“The Good Apprentice” round-up and “The Book and the Brotherhood” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


I really enjoyed re-reading “The Good Apprentice” and it’s stayed near the top of my list, even though I have switched allegiance on a few characters. Here’s my review with the usual comments and discussion (I will admit to have not replied to the lovely long comments yet – sorry!). Jo has contributed a very interesting review on Goodreads which pulls out some very good points.

If you have any juicy paperbacks or alternative covers, do send me covers to include as I love seeing all the different ways the books are interpreted. I always welcome reviews after the month I happen to have read the book, so do comment away if you’re coming to this at some other time! It’s always good to talk about Iris Murdoch! I just added one from someone who’d read and reviewed “Henry and Cato”, for example

“The Book and the Brotherhood”

This has always been one of my top favourites, and includes my all-time favourite character, so no pressure for this one to live up to, then. It also has the best parrot, though brace yourselves …

I have the usual three copies although I fear this is almost the last time I’ll be posting three as the final two books didn’t get republished by Vintage. Can you believe I was pulling a book off the bottom shelf of my IM first editions? I will be very sad when this readalong is over.

The first edition is very special to me, because it was the first IM first edition I bought! I went to a shop in Cecil Court in central London and bought it for £16 in January 2004, a birthday present to myself. I had a vague plan of buying them all, birthday by birthday, but the prices were still a bit high – I’ve amassed most of the rest of them over the last two years. I have the slightly more modern (and very 1990s somehow) Penguin, which I bought on 30 December 1994, presumably using Christmas book tokens. And I have to say I do love the cover of the Vintage edition.

The blurbs are quite similar … here’s the first:

Here’s the Penguin:

and here’s the Vintage:

which is less derivative than some of them and concentrates on the opening – which is marvellous. I can’t wait to get stuck into this one!

Oh, and I finally got round to buying this lovely:

It is available from the Second Shelf Bookshop in particular, and other real-life bookshops of course, in person, or the usual online booksellers, and has new photos and lovely-looking pieces by people who knew Iris Murdoch. I’ve decided to save it to read after I’ve finished “Jackson’s Dilemma” in December, to give a nice treat to the end of the year. Who else has it?

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Book and the Brotherhood” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite? Do you have a photo to share of you reading one of the books, or where you read it?

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

Book reviews – two easy escapist reads #am reading


Two nice easy reads that allow you to escape into a nice world of seaside and friendship when the world outside is looking a little grim. And yes, sometimes I do allow myself to read a book I’ve just brought home or pluck one from the middle of the front shelf! Shocking!

BTW, about to photograph my TBR shelves for Sunday’s post, I note they are still absolutely full, but with slightly different books. So that’s OK (right?)

Debbie Macomber – “Cottage by the Sea”

(20 August 2019)

One of the books I picked up on my way home from a dental check-up, this had to be grabbed and read immediately. Annie has lost all of her family in a mudslide tragedy (that really happened, in 2014, assuring us that this is not one of DM’s recycled novels but a proper new one), and we follow her grieving and renewal process as she moves to a small community where her family used to spend the summer. She meets Keaton, a painter and man of few words, and tries to win the friendship of her unfriendly landlady, all the while worrying about a family abuse issue in the town. So it’s not short of issues, plus Keaton and his friend Preston do animal rescue, which worried me – there is in fact only one animal loss and that’s not dwelt on and is not an animal we meet more than slightly and once. A good restorative and positive read.

Clara Christiensen – “Hygge and Kisses”

(07 August 2018)

Bought almost exactly a year ago, of course the hygge trend of latter years had to come up in a novel at some point, and here it is. Bo (not actually Danish) discovers the concept of hygge through a trip to her half-Danish friend’s summer house. The usual job loss / manky boyfriend takes a while to get going, the Danish middle section is nicely paced and subtly done, then the ending seems a bit rushed (and amusingly overlaps with another 2018 easy-read trend which I won’t spoil). But a nice escapist read with some good positive moments.

I’ve bought some more comfort reads and one intellectual one, which you’ll hear about on Sunday, and I’m about to start “Humankind”, my last Shiny review book (for now) which is fascinatingly all about inventions that help society and are inspired by actual need.

How are you doing?

