Book review – Interim (Virago)

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Dorothy Richardson - PilgrimageWell, I’m working my way steadily through Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” sequence. Things have been getting steadily more confusing, and I know at least one of my fellow pilgrims is contemplating picking up a biographical work about the author to try to work things out. I’m not sure about that, given my subscription to the ‘death of the author’ concept, but it is all a bit obscure … News of another challenge below, anyway!

Dorothy Richardson – “Interim”

(From lovely Julie, last year)

The fifth volume of “Pilgrimage” and the last in “Pilgrimage 2” – given that we have eight more books in two volumes, I’m guessing that means nothing else will be as long as the last part, and that demonstrates the way I’m Really Trying Not To Think about these books. I am trying, but I did keep putting this off, and when I did start it, I remembered being confused at the end of the last one and was still confused now, as Miriam, our heroine, seemed to be staying with some random people in a different house for Christmas – not her exciting Bohemian friends in their rooms, not her family??? Anyway, then we were back in London. Miriam’s sister Eve and the dreaded Miss Dear loomed out of the mists, seemingly pushed around the map by Richardson with her thing you push things around on maps with in war films, just to fit the story, which was a shame, as everything else has felt organic. Anyway, she buys a bicycle, goes to some lectures, plays the piano, as there has been some mysterious change in the arrangements of the house that mean she can use the room it’s in now (bit lost there!) and flirts with some Canadian doctors. She also makes an unfortunate connection which gets her gossiped about nastily, and it’s really only here that real life and contemporary morals seem to infringe on Miriam’s wandery life with a big, hard knock.

She also seems to give an early description of depression: nothingness, being nothing, etc. Was I the only one to spot that? A bit reminiscent of “Mrs Dalloway”, perhaps. Anyway, my favourite bits remained her walks around London, and I did also like the descriptions of her room and her thoughts about and relationship with her sisters, however conveniently they are moved in and out of the narrative. So I am going to persist on to the next one …

April 2016 2I’m currently still enjoying good old Roy Jenkins, he’s nearly married now and about to launch into politics. Tonight, I’m starting on my sadly lagging #Woolfalong read – in March and April it’s been Beginnings and Endings, and although Ali’s already put together a round-up post, I’m hoping I’ll be able to sneak onto it.

I’ve got “Between the Acts” and “The Voyage Out” on my Kindle, but I fancy the former most, and then I’ll hopefully get “Night and Day” in, too. I really don’t think I’ve read either of those before, shockingly! May and June is Short Stories, and I won (hooray) Ali’s giveaway copy of “Kew Gardens” and have treated myself to “Mrs Dalloway’s Party” (pictured), which I do have to say is slightly less substantial than I’d expected … but anyway, I’m sure to manage those in two months, right????

What are you reading? If you’re Richardsoning along with me, feel free to post links to your reviews of Interim below. I do love the interaction on this blog – my work blog gets lots of questions about Word and transcription, but when I want people to interact and answer each other’s business questions, they never do! So … happy commenting!

Book reviews – Sunshine and Shadow and The Aloha Quilt

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Nov 2015 the whole horrorI’ve had ever such a lot of work on recently and I seem to have been dashing around here, there and everywhere, too, so I have got a bit behind with my reading and reviewing and VERY behind with my reading of other people’s blogs and commenting on their posts … Anyway, this time I can report some good progress, at least, on the Pile that belongs to my TBR but isn’t part of the general order of things.

I read my main TBR in order of acquisition, oldest first, which serves me well (I do pick off a Big Book for a dining table read and a paperback for bed and bus), but there is always a Pile of books in series (including ones where I have read up to a certain point and then have another, later, book, but haven’t yet read the ones in between), blocks of books by certain authors and the odd one I’m reading bit by bit. You can see these on the middle shelf of this Horror Photo.

Well, I’m doing quite well with that. I removed the poetry book I forgot to read in 2014 for the WW1 anniversary, I’ve read a few of the Indriðason crime novels, I found that I like Debbie Macombers that are part of series but am not so worried about the standalones (they’re staying in the special collection for the moment, though), I found I couldn’t be bothered with the Tea Shop mysteries I’d been saving up, and I managed to make myself read these two, which are in series but I haven’t read the books in between! So the Pile is now much smaller, in fact only one shelf tall, AND has the 3rd and 4th Dorothy Richardson “Pilgrimage” volumes on it. Result!

