Book review – Gurjinder Basran – “Everything Was Good-Bye” #20BooksOfSummer #Amreading

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I’ve finished the 20 Books of Summer Challenge! It finishes today, I finished the last book today and here I am reviewing it. Hooray! What fun as always. Cathy has done a round-up post of her own experience with it here.

Gurjinder Basran – “Everything Was Good-Bye”

(25 October 2017)

Everything in Meena’s life can be viewed in two ways. There are six daughters in her family but only five of them are mentioned after Harj ran away. Aunties watch your every move and the family unit is protected, but domestic violence is witnessed and ignored. Meena wants to be a writer but her writing is used against her. Unconventional, arty Liam says he’ll wait for her and doesn’t.

Set in the Canadian Sikh community from 1990 through into the 2000s, it’s threaded through with pop culture – mostly music – references that will resonate with anyone but imbued with a special sense of what it is to be embedded in a community within a community – and with a precarious position within that inner community. When Meena is criticised for this, you wonder what her other choice would be. Very difficult, whatever the reason.

It’s very well done, especially as I think it’s a first novel, and we’re pulled into caring for Meena as she tries to negotiate life without much support, navigating the arranged marriage to another bad boy that she’s accepted, her only real ally – even when Liam reappears in her life – her childhood friend Kal. And he’s her husband’s cousin, so which side is he supposed to be on?

I guessed one of the plot points but it’s a really good, engaging read.

This was Book 20 in my #20BooksOfSummer project and rounds off the project.


A couple of quick confessions. I nipped up to ASDA and went past a few charity shops. How could I resist this terrible, lurid 1971 Iris Murdoch cover (the book is reviewed here, it’s not exactly as described!)

It’s a 1971 Avon Bard Books imprint book and it looks like they did a few titles in the US. I didn’t want to start collecting weird IM editions but I couldn’t help myself with this one!

This is more conventional: a history of running by a Norwegian, published in the early 2000s so not completely up to date but it does look interesting – Thor Gotaas – “Running: A Global History”.

Did you do 20 Books of Summer and finish it? What’s the next challenge? I’m reading Bart Yassos’ “My Life on the Run” at the moment but it’s quite … visceral, so I need something else to read at the table. Probably the next Iris Murdoch …

Book review – Joanna Cannan – “Princes in the Land” #20BooksOfSummer #Amreading @PersephoneBooks

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My last Persephone read in August (I note there is a Persephone Reading Week in October so might be able to slot “Long Live Great Bardfield” in then. I enjoyed the other Joanna Cannan I’ve read, “High Table“, though found it a little dated: although this is set in interwar England, the sentiments and experiences are fresh and relevant today.

Joanna Cannan – “Princes in the Land”

(25 December 2017 – from Ali, who reviewed it here)

A quietly desperate book which is beautifully done but raises the question very forcefully about how valid it is to pour all your love and care and concern and friendship into raising children when they will apparently throw it all off at seemingly the first opportunity. And we’re not talking a smothering mother here but a fair, friendly and liberal one who offers opportunities for free and frank discussion and growth. Or thinks she does. Kind of the opposite of the mother in “Guard Your Daughters”.

In this smallish book told in episodes that jump forward a few years to a decade or so in time (very clearly delineated), we first meet Patricia and Angela and their controlling, anxious mother Blanche on their way to (have to) live with their paternal grandfather after their father’s death. The forbidding old man takes a liking to fiery, unfeminine Patricia, who rides unsuitable horses and hunts (sorry, not one for the non-lovers of hunting, although there are no actual Unpleasant Scenes, just mentions), while bored by compliant Angela and Blanche, who never forgets they are there on sufferance and keeps a tight-lipped, passive-aggressive lid on herself. Living honestly is the key here.

Patricia meets a spiky working class man as she rushes around impulsively making friends on trains (the very idea!) and then we watch them transform – and I’m struggling to think of another book I’ve read recently that portrays so well how the cocoon of marriage and parenthood transforms lively young things into, here, a watchful, resourceful and domesticated mother and a complacent Oxford don, consoled by the fact that everything that happens has happened before in history.

The narrative is quite unconventional and experimental in parts, sometimes mentioning Patricia in the present tense, as though the narrator/author is a friend of hers, and memorably including a paragraph detailing the thoughts of the family horse. But it’s not so experimental that it’s tiring to read, if you know what I mean, just a little quirky.