Book review – Josephine Kamm – “Peace, Perfect Peace” @DeanStPress #FurrowedMiddlebrow


I’m glad to  have been able to fit in another review of an interesting mid-century novel, kindly sent to me by Dean Street Press from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint for review. Scott reviewed it on the Furrowed Middlebrow blog back in 2016 and it’s part of the summer offering from Dean Street Press – you can read about them all here.

I actually received Barbara Noble’s “The House Opposite” along with Verily Anderson’s “Spam Tomorrow” (reviewed by me earlier in the month) and asked to swap it as I was worried that one might be too horribly detailed about the Blitz – if anyone has read it, can you let me know (dead or injured pets or massive horror detail are not for me usually or even more so right now). Anyway, this is a novel of peacetime, just post-war, and very interesting indeed.

Josephine Kamm – “Peace, Perfect Peace”

(17 June 2019)

A book with a slightly odd structure: it starts off being about Clare, middle-aged at 35 and suffering an unhappy affair with a married man while she tries to write a second novel, but when she goes to visit hr friend and ex-landlady Joanna by the sea, the author seems to get more interested in Joanna’s battle with her daughter-in-law, Frances, over the soul of Frances’ son, Giles. Although we return with Clare to depressing London and her gas ring and dusty room, and also witness her betrayal of Joanna (it’s on a small canvas but has some gasp-out-loud moments), it’s this relationship that’s explored in huge detail, as resentment builds in Frances, all the while trying to make a home out of a slightly bomb-damaged and pretty manky flat. Poor old Clare is given a rather hastily sketched-in plot resolution, although she’s used for the author’s main theme.

Frances’ daughter June is a caution, and brings levity and hilarity to the proceedings, and post-war winding-down office life is well-portrayed, too, and the gathering of itself of a seaside town, but the main value and I think the author’s real main interest lies in its minute detailing of the privations, annoyances and humiliations of post-war life, from visiting an empty road house for not much fun to forgetting there’s no blackout any more or going into a lottery for a Christmas turkey. Published in 1947, it’s a fresh record which serves as an invaluable documentation of that time in British history, as well as being a perfectly readable and enjoyable novel.

Well done, Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press: another triumph!

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Good Apprentice” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


It’s funny what you remember and don’t remember about books you re-read, isn’t it? I’d remembered very clearly Stuart being described as a white grub, and scenes at Seegard, and I recall finding Middge an attractive character (something of which I’m less sure this time round) but I had no memory of most of the actual plot as such! Anyway, a bit of a late review and I hope my regulars are poised to share their thoughts, and anyone else happening along feels moved to share theirs, too.

If you’re doing the readalong or even selected books along with me, or of course some time afterwards, do share how you’re getting on and which have been your favourites so far.

Iris Murdoch – “The Good Apprentice”

(28 December 2018)

Edward and Stuart are brothers-but-not-brothers. Edward has just been instrumental in the death of a friend and wants to blot out all experience and stop living in hell  “How does one live after total wickedness, total failure, total disgrace?” (p. 10). Stuart is inexperienced but wants to do good in the world. Their father/step-father is one of a group of super-Murdochian middle-class characters (the analyst, the doctor, the academic, the “women’s lib” writer) and their offspring who circle the boys, trying to help. Meanwhile, near the sea but seemingly distanced from the sea, Seegard sits with its colony of weird women, waiting for whoever ends up visiting.

This is one of the books where you definitely have to draw a diagram of the relationships, pretty well as soon as you discover that Stuart and Edward are brothers only in vague name, having different mothers AND fathers. Add in a few aunts and cousins and you can easily get very lost. And then everyone’s mothers seem to know everyone else’s mothers! I found my diagram from last time and added to it – dotted lines are links not by marriage or birth and I imagine it’s incomplete!

There are little feminist bits again which I’ve never (how?) noticed before. Sarah Plowmain’s mother is into “Women’s Lib Journalism. She’s a fire-eater” (p. 6) and later writes a piece decrying Mother May’s position as a little woman serving a great man and being spiteful about his conquests. We don’t have the horrible ageing women we’ve had in other books, Mother May’s network of fine lines being attractive and Midge, for all of her weight gain, being very attractive and well-dressed. Thomas has been doing a lot of thinking about the menopause in a rather startling passage, with a very modern conclusion: “In fact, he thought, there is no typical menopause, there are as many menopauses as women” (p. 387) so although he’s been complaining about women pinning their neuroses onto this time of life, he is humane about it. Harry is seen grabbing and shaking Midge until her head cracks against a chair (but he doesn’t get to keep his relationship with her).

