The 1930 Club: Books Past, Present and Future

Karen and Simon made a very wise choice when they landed their time travelling book club in 1930.

I found that I had read a lot of books that I could warmly recommend from that year, that I could pluck a very special book from that year from its shelf, and that I had a few books from that year that wouldn’t fit into that year that it was lovely to remember

The Past

These are the 1930 books from my blogging years – here and from the old place – that I am happy to recollect and recommend:

Imagine my delight when I found an old copy of High Wages by Dorothy Whipple long before the Persephone reissue, and when I found that the heroine shared my name. My expectations were high, and the story more than lived up to them.

Agatha Christie’s The Murder at the Vicarage – the first appearance by Miss Jane Marple in a novel – needs no introduction, so I shall simply say that it stood up to re-reading very well indeed.

The Fool of the Family is the follow-up to one of the most popular novels of the twenties –  The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy – and though it was not a success I am very fond of this tale of a lesser light of a family of musicians.

I was shy The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield for a long time, because its heroine was so very popular, but when I finally picked my book up I understood why and was smitten too.

I spotted Spiderweb by Alice Campbell in a line of green penguins, and I found that though the mystery was simple I enjoyed spending time in Paris and living through the story with an engaging cast of characters.

I can warmly recommend Kingdom Lost by Patricia Wentworth to anyone who enjoys romantic suspense. It’s a distinctive story and it was a delight to spend time with its wonderful heroine.

Doctor Serocold by Helen Ashton is an account of one day in the life of a country doctor – long before the NHS – and it does a wonderful job of illuminating his life and the world around him.

It is said that Vita Sackville-West was targeting popular success when she wrote the The Edwardians, and that it was inspired by real life and the changing times. It’s a lovely period piece, and a book that still has something to say.

Dead Man’s Quarry by Ianthe Jerrold is a wonderfully readable Golden Age mystery, set in Wales, with an engaging cast, an intriguing plot, and just a little bit of silliness at the end.

The Present

The first book that I chose was a very big book and it was a disappointment, but every cloud has a silver lining and I have a gap on a bookshelf that will hold two regular sized book.

My second book the one I described as ‘the book that I had thought would always be just out of reach’ and I have to tell you that it is a joy to read.

It begins like this:

The Laventies’ garden was unusual in Sussex, being planted French-fashion with green-barked limes, eight rows of eight trees at a distance of six feet. The shady grass between them was dappled in due season with crocus, daffodil and wild hyacinth, but they had no successors. All the other flowers were in the lower garden, where Ann’s tenth birthday party was drawing to a rapturous close.

The young Gayfords were even then being led out of the great gate in the west wall, a gate almost as wide as the garden itself and surviving from the days before the stables had gone to make way for rhododendrons. It was of iron, man-wrought, with a beautiful design of fruit and foliage, and Mr Laventie used it as his back door.

With the departure of the guests a change came over the garden: the Laventie family settled back into itself with a breath of content. They had been exquisitely, lavishly hospitable, but when Dick pulled to the gate and leant back against it it was as though he barred our every everything that could mar the beauty of the hour.

“Now!” said Elizabeth.

The Future

These are the 1930 books that I most want to read, but that I know won’t fit into this week:

As problems go, it’s a good one to have ….

Are there any books from 1930 – these or others – that you would particularly recommend?

A Book for the 1930 Club: Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole

High Walpole was a  popular and prolific author in his day, and he was one of those very traditional story tellers who fell out of fashion when modernism came to the fore. I liked the one, quite early, novel of his that I read, a few years ago, and so I had high hopes for this much later work.

It had much to recommend it to me.

It was a big book; it was a family saga; it was a historical novel; and it was set in a part of the country that the author loved; the place he moved to in middle age, to live for the rest of his life.

I wish I could say that I loved it, but I’m afraid that I can’t.

What I can say is that though I saw many weaknesses I was sufficiently interested to read to the end.

The story opens in 1732.

Francis Herries, a man who has clearly done much to earn the sobriquet ‘Rogue’, has uprooted his family from their Yorkshire home, because he knew that his sins would soon catch up with him if he stayed. The travelling party includes his wife; his two daughters, Mary and Deborah; his only son, David; his loyal manservant; a woman who carries the title of housekeeper but is in fact his mistress; and a priest who held some very strong views….