One by one, Patricia’s children betray her and her careful raising of them, submitting to the cheaper lure of suburbia, getting embarrassingly religious or proving to shockingly NOT be horsy, and as she ages (to my exact age – oh no! She is missing some teeth but not as decrepit as the heroine of “A Lady and Her Husband“) she despairs. Will anything jolt Patricia out of her malaise?

A devastating, quiet portrait of the change that family life brings to especially women (husband Hugh’s family and catalyst appears to be the university, although he claims to have deep feelings about the family). Poor Patricia is blind to both the interior, independent lives of her children and the disdain her academic neighbours have for her old-money, upper-class ways, but she tries so hard and we long for a resurgence of her old life and vigour.

This was Book 19 in my #20BooksOfSummer project and the last book in All Virago and Persephone / All August.

 

Book review – Stella Gibbons – “Starlight” #20BooksofSummer #amreading

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This is the book I started reading accidentally a week or so ago, mistaking it for a Virago somehow. But hooray – Virago published Stella Gibbons’ “Nightingale Wood” so she counts as a Virago author and I’m counting her therefore in my All Virago / All August total. I am saving the Persephone “Long Live Great Bardfield” for the time after #20BooksOfSummer when I’m just working my way through my TBR again.

So the picture to the left does not represent this book but is the pile of books I put together initially for my 20BooksOfSummer. I haven’t done one of these where I haven’t swipped and swapped, so it’s all good! And I’m excited that I only have three books to finish by 3 September, they’re all reasonably short, and I’ve even started Book 18 already!

Stella Gibbons – “Starlight”

(25 December 2017 – from Verity)

Well, I have to say this is a Very Strange Book, and I’m not entirely sure how it got published. The heroines are a pair of elderly and dotty sisters, Gladys and Annie, who live a precarious existence in a falling-down “cottage” in Highgate, London, with an elderly even-more-eccentric upstairs and a family downstairs … until the building is sold to what they identify as “the rackman”, Mr Pearson (after the notorious slum landlord), and he installs his beautiful, ailing wife there. Meanwhile, their daughter Peggy is a sort of assistant to a wealthy woman and her dogs, while her son sniffs around, trying to grab a squeeze and a kiss. A pair of clergymen in a fairly desolate vicarage, an odd German teenager who has been somehow sprung from an itinerant life by Mr Pearson, and a parishioner and friend of Gladys who is tempted by esoteric religion and wants her fortune told by Mrs Pearson and her accompanying spirit, make up the rest of the curiously unattractive cast.

It is an interesting read, as Gladys and Annie become more worried about Mrs Pearson and her odd “fits” and Peggy sits and waits for her life to begin, instigates it beginning and is slapped back down. Some kind and honest characters get a good fate, others really don’t, and it builds very slowly then suddenly all the cards fall and there’s a pretty melodramatic ending, including an exorcism, before suburban and rural life grab hold again and everything sort of smooths out.

The descriptions of Hampstead Heath are lovely and reminded me a bit of passages in “Old Baggage”. The perilous life of the unconnected poor and the attempt to subsume Erika the German girl into English life are shown in detail and convincingly. Details are beautifully done – when the Vicar, Mr Geddes, is being thoroughly frightened by the decidedly un-English Mr Pearson about his wife’s possible possession,

… as he spoke, he was very aware of the stout old cupboard that contained the choir surplices. Its glossy bulk was comforting. (p. 243)

and his mother’s arrival and adoption of the vicarage cat as well as the relationship between Mrs Corbett and her dogs and son are very nicely done, too.

But it’s an odd book, and I can’t deny that.

This was Book 17 in my #20BooksOfSummer project and also falls into All Virago / All August. Read Ali’s review here.


I’m currently reading Enid Bagnold’s “The Loved and Envied” and getting mixed up and confused by all the French and Scottish characters, but I’m sure it will come good.