In our usual themes Willy is trying to write a book on Proust but has been unable to finish it. Harry HAS finished a book but it’s a novel (“a terrible shameful secret”) and it’s being rejected by publishers. Red curly hair is a theme at Seegard (and Midge has a many-coloured mop that is also familiar) and not only Ilona but Bettina chops her hair off. There are stones throughout: the “lingam stone” of which Edward knows the meaning and Ilona claims not to, the stones around the country cottage and the paperweight stone Thomas has from Scotland. Spiders appear as Bettina teases one at Seegard, and Edward claims his head is full of poisonous ones. There are not many people seen out of windows or through them, but Harry enters Midge and Thomas’ house via a “tree-shaded back alley through a gate into the walled garden” (p. 181). Stuart chases Meredith in London but there’s no one flitting in a white dress. Water is there in the form of the sea by Seegard, not accessible by Edward until he trusts his own sense of direction, and mists.

There’s lots of doubling – Stuart and Edward / Mark and Brownie, with Edward and Mark the favoured children. Two locations, London and Seegard. Two families for almost everyone. Two hot air balloon appearances. Two fingers on lips expressions for Midge and Meredith. Two sightings of Jesse drowned, one real, one a vision. Two encounters with the Tree Men. Willy’s father is killed camel riding, Harry’s sailing. Jesse and then his old friend Max die, probably on the same day, and the two deaths are seen in the papers. Ilona can dance in the glade and then can’t dance in the strip club (is this Seegard as enchanter again? see below).

Of course the theme of religion hangs over the whole book – or precisely what to do when religion has faded from the world, Edward can’t take absolution from a priest and Stuart can’t become a monk, so what are they to do to make their way through the world? The introduction by David E. Cooper makes much of this, and is right to.

There is humour in this big and very sad book. The “Willy and the camel” thing is pretty weird, his father having been killed by one – Harry mentions someone “drinks like a camel” and Willy leaves suddenly and later when Midge wants to get rid of him, she comments “What a fine coat … it’s camel-hair, isn’t it?” (p 432). This is such an odd one it does feel like something – a dare? – that has worked its way in from real life. Some of the descriptions of discomfort – Edward in his wet clothes at Mrs Quaid’s (“His trousers were wet and seemed to have shrunk, he felt cold, a smell of damp wool arose from the collar of his jacket” (p. 64)

Who is the saint and who the enchanter? I’m not sure we have a saint. Stuart, though, is striving like mad to be one, suppressing all urges, absorbing people’s emotions and trying to find his place to do good in the world. However, Meredith says he’s not messy, so he can’t be a saint yet. Maybe a saint in waiting. Interestingly at very least Midge tries to turn him into an enchanter, making out he’s sat there in the back of the car with a monolithic disapproval of her and Harry’s affair and has made her fall in love with him, while he says, “I don’t think I did that” (p. 353). Edward is trying to find his own redemption, although he does manage to “take a pain away from her into himself” when Brownie tells him what people have been saying about Mark’s death (p. 334). Thomas has been moving behind the scenes, as we discover he was behind Edward’s invitation to Seegard and also sends Brownie to find him in his old room by letter, and has been busy reading letters between Harry and Midge. He knows Edward is going to run and that he will know where to (but that’s because he’s instigated it!). But he’s more like N from “The Philosopher’s Pupil”, moving things around to help, and he’s not set up as an enchanter by anyone. He also thinks he should give up “this ingenious skill, this power, bending and contorting people’s lives like a Japanese flower arranger” (p. 390). He does, however, avoid “inflicting my suffering on [Midge] in the form of rage” (p. 437). Jesse is a sex god and attracted many women, but doesn’t really seem to have used his powers much, and Mother May is more like the controlling nun in “The Bell” and a wardress.

However, there is a source of enchantment in Seegard, appearing and disappearing in the landscape, acting as a place out of time where no one ages, and described as starting to fall apart as Edward leaves it for the last time. Nature also has some kind of guiding or enchanting role, from the murmuration of starlings Edward sees on the way to Seegard to the robin that interrupts Harry and Thomas.