9322179He plans to settle in his childhood home, near Borrowdale. His brother, who lives nearby is horrified, because the house is remote, the land is poor, and the property has been decaying for a great many years; but Francis Herries is set on his plan and will brook no argument.

In the years that followed the two families would meet and cross paths, but Frances Herries would never again set foot in his brother’s house.

He was a proud and independent man, he was slow to trust and slower to love, but he had a strong sense of right and wrong, and he was strong and prepared to work to establish his family in their new home.

Margaret Herries loved her husband dearly, and forgave him everything; and though he didn’t feel the same way he appreciated that and did his best to look after her. He sold his mistress at a country fair after she upset the household, and the scene rang true but it made me compare Walpole with Hardy, and that comparison did not flatter him.

I thought that sale might have consequences later in the story, but it didn’t. Nor did the departure of the priest, or the compassion shown to a woman judged to be a witch, or the introduction of the wider family, or the flight of Mary, who had inherited her father’s pride and independence, and who thought that she deserved a better life.

David would have liked to make his own way in the world but he felt tied to the family home. He was his father’s pride and joy, he had promised his dying mother that he would always watch over him, and he didn’t want to abandon Deborah, who had inherited her mother’s reserve.

In time though, things changed. Deborah fell in love with a clergyman, who told her that he was prepared to wait until she was ready to leave her family. David fell in love with a young woman who he had to wrestle away from her cruel guardian – quite literally. And – most extraordinarily – Francis Herries developed a passion for Mirabell, the daughter of a gypsy woman he had helped and who had asked her to watch over her daughter after her death. He loved her as he had never loved before, she didn’t feel the same way, but she was buffeted by life and he became her refuge.

Time and place were wonderfully evoked, the descriptions were wonderful, but the book fell down for me on character and relationships. There was no depth, there was no evolution, and there was little to suggest that they were active in setting the course of their own lives. They were simple people, so I wasn’t looking for too much, but many of the moments that would have illuminated their lives, were rushed over or even missed completely.

I might make an exception for the man who gave the book its title. On one hand he was a wonderful character, but on the other I can think of other more interesting rogues.

Time passed, things happened, but no more than that. There was little progression and there were rarely consequences.

The skill of the storyteller and interest in what might happen kept me going.

I couldn’t help thinking that this read like a draft, and that the author hadn’t troubled to go back over what he had written and think about the book as a whole. A good editor could have made such a difference.

The final act was the strongest part of the book. It led to a wonderful – if melodramatic – ending that set things up beautifully for the sequel.

I’m curious, but I am in no hurry to read it.

Swans: A Collection

The swan, arriving unseen, stayed so until late in the morning when the fog shifted and began to roll down the hillside, leaving the crown of the hill standing in an uncertain light. Children, coming out to play on the common, saw what their fathers bicycling to the work could not have seen. They crowded the edge of the pond and one boy threw a stick at the  swan, trying to make it fly. That was the first and last unkindness the bird ever suffered in the village. The children discovered that more response came when food was thrown, and soon the pond and the trodden grass around was littered with crusts of bread and bacon-rinds, orange-peel and apple-cores. Even in its charity the village was backward and untidy, yet the swan, coming in out of the fog and remaining as it did, stirred its imagination and pride. On the market bus and in the pub and post office it was the subject of conjecture and theory. Whence had it flown, they wondered, and in what direction? Was it maimed and could fly no further? Flattered as they were, the villagers could not believe that the muddy pond had ever been its true objective, heart’s desire. They talked about the swan and worried over it. The Vicar referred to it in his sermon on the Mysterious Ways of the Lord.

From ‘Swan-Moving’ by Elizabeth Taylor 

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Woodcut by Carl Thiemann 

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For the next few days, which happened to be very fine, Beth revelled out of doors. Everything was a wonder and a joy to her in this fertile land, the trees especially, after the bleak, wild wastes to which she had been accustomed in the one stormy corner of Ireland she knew. Leaves and blossoms were just bursting out, and one day, wandering alone in the grounds, she happened unawares upon an orchard in full bloom, and fairly gasped, utterly overcome by the first shock of its beauty. For a while she stood and gazed in silent awe at the white froth of flowers on the pear-trees, the tinted almond blossom, and the pink-tipped apple. She had never dreamed of such heavenly loveliness. But enthusiasm succeeded to awe at last, and, in a wild burst of delight, she suddenly threw her arms around a gnarled tree-trunk and clasped it close.