One small confession: I ordered myself a second-hand copy of Charles Thomas’ “Exploration of a Drowned Landscape: The Archaeology and History of the Isles of Scilly” as we’ll be going there in the autumn and I wanted to read up on the Iron Age etc. sites. My friend Liz recommended this one by a friend of hers, I picked it up at an OK price from Abe Books (I don’t want everyone rushing to look on Amazon and seeing how much it goes for there!) and it looks amazing. I did like the stamps on the package, too, the Brownie and Guide one dating from 1982!

 

Book review – Angela Thirkell – “The Brandons” plus book confessions #20BooksOfSummer #amreading #ViragoBooks

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I’ve continued my reading for 20BooksOfSummer with Angela Thirkell’s “The Brandons”, which also counts for both All Virago / All August and the LibraryThing Virago Group’s author for this month. Go me! I’ve swapped out that great big Tirzah Garwood’s “Long Live Great Bardfield” (the largest of those three Persephones) for Stella Gibbons’ “Starlight” – although my copy isn’t a Virago, Gibbons is a Virago author thanks to “Nightingale Wood” so, as I’d started it after “Summer Half” by mistake, I’m finishing that and leaving the Garwood for a more leisurely read in the next few months.

In book confessions news, I’ve had an old friend newly actually met visiting: she brought me several books and then we managed to buy some more, pics and details below the review …

Angela Thirkell – “The Brandons”

(25 December 2017 from Verity’s marvellous parcel)

I’ve read “Pomfret Towers” a while ago, which seems to come between this one and “Summer Half” so I’m all out of order and will need to do a proper re-read when I’ve collected the set. But this was great fun and near enough to my read of “Summer Half” that it was a joy to come across some of the same characters.

This is the story of the Brandon family: fragrant widow Lavinia, on whom everybody inevitably gets a crush, tall, handsome son Francis and daughter the deliciously bloodthirsty girl with a heart of gold, Delia, and their cousin (ish), Hilary Grant and his hilariously dreadful mother. The plot hinges around the decline, death and legacy for the monstrous aunt-by-marriage, Miss Brandon, and the Vicar and Miss Brandon’s companion, Miss Morris, who turn out (of course they do) to be sworn enemies, play important roles, too.

The Keiths from “Summer Half” and Laura and Tony Moreland (an older, wiser and more attractive and self-aware character again) also make notable appearances: Lydia Keith has been to Paris but it doesn’t seem to have taken the edge off, and we can admire her marvellousness as much as ever. Will she end up with Tony or Noel, I wonder? And of course, there being a Vicar, there’s a summer fete, leading up to and at which much of the action takes place.

There’s some patronising of the lower classes but thankfully no Eastern Europeans and Hilary’s Italy-obsessed mother is a type that is very amusing indeed. Nurse and Rose, doyennes of the Brandon household, are celebrated for their mastery over all who come into their orbit.

Mrs Brandon’s little mischievous moments and attempts to introduce drama into the proceedings are seen through by her son and her old friend Sir Edmund, although she still manages to invite confusions and confidences, and there’s a very funny scene where Sir Edmund feels moved to protect her from the Vicar.

I love Miss Morris’ dream, the dream of many characters in the gentle but sharp novels I love to sink into, Thirkell, Pym et al:

A parish, every detail of which was under her hand and eye. (p. 272)

Will her dream be fulfilled? I love how it’s respected, even if being gently smiled at, but pretension, controlling and calf love are pricked and deflated.

This was Book 16 in my 20BooksOfSummer project.


My friend Cari has been visiting – I’ve known her for years and years through BookCrossing and, later, running, having been cheering her on from across the ocean as she’s learned to run and learned to love running. When she was coming to London for a week, it was possible to arrange for her to come to see us, so she has had a whistle-stop tour of Birmingham (yesterday) and Stratford-upon-Avon (today). Being a BookCrosser, she brought me some books; being us, we then bought some more in Stratford (even though we didn’t comb through all the charity and second-hand bookshops).

Top two from Stratford, the rest from New York!