In links to other books, Stuart is described early as “a plump white grub with a big head emerging from an apple” (p. 28) and we remember that I noted in my review of “The Philosopher’s Pupil” the description of George post-stones as “weak and pale like a grub in an apple” (p. 547). The Post Office Tower pops up, for Edward when he’s walking out of Mrs Quaid’s and everything is glittering and lovely. When Edward is in counsel with Thomas, a demon looks through his eyes reminding Thomas of flayed Marsyas, who crops up a lot. Thomas himself is another psychoanalyst who believes he’s a fraud, like Blaise from “The Sacred and Profane Love Machine”. Midge describes Harry as living in a “net” and she is in one of lies (p. 99). Thomas says he likes to see Midge sewing and someone else in a book a few ago said that – anyone remember? The idea of ordeal, which came up in “Philosopher’s Pupil”  and “Nuns and Soldiers” and will be more prominent in “The Green Knight”, is mentioned here – “[Edward] has gone upon a pilgrimage to face an ordeal, his very own. He will be alright” (p. 225).

And in a link to quite another book, we have a little Lord of the Rings mention, when Edward, very near the end of the book, considers wearing Jesse’s ring on Ilona’s chain “round his neck, like Frodo” (p. 554). This greatly cheered me!

Thoughts on re-reading – I don’t remember Stuart and Thomas being my favourite characters last time but they are this time. Poor old Thomas, trying to be logical and being accused of being cold, and poor lost Stuart, not his father’s favourite and patiently running around trying to help!

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.

Book review – Sayaka Murata – “Convenience Store Woman” #WITMonth


I’ve finally managed to read a book for Women In Translation Month – hooray! I’ve always been really bad at doing this, as I do try to do challenges from my TBR shelf and never seem to have one. But I got hold of this from my friend Meg back in June and here I am managing to have read and now review it. I can’t say I’m able to say an awful lot about it, but I have at least had a go.

Sayaka Murata – “Convenience Store Woman” (trans. Ginny Tapley Takemori)

(09 June 2019, Bookcrossing)

Keiko has worked in the convenience store since she was 18, and she’s now in her mid-30s; she knows its every way and lives and breathes it, sharing in her narrative how she works out the minute fluctuations in what she can expect to sell and to whom. She’s clearly different in some way, and her family and friends pressurise her to be more conforming, but she doesn’t know how to do that. She feels she has to adopt her colleagues’ mannerisms and ways of speaking in order to construct her own personality (while noting that her friends tend towards matching each other over time and with new trends, too, so maybe she’s just a more extreme or self-aware example).

Keiko adopts a colleague and immediately sees she has more of a place in the world – but she does think/speak of him and treat him a bit like a stray dog. I can’t work out whether their relationship is funny or depressing, to be honest.

With a deadpan first-person narrative which is reminiscent of other Japanese writers I’ve read (e.g. Banana Yashimoto), you find yourself rooting for this strange girl who is just trying to live her life and not make too much of a mark on the world, while trying to serve the convenience store world the best she can. I have a horrible feeling there’s some massive message or metaphor that I’ve missed, but anyway, I did enjoy it, and would read more by this author/translation pair.

Book review – Mary Webb – “Seven for a Secret” and some Book Confessions @ViragoBooks #amreading #20BooksOfSummer


Another great Virago read which covers both All Virago/All August and my 20BooksOfSummer project. Ali from the Heavenali blog kindly loaned me this one as she knows I like a Mary Webb and she read it almost a year ago: you can read her review here. After my review, read on for some juicy book confessions – I went to the dentist today for a check up, and we all know by now that the dentist is opposite The Works and, important today, is two doors away from the Oxfam Books …

Mary Webb – “Seven for a Secret”

(borrowed from Ali)

That rare thing, a not completely doomy Webb (this is made clear on the back and in the introduction) although things aren’t great for everyone and there’s an uncanny place full of portents waiting for something to inevitably happen. I loved, as usual, the great nature descriptions, especially finding lots of bird behaviour and also some good horses and cats (nothing bad happens to either). There’s rural worker comedy worthy of Hardy, to whom, in fact, Webb dedicates this book, “happily” which was lovely to find.