There was a large piece of artificial water in the grounds, in which were three green islands covered with trees and shrubs. Beth was standing on the bank one morning in a contemplative mood, admiring the water, and yearning for a boat to get to the islands, when round one of them, unexpectedly, a white wonder of a swan came gliding towards her in the sunshine.

“Oh, oh! Mildred! Mildred! Oh, the beautiful, beautiful thing!” she cried. Mildred came running up.

“Why, Beth, you idiot,” she exclaimed in derision, “it’s only a swan. I really thought it was something.”

“Is that a swan?” Beth said slowly; then, after a moment, she added, in sorrowful reproach: “O Mildred! you had seen it and you never told me.”

Alas, poor Mildred! she had not seen it, and never would see it, in Beth’s sense of the word.

From ‘The Beth Book’ by Sarah Grand

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Lalique – Pendant Deux Cygnes Bleus

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The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ by William Butler Yeats

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‘Swans’ by Frank Brangwyn

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She looked across the saltings to where the sea was and as she lifted her face, rosy with the steady smoothing of the cold wind, the sun darted a bright gold beam across the marshes……she heard a strangely thrilling noise….nearer and nearer it came, until suddenly there swept over her head a flock of wild swans, rushing on white gold wings into the sunset.  Laughing with excitement, she ran down the track the follow their flight but the sunset, and tears, dazzled her and she could not see.

They were so beautiful….wouldn’t it be wonderful if she could always feel like she had felt when they thundered over her head, not wanting anyone, happy to be quite alone and looking at something as beautiful as those swans?

But the sun had gone behind the clouds again and the wind was getting up, it was nearly half past three and the last bus left at four.

From ‘Nightingale Wood’ by Stella Gibbons

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Molly urged me, ‘Talk to Binkie.’ ‘Go for a walk with Binkie.’ She felt that it was important to expose us children to  such people so that some of their starriness might rub off on us. I remember one walk at Woodroofe with him. I have no memory of our conversation, which I expect was stilted on both sides. I was struck by his lovely flamboyant clothes, elegantly cut in soft fabrics which seemed extraordinary to a wartime Irish child dressed in scratchy tweed dungarees. Binkie exuded a waft of discreet, delicious perfume. We stepped across mud and peered through the reeds at a swan nesting on the lake. She hissed, flattening out her neck, lengthening it towards us like a white snake. Suddenly the male glided into view. There was a splash as he changed from his graceful float to an ungainly foothold in the mud. Immediately we knew he was rushing us, his wings extended to deal us blows. Binkie took my hand and began to run. His Basque beret blew off, We did not retrieve it. We could hear the wind-like energy of the swan behind us. I fell, and Binkie stopped to put me on my feet, and we sped on. I can still remember the sensation of running much faster than I was really capable of. The defensive husband gave up the chase eventually. Molly was slightly less keen after this incident to send us out on country walks with town people, no matter how sophisticated or famous they might be.

From ‘Molly Keane: a Life’ by Sally Phipps

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‘The Swans’ by Mary Potter

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Portents accompany the death of monarchs. A white horse trots slowly along the avenue, a woman in streaming wet garments is seen to enter the throne room, vanishes, and leaves wet footmarks; red mice are caught in palace mousetraps. For several weeks five black swans had circled incessantly above the castle of Elfhame. It was ninety decades since their last appearance; then there were four of them, waiting for Queen Tiphaine’s predecessor. Now they were five, and waited for Tiphaine. Mute as a shell cast up on the beach, she lay in her chamber watching the antics of her pet monkey.

From ‘Five Black Swans’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner 

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Decorative Panels by Mary Golay

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The swans are by the shore, drifting bright as paper cut-outs against waves blurred by dusk. They spend the night murmuring oboe harmonies to each other, a woodwind of reassurance. Ordinary swans, the Queen’s swans on the river where we feed the ducks at home, have faces apparently afflicted by some medieval disease, and sleep standing on one leg, heads under their wings like child-free passengers on long-haul flights who can summon night with a nylon blindfold.