Sarah Henshaw – “The Bookshop that Floated Away” – the story of the famous British Book Barge

George Eggleston – “Tahiti” – a 1950s travel book with lovely hand-drawn maps

Lisa Tamati – “Running Hot” – female ultra runner takes on the Badwater Ultra

Craig Childs – “Finders Keepers” – investigating the ethics of where archaeological artefacts get to be kept

Bart Yasso – “My Life on the Run” – famous road runner shares wisdom and insights

Sarah Reinertsen with Alan Goldsher – “In a Single Bound” – para-athlete and triathlete’s life story

Cy A. Adler – “Walking the Hudson” – guide to walking the Hudson River

Book review – Ann Bridge – “Peking Picnic” #20BooksOfSummer #amreading @ViragoBooks

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Hooray, 20BooksOfSummer no 14 and I’ve almost finished no 15, too. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll manage the set by the end of 3 September … Another of Verity’s lovely parcel of books, this was another green Virago cover. I’ve read a couple of Bridge’s books before (“Illyrian Spring” and “The Lighthearted Quest“) and while this was different from both of them, it was similar in its strong sense of place.

Ann Bridge – “Peking Picnic”

(25 December 2017 – from Verity)

A rather odd book, I felt, set in the British diplomatic community in Peking in the 1920s. It spends most of its time building up the characters and situation, then suddenly throws them into a violent and frightening situation very different from the norm (I say that: they’ve already been through seven sieges, apparently) when they’re kidnapped by brigands on a long trip that’s more than just a straight picnic to a temple compound outside Peking.

It’s all observed by a couple of outsiders: an American novelist who seems drawn from life but doesn’t do that much interesting and Professor Vinstead, an expert in psychology from Cambridge. He comments, about their blase attitude to “bad joss” (bad karma caused by helping a monk pick up his prayer beads):

It was most peculiar, the indifferent way in which all these people went casually about among them, taking their pleasure as if in the most complete and suburban security.” (p. 110)

And it IS odd: they are really in a kind of bubble, only interacting with the locals in the form of their servants and knowing the stiff upper lipped way of dealing with trouble. It has been compared to “Passage to India” and I sort of understand that, in the disconnect between the Europeans and the locals.

The sense of place is beautifully done, especially around our heroine, Laura Leroy, wise and fastidious, who is constantly dwelling in both China and England, where her beloved children are, and seeing scenes in her mind’s eye of both what they might be doing now and what she might have been doing in the past – having, she realises, through comments made by one of her nieces, a much more honest time and conversations than she does in the brittle diplomatic world.

Bridge is known for writing travelogues but this is more of a treatise on national character, because we get a lot on the love style of the French, plus discussions of the Chinese. These can feel a bit patronising, but then Laura’s ability to converse with them fluently gets them out of disaster. Similarly, perhaps, her lower-class maid is mocked and the book feels quite snobbish, but it’s the same maid who rescues them at the point of no hope. So efforts are made to understand others and it’s generally positive rather than, for example, the awful descriptions of black people in Ellen Glasgow, but it’s a bit uneasy.

In fact, to be honest, I found the whole thing quite uneasy. There’s lots of 1920s style love affairs and casualness about sex, and indeed Laura speaks of her infidelities quite lightly, which I didn’t really like, as she also appears to have a strong and supportive marriage. I know it’s only a novel but I haven’t liked that kind of thing since I got married! However, there is much to enjoy about the novel and it’s very self-assured for a debut (even though she obviously used her own background for it, making the research presumably easier), with foreshadowings and the holding together of a large cast of characters confidently marking her out as technically very competent already.

This was Book 14 in my 20BooksOfSummer project.


I’ve almost finished Book 15, the delightful “Guard Your Daughters” by Diana Tutton. In other book news, I’ve bought the next tranche of Iris Murdoch in the new(ish) Vintage Classics edition, and was busy lining up red spines from “The Nice and the Good” to “The Black Prince”, but to my horror and semi-fury, they never did “Bruno’s Dream” in the red-spined / graphic illustration format, and it looks like “The Sacred and Profane Love Machine” and, which I knew about, “Jackson’s Dilemma”, weren’t done either. Who reissues 23 of a novelist’s 26 books in a uniform edition and not the other three? “Bruno” has an introduction, but he certainly doesn’t match!

 

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

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

Angela Thirkell – “Summer Half”

(25 December 2017 – from Verity)

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

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

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

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

Great fun!

This was Book 13 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


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

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

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

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

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

Ellen Glasgow – “Barren Ground”

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

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

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

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

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

These two quotations sum the book up for me:

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

and

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

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

This was Book 1 in All Virago / All August

This was Book 12 in #20BooksOfSummer


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

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

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

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