Our heroine, Gillian Lovekin, has ideas above her station, which is never a good thing to have in early 20th century rural fiction, and she’s drawn to an attractive incomer with a strange household (of course) rather than the dependable local who loves her (to be fair, her father isn’t keen on him, either. He’s a great amusing character with his outburst of “HA!” which make most people doubt themselves and get into a state). She craves even small town life, but when she gets to live with her aunt for a while, uses her powers the wrong way, and she basically has to learn patience and to help others (there is some bobbins about women’s role being to love and men’s to do which we have to skim over as a product of the time and place).

The main plot resolves by using a device that is perhaps a little convenient – but then again both “The Secret Garden” and “Jane Eyre” use the same device, so I can’t really complain. The book is saved from po-faced melodrama and “Cold Comfort Farm” style something in the woodshed doom (and I do rate Webb for herself and love her books, but reading a few bits out they do come out a little over-the-top) by the author’s wry self-knowledge, especially in the last chapter:

Things did happen almost as they should in a well-regulated novel. (p. 284)

A good read I was glad to have got to.

This was Book 10 in my 20 Books of Summer project, and as I have a Women In Translation month book to review next, am only part way through a very substantial Iris Murdoch and have two review books and countless NetGalley books on the Kindle, I’m going to call it a day here with both #20books and All Virago/All August. It’s been great fun, though!

Book confession time!

So as I mentioned, I had the dentist today and came back via Oxfam books. And these lovelies kind of fell into my arms. Well, OK, I searched through the whole shop, as you can see from the variety of books and topics, from fiction to “literature” via travel and social history.

Clara Parkes – “Knitlandia” – she travels the world meeting knitters in Iceland and the like. I am no knitter (I am the anti-knitter: I just cannot learn to do it however hard people try) but I like a travel book and I know who I will be giving this to.

Debbie Macomber – “Cottage by the Sea” – a Macomber I don’t recall reading before about a woman taking refuge in a … well, yes, you get the idea.

Stephen Moss – “A Bird in the Bush” is sub-titled “A Social History of Birdwatching” and seems to have a historical aspect as well as a current-day one. I must check where the cover photo was taken as it reminds me of a scene I saw myself on the Isles of Scilly.

Mark Cocker – “Birders: Tales of a Tribe” so what’s the chances of two books on birdwatching popping up – presumably a birdwatcher doing some deaccessioning. This one is about the author’s life among birdwatchers, so more of an ethnography, perhaps. I’m hoping Matthew will enjoy these, too (we already have another two books on birdwatching on my TBR so I’m going to have to space them out a  bit!).

Catherine Carswell – “The Camomile” is a Virago I hadn’t come across before. Seems to be about a New Woman in Edinburgh. KaggysBookishRamblings Middle Child reviewed this here a few years ago and I’ll have to pop back to read that when I’ve read this. Looks great, though.

Edward Platt – “Leadville” – this is a history of the Westway road in London, from the White City to the Hangar Lane Gyratory – I have a much-loved copy and have read it at least twice, and love the mix of social history, architecture and town planning. I’ve not read it that recently as it’s not on here but I couldn’t resist picking up a second copy to press onto someone and Best Friend Emma fancied it when I waved an image of it in her direction – hooray!

Read any of these? Think I’m terrible for giving up on 20 Books of Summer with 14 days to go??

Book review – Shaun Bythell – “Confessions of a Bookseller” @SerpentsTail #NetGalley


first of all I just want to apologise to all the people whose blogs I follow whose posts I have ignored and whose replies to my comments I haven’t read. Real life got on top of me (I’m not going to share information on here as it’s so public, but please don’t be worried; we’re all OK) and I’ve had to go to Blog Zero. I think I’ve replied to all the comments on here, but I’ve started saving posts to read and comment on from today and missed a load. If there’s something on your blog you think I simply MUST see, drop me a line using whatever means you have, or my contact form. I’ve also reviewed my reading commitments and will NOT be doing 20 books of summer, but will just see how I do there. Running bloggers, if you’re read this far, I will pick up your posts from today.

Right, I had to get back to picking off some NetGalley reads as I realised my review rate was at exactly 80%, which is what they recommend you have – or above. Eeps. But this was the perfect light read, made up of short sections, so ideal in a tiring time.

If you’ve read Bythell’s “Diary of a Bookseller” then you’ll have the idea (my review here). We get tallies of customers and takings, numbers of online orders received and located, trips to buy books and philosophising thereon, and day-to-day tales of the Bookshop, Wigtown and the inhabitants.