These sea swans seem to stay awake all night, sailing through the fading light like ships bound for far countries, and they have faces as smooth and neutral as the corps de ballet, faces that can’t communicate any level of grief or pain. Perhaps this is an asset in species that mate for life. I glance back at the house. Its façade, dark as the cliff-face at the other end of the island, turns away from the after-light shining over the sea, from where America is coming up for a new day as we turn away from the sun. One of the swans stretches towards the sky and cries out, wings threshing the water in sudden agitation like that of someone who has just remembered that a friend is dead. I saw a goose dying, once, a Canada goose that had flown all the way from the Arctic to end its life on the hard shoulder of the M40, and although one wing was still beating as if to music while the other lay across the rumble-strip, its face was impassive. I stood on the footbridge, watching, joggling the pram in which the baby would sleep only for as long as we kept moving, until some lorry driver, merciful or inattentive, left a flurry of feathers and red jam on the road. Our swans are safe from that, here. For a season. Like us, they will go south in the autumn, but for now there are no cars, no roads. No bridges, either. The stars are coming out in the darkening sky over the hill. I shiver; not cold, exactly, but time to go in.

From ‘Night Waking’by Sarah Moss

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The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden (1975)

In her preface to this novel, Rumer Godden wrote:

I suppose, in a way, I am a divided person, having two roots: Sussex, England where I was born and India where I first went when I was six months old. For most of my life I have gone back and forth between them in one I am homesick for the other.

Sometimes this homesickness becomes acute …. I seemed to feel the warm Indian dust under my sandalled feet, smell flowers in sun, and other smells pungent and acrid …. I had no reason to go back to India, but the longing persisted; then, as if in answer, came a story linked to a memory of something strange and sad that happened many years before ….

This story draws on that particular memory; and it was so fortunate that it belonged to an author who knew India as a child, who saw that country more clear-sightedly as an adult, and who loved both England and India, and could see the strengths and weaknesses of both countries and what each one brought to the complex relationship between them.

Fifteen-year-old Una and her half-sister Halcyon (Hal) were happily settled in an English boarding school, after spending most of their childhood in different homes in different countries as their father’s diplomatic career, when a most unexpected letter arrived.  It brought word that Sir Edward Gwithiam wished his daughters to join him in New Delhi, where he had recently been posted by the United Nations.

Hal was delighted with the prospect of a new adventure in India, but Una was desperately unhappy. She was clever, her teachers were encouraging her to set her sights on a good university, and she knew that even the best of governesses in India could not give her the education that she wanted and needed. The prospect of spending time with her adored father was little consolation.

Peacock SpringWhen she reached her father’s new home in Delhi, Una quickly realised that the reasons that her father had quoted in his letter were mere pretexts. Miss Lamont, who was to be her governess, was a beautiful woman, she held a privileged position in the household, and she was clearly unqualified to teach a well-educated fifteen year-old.

Of course Una understood what the real situation was, and why it was that she and Hal had been summoned.

Hal had never been much interested in lessons, she accepted Miss Lamont’s presence without question and happily accepted all of the lovely things that her new life had to offer.

Una resisted all of Miss Lamont’s attempts to win her over and a fierce battle of wills would develop between them. It was a battle that she could not win, because her adversary was cold and calculating, and determined that noting should prevent her from achieving her ambition, and because Una’s father shared that ambition and treated his daughter’s opposition as the behaviour of a spoilt child.

Hurt, troubled, and lonely, Una retired to the abandoned summer-house at the bottom of the garden, with her beloved books.

It was there that she met  Ravi, the under-gardener. He was a handsome young man, he was an aspiring poet, and the gift of a blue peacock feather would lead to a clandestine romance.

Una was smitten with the young man and the very different side of life in India that he showed her; and of course it don’t occur to ask why someone with his education was working in a garden. Ravi’s friend Hem, a more worldly-wise medical student, knew why; and he warned him that the relationship could only lead him into more trouble, but Ravi took no notice at all.

When Una made a discovery that she knew would appall her father, she and Ravi made a desperate plan, that they hoped would allow them to escape from the worst of the fallout. It didn’t occur to either of them that while Sir Edward might be happy to allow his daughter to ‘sulk’ for a while he still considered her a child and would act as soon as he realised that anything might be amiss.

The events that played out would be a painful coming of age for Una.