Earlene Fowler – “Sunshine and Shadow”

(BookCrossing October 2007)

Whew – for someone who reads her TBR in order and is shocked when she’s a year behind, it was shocking to find I’ve had this since October 2007!! I was reading them in order around then and later on (I last read one in September 2010), but I have missed a few, and I was struggling to recall the history of the characters. Although it’s obvious I have missed some events in the series, my memory is so hazy that it doesn’t really matter.

This one featured flashbacks to the early years of Benni’s first marriage, centring around her relationship with the author of some children’s books she loved then and now. Benni gets herself targeted by thugs, seemingly connected to her husband Gabe’s old police buddy coming to town and then getting himself killed, and she and he both fret about not being able to protect their loved ones. Meanwhile, their marriage is recovering from something [that I’ve missed[ and her grandma’s new marriage is causing trouble all round.

A decent read, but I don’t feel the need to collect the rest and feel I can say goodbye to this series now.

Jennifer Chiaverini – “The Aloha Quilt”

(BookCrossing 22 March 2014)

Not so big a delay on this one. I did love this Elm Creek Quilts series originally, but again I think it’s been too long (I last read one of these in April 2009). This one is fairly standalone in that it deals with Bonnie’s trip to Hawaii to help her friend Claire set up a quilt camp. But she can’t travel far enough to avoid the machinations of her soon-to-be-ex-husband … unfortunately, I wasn’t really invested in the characters, so I found the detail of the family battles a bit tedious. There was also a lot of stuff about the history of Hawaii, which was a bit bolted-on – she does do her research and the stuff about the special Hawaiian quilts was interesting, but it was a bit uneven and hard to persist with. I’ll have to review the other volumes and check I still want to keep them!

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Katys pony summerI’ve only acquired two books so far this month, which means that the Pile is actually living on my top, proper TBR, bookshelf (win, again). In fact, I don’t seem to have acquired many at all this year, although I do appear to have won Ali’s giveaway for Virginia Woolf’s “Kew Gardens“, which is very handy as I don’t have any of Woolf’s short stories for the next bit of the Woolfalong.  This little gem – “Katy’s Pony Summer” – came courtesy of the author and I’ll be reviewing it next week so I can include links to buy it as it’s not out quite yet. More adventures of Katy and her Exmoor ponies and a really lovely read!

Attila the Stockbroker argument's yardMy other confession is buying a copy of the marvellous punk poet Attila the Stockbroker’s autobiography, “Arguments Yard”. I last saw  him perform in the Very Early Nineteen-Nineties with my friend Sarah at university, and so we were chuffed to find he was performing at local venue the Kitchen Garden Cafe and went along together (we were rather shocked to find that, although he seemed EXACTLY THE SAME, he was in fact 30 when we last saw him, way younger than we are today!). Anyway, we both bought copies and had them signed, and I think I’ll be promoting it up the TBR so we can read it together.

I’m currently still reading the lovely biog of Roy Jenkins and I’ve managed to get myself started on the next volume of the Dorothy Richardsons, “Interim”. It seems slightly less disjointed than the last one, although I seem to have got a bit confused as to who’s a sister and who’s a friend. I’ve fallen sadly behind on the #Woolfalong but there will be a 2-month period when I won’t be exploring biographies of her, as I have read quite a lot already (although I do have A Writer’s Diary to re-read) so hopefully I’ll get there. They’re waiting for me on my Kindle …

Well, THAT was a mismatch – cosy mystery, quilting chick lit, a children’s book and the autobiography of a leftie football fan. Typical reading of mine, though …

How are you all doing? Have you missed me?

Book reviews – By Nightfall and Harold Nicolson’s Diaries and Letters Vol 3

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To Be Read shelf April 2016I’m having a bit of a catch-up here as I have been reading more than I’ve been reviewing (and I had to time some of my reviews to fall on release days, etc. – I don’t know how people who do a lot of reviewing for publishers manage all that!). So here’s two reviews that are a bit out of the order I read them in, linked by their preoccupations with ageing, as the first is about a mid-life crisis and the second the last volume of diaries (which is always a melancholic thing to read).

