I went to Newlyn Books I bought a Francis Brett Young book (another local). This has very good reviews by a number of scholars and looks like another good addition to my shelf.

The final addition to my TBR came when we got home. A running and reading friend had asked if I could help the publisher out by taking on a review copy of Mark Atkinson’s “Run Like Duck: A Guide for the Unathletic” and as we know, I’m always up for a running book (plus this one mentions ultras) so I was very happy to find it on the doormat when we returned (along with the Iris Murdoch Review, which includes a lovely review of my book “Iris Murdoch and the Common Reader”, and Saga Book from the North Atlantic Research Society, so I’m going to be a busy Lizzie for a while!

What have you been up to while I’ve been away? I’ve tried to keep up with blogs though had to catch up first!

Sedate lady running 08-14 October 2018 #amrunning #running


A holiday week this week in which I did – shock, horror – very little running! But I’ve been pretty active, so I think it’s all OK. In fact we walked an average of over 5 miles per day, and a lot of those miles were pretty hilly or uneven, requiring walking boots, concentration and hard work.

I do have some runfessions, too, apart from that one. I runfess that I forgot my running belt and had to buy a new one. How many belts do I have now? Four belts. But the new one is quite good, so that’s all OK (right?). I also runfess that I do run on sugar and caffeine and if I’ve had cereal without sugar and then a non-caffeine gel, it’s not such a fun run. Oh.

Last Sunday – I already shared last week’s run details with you, however I didn’t post where I went and pics as I was still away. Wanted to share these quickly. I ran round to St Michael’s Mount, which is joined to the mainland by a causeway. I do love a causeway, so I picked my way across it and back – hooray! Now, a rather nasty comment on my last week’s blog post (I didn’t let it through) took me to task for taking too many selfies, but I like all my running blog buddies’ pics so please excuse mine.

St Michael’s Mount across the sand

Me by the Mount entrance

The causeway I’d just run across

Tuesday – I had a giggle on a book blog I follow when I’d commented that I’d spent time on an island, as the US blogger mentioned that I lived on an island anyway! But we went to the Isles of Scilly (off the tip of Cornwall) and I went riding! I go riding about once every 2 years and I was pleased my running muscles helped me stay on firmly and do rising trot. We had a lovely trek for an hour as well as walking 8.5 miles that day so I’m treating that as my normal run.

Me and Kieran

Kieran was a small Shire horse and adorable!

Sunday – I didn’t have all the time in the world and ended up having a not-great run, although actually I got a couple of PRs in the first part of the run so might still have gone out a bit fast even if it didn’t feel like it. I did get to run past three harbours: Mousehole

Mousehole harbour

… then Newlyn and Penzance, and also Penlee Park. I wanted to get in 10 or even 13 miles but had to settle for 9 increasingly slow ones. Oh well. It got done and I did enjoy the sea views (not the seaweed on the path or the flies coming out of it!).

9 miles, 12:21 minute miles

Miles this week: 9 

Progress towards 1,000 miles in the year:  819 (on target)

Weekly wrapI take part in the Weekly Wrap run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Wendy’s weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here.

Book review – Tracy Corbett – “The Summer Theatre by the Sea” #amreading

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Another easy win, read on holiday in Cornwall as it was set there (you can see it on the back shelf in the TBR picture). There are a lot of these “Little x by the sea” novels in The Works et al. at the moment; it must be the new trendy theme after book groups. But it was a decent read.

Tracy Corbett – “The Summer Theatre by the Sea”

(07 August 2018)

This light novel starts off with our heroine finding her world falling apart and deciding to move in with her sister down in Cornwall. I think this is a genre thing as I’ve read a few books that start like that, but it was believable and set the scene. After a wobbly moment where Bristol and Plymouth appeared to get mixed up, we were safely near the end of Cornwall in a town which appeared to be a nice mix of Penzance and Newlyn, with a few of the castly places thrown in – well done, though.

Of course there’s romance brewing with another escapee from London this time and there is depth in this book, with Barney’s career worries and local relationships – including an interesting loan shark sub-plot) very nicely portrayed. There’s plenty of agency for our central figure Charlotte and she’s certainly not waiting for someone to rescue her, and it was nice that she worked out her issues with the help of her GP and a sensible self-help book rather than just the love of a good man. The transvestite character was a nice touch and it was great to see the Minack Theatre portrayed, although you’d have to know it to know it’s a real theatre (there’s a picture of it on the front of the book, which is what I was drawn to).

A good read with some nice depth to it.

I found Jackie Kay’s “Red Dust Road” in a charity shop in Penzance (I will update on all my buys another day when I’ve sorted out my photos) and have started reading it: Heaven-Ali and two other local friends read it for their Very Small Book Group a while ago and told me how good it was so it seemed foolish not to pick it up. Good so far!

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