I was caught up with her from the very first, I understood her feelings and her actions, and my concern grew as the story progressed. That story had a wonderful understanding of the complications of family life, the awkwardness of the stage of life between childhood and adulthood, the intensity of first love, and the pain that learning more about how people are and how the world works. I couldn’t doubt for a moment that Rumer Godden understood and that she care; and she made me understand and care very deeply.

Her characterisations were deep and complex, and this was a story of real fallible people. Even Miss Lamont, who could be considered the villain of the piece, was a woman who could make me feel care and concern. She was mixed race, she didn’t fit into English or Indian society, and so her life had been a struggle and she had to hold on to the wonderful and unexpected chance that she had been offered. In contrast, Hem was lovely. He was a little older and wider than his friend, his advice was almost invariably ignored, but he would remain the truest and most thoughtful of friends to both Ravi and Una.

The prose is rich and evocative; the attention to detail is exactly right; but above all this is a human drama, and that drama felt so real that I might have been looking into the lives of people who really lived and breathed for a short but significant spell in their lives.

There has been Reading – There has been Shopping – There has been Knitting

August and September have come and gone, and I haven’t been here nearly as much as I would like to be.

I’ve just had a couple of months when life just kept happening,  when I had precious little free time, and when I did I was drawn more to knitting and music that to reading.

I thought I might have drifted out of the way of doing this.

Reverie – Janos Laszlo Aldor

It seems that I haven’t, and, though I’ve had more days when I didn’t read than I have in a long time, when I look back I find that I have read more than I thought.

Four novels by favourite 20th Century Women

No Signposts in the Sea by Vita Sackville-West
Touch and Go by Patricia Wentworth
The Way Things Are by E M Delafield
The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden

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Two Memoirs

Afloat by Danie Couchman
More Was Lost by Eleanor Perényi

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Two Books with a Touch of the Fantastical

Platform Seven by Louise Doughty
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alex E Harrow

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Two Historical Novels

The Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick
Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett

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One Woman in Translation

Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel

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One Huge Classic

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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There is not a book there that I wouldn’t recommend; though I wouldn’t recommend every book to every reader.

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There is rarely a month when I don’t buy a book – or two or three – but a small windfall allowed me to do some serious book shopping a few weeks ago.

I hadn’t bought a Persephone book for quite some time, and so I ordered:

The Call by Edith Ayrton Zangwill – because I read a library copy and I really didn’t want to give it back.

National Provincial by Lettice Cooper – because I have loved her other books and this one sounds even better.

Despised and Rejected by Rose Allatini – because this was the one of the others on my wishlist that called loudest.

Then there was the edition of The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope that returned to Trollope’s original manuscript after he had reluctantly made cuts at his publisher’s behest.

I picked up Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield, because I had read a digital copy and I knew that it was a book I wanted to have on a shelf

I had meant to wait patiently in the library queue for The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, but it looked beautiful, I loved her last book, and I couldn’t resist pre-ordering a copy.

Some may think me extravagant, but my feeling is that I have invested wisely in my personal library.

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I haven’t written about knitting for a long time, but I shall very soon. These are three sweaters with interesting constructions that I will endeavor to write more about very soon.

I have also picked up another project that I put down a couple of years ago. This time last month there was a front and a third of a back, and now there is a complete body, one sleeve and the beginning of a second sleeve. I must finish that, I must finish the sleeves of a sweater in progress for the man of the house, because all of that is quite basic knitting and I am eager to make something a little more interesting.

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I have plans for this month, I hope that life will settle down, but I don’t want to say more than that, because I suspect that might tempt fate ….

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (2019)

There are times when you love a book, and rather than explain you just want to put copies into the hands of the right readers and insist that they stop whatever they might have been doing and read.

I say the right reader because this isn’t a book that will be universally adored, and it isn’t quite perfect, but I know that those right readers will love it dearly.

It isn’t the kind of book that I read often, but I picked it up at exactly the right moment, when I needed an escape from the turbulence of the world that I live in.

The story opens in America, early in the 20th century.

January Scaller has grown up in the mansion of her guardian, Mr Locke, a wealthy collector of rare and rare and beautiful objects. This had come about because her mother – a white woman – had been missing for so long that it could only be presumed she was dead; and her father – a black man – was employed to travel as far and as wide as he could in search of new treasures for Mr Locke’s collection.