Michael Cunningham – “By Nightfall”

(Bought 28 March 2015, Macclesfield)

Almost onto the last of that Macclesfield crop, and as my friend Laura, who bought a copy at the same time and read hers before I read my copy, it’s not the best Michael Cunningham. But it is a good book – and a poor Cunningham will beat the best of a lesser author in my opinion, and it’s not poor by any means.

Oddly reminiscent to me of Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty”, we are thrown into the mid-life crisis of Peter Harris (middle-aged at 44? I don’t think so, thank you very much!), in a long marriage to Rebecca, in a not-stellar career owning an art gallery and bothered by the reappearance of Rebecca’s feckless younger brother, Ethan (or “Mizzy” – the mistake), who, however, horribly reminds him of a much younger Rebecca.

The intimacy of classic Cunningham is there, the New York flat-dwelling, the almost Howard Jacobson or Philip-Roth like rumblings, sweatings and belchings, and there are some uncomfortable passages about the ageing of women which feel a little misogynistic, but then Peter doesn’t come off that well, either. The very occasional flash-forwards give the narrative a melancholy inevitability, and I wonder whether this quiet novel might in the future be seen as one of his masterpieces.

This book will suit … People who like Cunningham (but you won’t love it like you loved “A Home at the End of the World”), people who like thoughtful books about family relationships and inheritance where even when stuff happens, it’s a bit like nothing happens.

Harold Nicolson – “Diaries and Letters 1945-62”

Photo of Adam, Nigel and Harold Nicolson

Adam, Nigel and Harold Nicolson

(Bought 28 March 2015, Macclesfield)

The last volume of a collected series of diaries and/or letters is always going to be the saddest, and this is no exception. In the introduction, Nigel explains how he cut it short at Vita’s death, having no wish to expose his father’s private grief. And Harold died between approving the book and it being prepared for publication. I wept reading that, and I had to skip right ahead to Vita’s death and get it read first so I could cope.

But it was very good reading still. The family expands, and I loved this picture of three authors whose works I have loved for a long time! Elizabeth Bowen makes a surprise appearance and he’s rude about Pepys but appreciates that all diarists have to have “a little snouty sneaky mind”. There’s a lovely letter from Vita to Nigel when he was on the political campaign trail exhorting him to eat well and not leave tinned food on top of radiators which was most unexpected and sweet – her diaries are included a little as well.

The story of Harold’s decline – and that of his beloved Vita – was hard to read, but I have greatly enjoyed the set of three volumes. Of course, there’s none of the scandal and other relationships which were a feature of their lives together, but it’s a lovely and I feel true portrait of their lives and their love.

This book would suit … A reader interested in the family (Vita gets back to see Knole!) or post-war society, history and letters.

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I’m currently reading another series volume where I’ve missed a few in between, this time a Jennifer Chiaverini, and have made a start on the rather wonderful bio of Roy Jenkins which has been steadily working up the TBR, waiting for me to need a “dining table book” to replace Harold. I’ve also read the new Victoria Eveleigh “Katy” book, but you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for the review, as I want to tie it in with the publication date so people can rush to buy it! That’s the only one that’s come in recently, however!

Book review – Richmal Crompton – The Journeying Wave (1938 Club)

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the-1938-clubThe lovely Simon at Stuckinabook and Karen at Kaggsysbookishramblings have been hosting the 1938 Club this week, and I’m sneaking in just under the wire to report my read for it. The idea was to read a book published in the year in question – I was hoping to do it, especially because it was a new book for my Century of Reading, (edited to add: oh, no it wasn’t: I had already done 1938, but never mind!) but I found that I had NOTHING in my TBR or, in fact, my book collection (I am supposed to have Noel Streatfeild’s “The Circus is Coming” but I can’t find it). So, I’d resigned myself to not joining in, and then I spotted Simon’s review of “The Journeying Wave” by Richmal Crompton and realised I could pick up a Kindle copy, handily republished by Bello Books, and read one after all. Hooray!

Richman Crompton – “The Journeying Wave”

(14 April 2016 – ebook)

A charming novel of an extended family in the midlands, full of mothers and daughters, who all disappoint each other in some way, from social climber Doreen and her stolid offsprint Bridget to cold, snooty Elaine and her haphazard mum Aggie, as well as pairs of sisters and sets of siblings. The cool and cultured Viola, who has married beneath her, lives a dull life in the Midlands town in an ugly house with solid second husband Humphrey, who runs a shop but has no taste. He’s found out for the one interesting thing he’s ever done – making a mistake over a very common young woman – and their marriage appears to be over, just like that.