There are a few plot points and I won’t give them away, but we do lose two regular characters from Bythell’s life alongside the usual losses and arrivals of small town life. The bookshop cat still prevails. I still wouldn’t dare to go in there, in case I enraged Bythell, but I was very cheered to read in the epilogue that things are going better for the shop now as people realise they need to support “real” bookshops.

A nice comfortable read, even when he’s railing against modern life, methods and Kindles. As with that one about the man who eschewed technology, I feel a bit ironic and uneasy having read this ON my Kindle …

Thank you to Serpent’s Tail for approving me for this book: I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

Book review – Verily Anderson – “Spam Tomorrow” @DeanStPress #FurrowedMiddlebrow


It’s time to veer away from All Virago / All August and 20 Books of Summer to enjoy and celebrate another mid-century wonder, very kindly sent to me by Dean Street Press from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint for review. Furrowed Middlebrow (also a blog) is a lovely celebration of women’s mid-century writing, picking up unusual and out-of-print books that haven’t been reprinted by Persephone or Virago, often slimmer volumes, and they have such an attractive cover style, with the house frame and then an original cover or print.

Verily Anderson – “Spam Tomorrow”

(17 June 2019)

You’ll have to read the book to find out why the author was called Verily and why her siblings also had unusual names – although this is primarily a WW2 memoir, we are taken back through her lifetime up until her wedding day before moving forward again.

Elizabeth Bowen apparently praised this 1956 volume for being one of the first to explore women’s lives in wartime. We’re more used now to all the social history that’s come out, all those Mass Observation diaries and books about the Home Front, but this would have been very revolutionary in its day, and we’re not spared the details of pregnancy, birth, babies, housekeeping and anxious care of one’s own and one’s family’s health at the time just before antibiotics came in. It’s a vivid (but never graphic, although bomb damage and upset children are described) account of life on the home front, told with a humorous and light touch overall, but with depth.

Anderson writes with a slightly flat and detached tone, almost naive – if you like Barbara Comyns, Dodie Smith, Elizabeth Eliot et al. then you’re going to love this. Although it’s very funny in places, there are some real struggles, some glossed over (being too ill to attend her first child’s christening party) and an awareness that

At any moment might come a fork in the road.

– with her path either leading to quiet domesticity or the very real prospect of invasion. At one point, she’s so low that she feels “There was no place for spring” but there’s always a friend or family member or an incident to cheer, and she also draws solace from nature. Her family is a comfort, even though pretty eccentric: this description of a sister and her trousseau:

Clothed for comfort in a square Greek tunic, she sat with her farrowing sow, while my mother and I stood by trying to wring some preference out of her for pleats or gathers.

wouldn’t be out of place in a Mitford sister or Comyns novel. While the events, privations and constant moving around are common to many accounts of wartime life, it’s fresh and lovely to read.

Hugely atmospheric, delightful and impossible to put down, thank you to Dean Street Press both for publishing this and for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

Book review – Henry Handel Richardson – “The Getting of Wisdom” plus Stephen Rutt – “The Seafarers” @ShinyNewBooks #20BooksOfSummer @ViragoBooks #AllViragoAllAugust


It’s book review central here as I carve out more reading time and get to grips with my 20 books of summer and review books. How lucky I am to have such a wide variety to read!

First off, I need to report on one extra book I read in July – Stephen Rutt’s “The Seafarers”, which I’ve reviewed for Shiny New Books. This was a wonderful book about the (oddly hard to define) seabirds of Britain, taking in locations from the Shetlands in the North to the Scillies in the South, with beautiful, artistically written descriptions of land, sea and bird life. Although this has been talked about as being about the help nature can give to mental health, this isn’t a huge part of the story – while I know some readers like a lot of memoir in their nature writing, I like a book to be about the nature and the person’s reaction to that.

I also liked the respect the author paid to previous nature writers who have gone before him, bringing back memories of those older volumes sitting in bird hides and the hotels you stay in on birding trips. Altogether a lovely book and highly recommended. You can read my full review here and I know the lovely editors at Shiny will appreciate you popping over and having a read (you can follow their Facebook and Twitter accounts, too).