JanuaryShe knows that she has had a privileged upbringing, that she has been lucky in many ways, but she can’t help feeling that she is just another piece in the collection, prized by her guardian and the members of his scientific society for her cedar-wood coloured skin and her usual and exotic heritage.

As she grows up things that will change January’s worlds begin to happen.

She makes friends with a boy named Samuel, a delivery boy who often comes to the mansion.

He gives her a dog who she names Sinbad, and he becomes her devoted friend and protector.

Her father sends her a formidable black woman named Jane Irimu, who he hopes will be her companion and her guide.

And then two quite extraordinary things happen.

She finds a door, out in the country where no door should be,  she finds that stepping through that door takes her into a different, and her head fills with questions about what that might mean, and about her own family history and situation.

Not long after that, she finds an old book. She had always loved books, and she knew straight away that the book she held in her hands was special.

This one smelled unlike any book I’d ever held. Cinnamon and coal smoke, catacombs and loam. Damp seaside evenings and sweat-slick noon times beneath palm fronds. It smelled as if it had been in the mail for longer than any one parcel could be, circling the world for years and accumulating layers of smells like a tramp wearing too many clothes. It smelled like adventure itself had been harvested in the wild, distilled to a fine wine, and splashed across each page …

The faded gold letters on the book’s spine read The Ten Thousand Doors,  its opening pages presented it as a monograph on  portals between worlds, but as January turned more pages she found that she herself reading a compelling story of the life and adventures of a young woman who had found doors just like the one she had found.

That was just the beginning of January’s own extraordinary adventure. I was enchanted by her voice from the very start, and it was lovely to follow her as she learned so much and discovered that though there were many who were eager to open doors and to learn and explore, there were others who wanted to exploit those things and to close and control doors.

Her story was written in lovely prose, that could be rich and evocative, that could move the story along at times of high drama, and that could build worlds wonderfully, wonderfully well. And that prose was threaded though with wonderful ideas, about words and books, about discovering the past and stepping into the future, about the big things and the small things that make a life.

Once we have agreed that true love exists, we may consider its nature. it is not, as many misguided poets would have you believe, an event in and of itself; it is not something that happens, but simply something that simply is and always has been. One does not fall in love; one discovers it …

January’s own story was every bit as special as the one in the book that she found,  and the the two stories worked together beautifully.

The plot became a little predictable as the book went on, and I think the setting up of the story was stronger that the playing out; but my care and concern for January and her friends and the themes and ideas that enriched the story were more than enough to hold me.

There is a timeless quality to this story, and it sits well in its era while speaking about things that are very significant today.

I appreciated that it acknowledged its influences.

Worlds were never meant to be prisons, locked suffocating and safe. Worlds were supposed to be great rambling houses with all the windows thrown open and the wind and summer rain rushing through them, with magic passages in their closets and secret treasure chests in their attics …

And I found that this book was wonderfully readable, that it gave me much to think about, that it pulled me right out of my world  ….

10% Report: 100 Years of Books

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100 different books by 100 different authors – 1850 to 1949!

Had I known when I began this project, six years ago and in another home on the internet, that it would go on for so long, it probably wouldn’t have ever got off the ground.

I read the 20th century following exactly the same rules in two years, without making too much of an effort to find books to fill particular years; but pushing the start of the period back by fifty years has made a made this project rather more demanding.

There were fewer books published in those years, there are not so many authors to choose from, and many of the books are very long. Long isn’t a problem – I’m reading a very long book at the moment – but I need to balance the big books with other things.

That’s the negative, but the positive is that this project has led me to some wonderful obscure books, and that it has made me read some of the classics that I have been meaning to try for years. My 100 Years of Books project led me to books by Trollope and Tolstoy that have become particular favourites, and remembering that makes me want to make sure that there is room for every 19th century author that I have thought about reading or re-reading.

That means I may have to re-shuffle my list, I many end up reading more that 100 books, but so be it.

I have read eighty books for my list, so I am not going to back out now. And I am never going to read a book just to fill a year; every book on the list is going to be one I wanted to read for its own sake.

It many take time, but I really want to see the final list one day – 100 years, 100 books and 100 authors!