As the news travels through the family, it brings with it a shock wave, the Journeying Wave of the title, which has an effect on almost everyone, from timid and put-upon twin Hester, who has a mild escape, to lumpen Bridget and her brittle cousin Elaine throwing caution and their better judgement to the wind, to careful Monica and mercurial Hilary, Viola’s son from her first marriage, realising their true feelings. Amusingly, Humphrey opines near the end of the book that all of this happening, while being nothing to do with him, has successfully hidden his own little scandal, whereas actually no one will be the same again, however temporary their adventures.

The family relationships are so well drawn; there is some criticism but it’s warmer than the Elizabeth Taylor it could be compared with, if less funny than, for example, Margery Sharp would make it. It sits very well in that milieu, though – the middlebrow domestic novel of the mid-20th century, with things left covert rather than overt and all the strands nicely and satisfyingly tied up at the end.

This book would suit … Anyone who likes the Sharp, Taylor, Hocking, Whipple family novel.

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I’m sooooo far behind with my reviews, so expect a few over the next few days. Lots of lovely reading, though – hooray!

Book review – The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp

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Margery Sharp The Nutmeg Tree ebook coverThanks again to Open Road Media for making this, my second Margery Sharp book of the day, available to the general public after years out of print, and to me in a review copy. Having read “The Foolish Gentlewoman” for Beyond Eden Rock’s Margery Sharp Day , I was very excited to hear about these ebook reissues, and I count myself fortunate to have read two such lovely books in two happy weeks. Here’s the review of “Cluny Brown” I published earlier today.

Margery Sharp – “The Nutmeg Tree”

(ebook – acquired in March 2016)

Another absolutely delightful read, with the shade in this one being provided by the underlying thought of what would happen to lone women if they were not able to find some kind of protector, and how adventures could end up being punished harshly. But there’s very little shade in this lovely story, set in the South of France and with a cast of excellent and rounded characters.

Risque and naughty Julia, who appeared in my inner eye like one of those jolly Beryl Cook ladies cavorting with a glass of champagne, who is so in the 1930s, not a time known in Britain for relaxed morals and cheeky behaviour, is living a rackety life supported by all manner of dodgy men when she’s summoned to the side of her straight-laced daughter, Susan, who has developed a fiancé of whom her grandmother, who has brought her up after effectively paying off Julia, does not approve.

With only a minor adventure in a French circus to distract her, Julia sets off for the genteel setup in France and tries to rein herself in – while still having the odd adventure, of course. She’s very resourceful but finds it stressful to tamp down her exuberant personality for so long, and she quickly recognises the fiancé as being very much one of her type. To make matters worse, she falls for Susan’s other guardian – but he must be terribly conservative, too, mustn’t he? Well, he’s got more too him than that, thank goodness, and everything is in danger of coming out beautifully. But first Julia must try to sort everything out, while pretending to love views and trees and all manner of things.

Sharp’s clear and wry eye for hypocrisy is well in here, and she has a lot of fun with her characters – but, as always, kind fun, not mean fun.

This book would suit: Anyone who loves mid-century women writers, who perhaps enjoyed “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” or others of the lighter Persephones, or wants to explore this wonderful writer further.

This book completes 1937 in my Century of Reading.

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You can find the links to buy the Cluny Brown ebook on various platforms here. I was provided with pre-acceptance to download the NetGalley version by Open Road Media in return for an honest review. The image used here is from their website.

Book review – Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

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Margery Sharp Cluny Brown ebook coverI want to say first of all that I’m very grateful to Open Road Media for making two Margery Sharp novels available to me for review before their official release. I would have bought “Cluny Brown” and “The Nutmeg Tree”, which I’ll be reviewing later today, anyway, and I will be buying all of the rest of them, as I never seem able to find the old hardbacks. I read and very much enjoyed “The Foolish Gentlewoman” for Beyond Eden Rock’s Margery Sharp Day and I’ve been looking forward to these ebook reissues for a while now. And what a treat they both were!

