I don’t do double reviews very often but I’ve got a feeling I’m going to finish another book tomorrow and I hate to have them roll over into the next year, so here you go.  My stupid cold has persisted so all I’ve felt up to is sleeping and reading and a bit of Super Mario Cart. While reading is never a waste, obviously, and I have got a lot of TBR to get through, it’s a shame I can’t get on with the other stuff I wanted to do during the break.

Stella Gibbons – “Westwood”

(25 December 2017 – from Verity)

The last of Verity’s lovely parcel from last Christmas (the others were read during All Virago / All August) and a lovely big novel set near the end of the Second World War and published in 1946. Margaret, a plain and serious girl who’s a school teacher by happenstance and not vocation, is friends with cheery flibbertygibbit Hilda, busy doing her bit by keeping her service boys happy (and working at the Ministry of Food). Margaret meets an artist and his bohemian wife and brood of children, by accident, and through her, meets her father, the awful Gerald Challis, practitioner of nude yoga and serial philanderer, while Hilda encounters a sad lonely posh man in the blackout and takes up with him out of pity; we of course know they are one and the same and wait to find out what happens when they find out.

Against a wartime backdrop there’s the parallel plot of Margaret’s father’s friend and his daughter, who appears to be living with Down’s syndrome (this aspect is handled sympathetically but as you would expect of a novel from this era, in not a particularly enlightened way to modern eyes; there’s also a very stereotyped although mainly positive and strong female Jewish character so there’s a bit of discomfort in the reading, although not as much as there might have been). Margaret develops her character and becomes more attractive as a result: people keep mentioning that she needs some hardship to temper her and she does indeed blossom when she has actual difficulties to resolve outside of her parents’ unsuccessful and bitter marriage.

It all goes a bit odd in the end: the scales do fall satisfyingly from Margaret’s eyes re the Challis family, but when she’s reassured by Gerald’s mother than Beauty, Time, the Past and Pity will console her if she ends up alone in life, we maybe want a bit of a happier ending for her. Hilda meanwhile suddenly settles down. Gibbons’ wry voice can’t help intruding, especially on the awful Gerald, and that’s what brings the spark to this rather uneven novel.

Excitingly, this fills in another year in my Century of Books. That doesn’t happen too often these days!

Beverley Nichols – “The Tree that Sat Down”

(April 2018)

I bought this second copy of a beloved childhood read when replacing some books that had (long-distant) cat-related damage, and a Radox bath to help my cold brought this off my TBR pile as a second-hand volume that would take a little steam (it was fine).

Nichols, a big favourite of my blogging friend / actual friend Kaggsy, is of course best known for his acerbic novels and essays for an older audience. But he wrote a set of three children’s books in the 1940s and this is the first.

Judy and Mrs Judy, her grandmother, run a delightful shop in a willow tree in an enchanted wood, but suddenly experience unpleasant competition from the horrible Sam and his respective grandparent; Sam just wants to advertise and make money from the innocent animals. All looks to be lost when he brings in a witch to help, but the situation is saved by the kind and loving nature of Judy, who helps a tatty tortoise and gets frankly a somewhat unsatisfying reward at the end.

With its mentions of Bits of Paper which mean one thing in Germany and another in England (this was published in 1945) and its pathetic Russian bear who helps the enemy out of fear, I rather fear this is an Allegory rather than a straight story! I would like to read the unabridged version, however.


I’m currently reading my lovely big book of Norse Myths (mainly because as an oversized volume, it was occupying a space on both the front and back rows of the TBR) and Christopher Fowler’s “Forgotten Authors”, which was a 2017 Christmas gift. Will I get those nicely rounded off by the end of the year? Will I ever stop sniffling and coughing?