Now for #20 books of summer, another slimmer volume in the All Virago (and Persephone) All August part of the project.  Kaggsy from the Ramblings sent me this one in November via Heaven-Ali, just like “The Eye of Love” (except I’m afraid I’ll probably be putting “Maurice Guest” to one side as it looks a bit turgid and Germaine Greer thinks it’s not as good as this one. Do I do everything Greer says? No: for a start, I am still fully underclothed at all times, however much I read “The Female Eunuch” as a teenager. Anyway, this was an interesting read, especially for its Australian setting.

Henry Handel Richardson – “The Getting of Wisdom”

30 November 2018 – from Kaggsy

The getting of wisdom is of course nothing to do with the rote-learning at the boarding school where this book is set: it’s all about how to get on with people, something our heroine never quite grasps. Like “The Eye of Love” this is another book about convention: however, here, convention stifles and squashes Laura Rambotham’s spirit and natural ebulliance, making her by turns over shy but over confident, mendacious, smarmy and over religious as she works her way unsuccessfully through a couple of years of boarding school. Her mother classifies her as disobedient and self-willed and she heart-breakingly never works out how to get on with people, missing the point generally all the way along, although a hint of her future near the end suggests that she might get what she wants eventually, unlike her friends.

We feel for Laura’s poor mother, keen on needlework but mocked for her garish designs, and having to support herself and her family, eschewing stays but trying to keep everyone on the straight and narrow. There’s a great feeling for a veneer of imposed and strict ‘culture’ over the chaos of life in Australia, and the backdrop means Laura gets to rest from school by the thundering ocean, not something that features much in British school stories except as a source of danger for rescues!

There are some good, sharp comments about how to write, and how writing allows to lie as if something was true, much easier than keeping things straight in life. There’s not a huge amount of plot but as Greer says in the introduction, it’s about someone who is “ordinary, and therefore deeply important”.

This was Book 9 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

Still reading “Spam Tomorrow” (not Jam, which I claimed yesterday!) by Verily Anderson; still enjoying it very much. How are your 20 books going??

Book review – Margery Sharp – “The Eye of Love” #20BooksOfSummer @ViragoBooks #AllViragoAllAugust


Well I’m onto the All Virago (and Persephone) All August part of my 20 Books of Summer project now, and starting off with a modern reprint which the ever-lovely Kaggsy from the Ramblings sent me in November via Heaven-Ali. It’s not quite that I was picking off the slim volumes first, honestly, but this was a quick read and an easy win. And charming: just charming!

Margery Sharp – “The Eye of Love”

30 November 2018 – from Kaggsy

A funny peculiar story about an odd woman, not in her first flush of youth and in a perilous financial position, her stolid yet hugely artistic niece and her lost love, forced to marry someone else for the sake of his business. Infinitely mockable (and indeed mocked by people in the book) yet infinitely touching, Miss Diver and her Harry are seen to be a sweet couple who should not have been parted, and there’s something very bittersweet about these people who are middle-aged at best but romantic and poor like a young couple in a garret. And Martha is just a delight, with her artist’s eye and her collection of odd friends.

Martha and Miss Diver are uncompromisingly themselves, and it’s only when Miss Diver changes that she is in danger. In a world that favours convention, they do as they wish to a large extent, and we hope that Martha will never change. I loved the detailed descriptions of her art, too. And who can argue with her as she finds a lodger for Miss Diver?

‘What’s the weekly rate?’

‘I don’t know. I’m only a child,’ pointed out Martha severely. (p. 63)

Mr Joyce is a great character and I love how he links bits of the story together, his daughter too manipulative to be pitied, although Sharp has something to say about the plight of the unmarried woman. The novel is somehow merciless but with a heart (unless I’ve read it wrong and it’s really a political satire or something) and I believe there’s a sequel, which I will have to look out for.

This was Book 8 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

I’ve read another Virago by the time of reviewing (review up tomorrow) and am currently reading “Jam Tomorrow” by Verily Anderson, which is one of the new Furrowed Middlebrow titles from Dean Street Press. It’s very good and I suspect I will have a review for you on Friday of that one!

And in booky post, I received this lovely tote bag in the post from Round Table Books today. This is an independent, inclusive children’s bookshop in Brixton, South London – they appear to be pretty active on Twitter, so do have a look and a follow. They started off as a pop-up and I supported a crowdfunder to get them their own premises, and it’s all very exciting!

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