Margery Sharp – “Cluny Brown”

(ebook – acquired and read in March 2016)

A wonderful novel with a fun and distinctive heroine who doesn’t know her place (famously, as a plumber’s neice, she treats herself to tea at the Ritz; she also takes it upon herself to do a plumbing job on his behalf and gets all mixed up with a slightly dodgy playboy bachelor type with a very shiny bath). This last is the last straw for her Uncle Ern, her guardian, and he ships her off to be a made for the Carmel family in Devonshire. Off trots what one could describe as a London sparrow to spread her wings in the countryside.

Cluny is not the most natural maid, but takes to her duties cheerfully, being a hard worker and a practical soul in many ways. She makes friends with her fellow maid, the dog belonging to the other Big House, a chemist from the village …but  not with the Polish emigré Andrew Carmel, the son of the house, is rather over-excitedly hiding in the stable yard.

It’s not all froth, though. Published in 1944 (I always find books written during wars almost unbearably poignant) and set just pre-war, there is a definite sense of the coming of war and what different people’s roles will be. This gives a shadow underneath the book which gives it depth as well as fun. But for now we can enjoy the “types”  the Lord of the Manor, set in his ways, the high-maintenance London girl, and the more complex characters, and, of course, delicious Cluny herself, who is ever so plain until you suddenly realise she’s beautiful.

This book would suit … Lovers of mid-century women writers, and I think fans of modern author Victoria Clayton, who has similar characters and situations, too.

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You can find the links to buy the Cluny Brown ebook on various platforms here. I was provided with pre-acceptance to download the NetGalley version by Open Road Media in return for an honest review. The image used here is from their website.

Second book review for Mary Hocking Reading Week – “The Hopeful Traveller”

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Mary Hocking Reading Week logoThis last week, it’s been Mary Hocking Reading Week, hosted as usual by Heaven-Ali, Bello Books have been reissuing her novels (read more here), and I have already read and reviewed “A Time of War“, and was pleased to get this one, its sequel, in, read just under the wire, finishing it yesterday, and I will add a link to this review on Ali’s fabulous round-up of the week’s reading.

I read this one, like “A Time of War”, on my Kindle, but the print books do look lovely, too – I just had a failure to get organised in time, basically!

Mary Hocking – “The Hopeful Traveller”

(03 April 2016 – ebook)

Picking up a few months after the end of “A Time of War”, I really liked this portrayal of the grimness of post-war London – it reminded me a bit of Patrick Hamilton (though his are set earlier) and the Colin MacInnes “Absolute Beginners” series, although these are later – it’s all in the atmosphere.

Kerren has come back to England from Northern Ireland, determined to be independent and take the opportunities she can find, although these are rather thin on the ground and threadbare, and she ends up working in a library, still with her grand plans. She finds herself constantly hungry, not liking to break into the money she has saved. Dependable Cath is a bit of a tart, but living with her parents and trying to find something Useful to do, and Robin is stuck in a suburban marriage, so the book shows the different paths people took after the war, but in a less structured way than the previous book, with its easy plot device of different women stuck in a hut together. I think it makes for a more satisfying read as a result, although there are a few unevennesses.

We meet some new characters: Polish refugee Jan is introduced and has an effect on most of the main characters, and we meet the rather odd Dilys, who is so unattached and floaty that eventually we fear something will happen to her … but where is lovely Adam from the Met. Department and why hasn’t Kerren looked him up?

She does eventually bump into him, of course, and meets the other partners in his publishing firm, grows up but tries hard to retain her essential personality (the few flashes forward which illuminate the characters but don’t give away any spoilers suggest that she does get more subsumed in Life as she gets older) and she learns some lessons about life, the black market and people’s reasons for behaving as they do.

The ending is a little abrupt, but it is satisfying to round off the lives started in “A Time of War”.

This book will suit … although it can be read as a standalone novel, really this will suit people who have read the first book, as you learn what happened to most of the characters in that one.

I’ve got a Michael Cunningham read and ready to review, and I’m taking the opportunity to pick a couple of books off my Pile. The Pile consists mainly of books in series where I haven’t got the books in between the last one I’ve read and the one on the pile (I’ve decided to just read the current ones, having not acquired the intervening ones over the last couple of years, for the couple of these I have left), and books in series I’m currently reading but obviously I won’t put them on the shelf in one block or I’ll be on the one series for months.

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