Today though I just have my latest ten books – here they are:

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1874 – Other People’s Money by Émile Gaboriau

‘The police are certain that all they have to do is find the missing man; and so his son and his daughter’s admirer, who have ideas of their own, set out to find out – and to prove – exactly what happened at the bank. There is drama and romance, intrigue and suspense, as the story moves apace through grand houses, poor backstreets and criminal dives. In the early part of the book I thought of Trollope, but in this part of the book I saw the influence of Dumas.’

1892 – Grania: The Story of an Island by Emily Lawless

‘The pictures of Island life that Emily Lawless draws are wonderfully vivid. She conveys the unforgiving nature of the landscape and the ongoing struggle for poverty that trapped so many of the islanders; she understands the beauty of the island, and the strong sense of identity felt by the islanders. She sees the joys and the sorrows of their lives.’

1901 – East of Suez by Alice Perrin

‘Alice Perrin had the knack of making the India she knew come to life. It was a place where she was one of a small community of British people, surrounded by a culture quite unlike her own. It was a culture that she appreciated but didn’t really understand. She did understand the home-sickness, the isolation and the alienation that many of her compatriots felt. And the effects that that the climate, the way of living and the  local traditions had on their lives. These stories reflect all of that, and they reflect the author’s great love of the India that she knew.’

1902 – A Welsh Witch by Allen Raine

‘Catrin is the ‘Welsh Witch’ of the title. She was happier out on the hills and in the countryside than she was at home with her father, who had struggled to cope since the death of the gypsy girl he had married, and her two dour brothers. The natural world had become her natural home, and she had an uncanny intimacy with it. But when she spoke to the village priest about how she saw God and his work not in the church but all around her every day, he condemned her, he spoke out against her, and she was ostracised by his congregation.’

1906 – The Belovéd Vagabond by William J Locke

‘Asticot knew a little of Paragot’s story, over time he would learn more, and the day would come when Paragot was given a second chance to claim the life – the destiny – that he thought that he had missed. Could he step back into the life he had always dreamed of, or did the very different man he had become – The Belovéd Vagabond have a different destiny?’

1909 – Starbrace by Sheila Kaye-Smith

‘This is the story of Miles Starbrace; the son of a gentleman and a serving maid who died when her son was so young that he has no memories of her. His father, Gerald, had done the honourable thing, telling his his father that he was going stand by the woman that he loved, and that he would support their child. His father disowned him and Gerald fell a long way … Gerald’s greatest hope was that Miles would rise in the world, and regain everything that his father had lost …’

1914 – The Pastor’s Wife by Elizabeth Von Arnim

‘I appreciated that Elizabeth Arnim made her main point well. Ingeborg was cast in different roles by her father, by her husband, and by her would-be-lover in turn. None of them gave much thought to what would make her happy, what life would be like for her, but none of them were villains, none of them were deliberately cruel or unkind. They were simply men who assumed that they would – they should – be at the centre of her world ….’

1917 – The Lady of the Basement Flat by Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey

‘Of course Evelyn’s feelings were mixed. She was happy for her sister, but just a little sad that their bond would never be quite the same again, that she had been left behind. She was uncertain what her own future would hold, but the more she thought the more confident she became that she could lead an interesting life and be valued in the world.’

1944 – China to Me by Emily Hahn

‘Emily Hahn was a proud feminist and fearless traveler, and the kind of woman who lived life as she felt it ought to be lived without waiting for the rules to be changed. That made her wonderful company, but it was her skill as a writer and her interest in the people around her that really elevated this memoir. She made clear and insightful observations about the people around her – and herself and how they dealt with cultural differences, the changes that politics and the war brought, and all of life’s ups and downs.’

1946 – More Was Lost: a Memoir by Eleanor Perenyi

Though the young couple’s assets were substantial – a baroque property, 750 acres of gardens and farmland, a vineyard, a distillery and a sizeable forest – and they were far from poor, they didn’t have the capital that they needed to restore the dilapidated property and to run the estate as they felt they should. And though Zsiga was Hungarian, his estate wasn’t in Hungary anymore: it was part of the territory given to the Czechs after WWI, and he needed a passport and permission from the authorities before he could travel there.

* * * * * * *

The full list of what I’ve read is here, and my 1862 book will be finished very soon.

The Way Things Are by E M Delafield (1927)

I read somewhere, I’m not sure where, that this book was one of four by the author that were loosely linked by theme. That theme is what marriage has meant for women. I didn’t know that before I started reading and so I didn’t read them in sequence. Now that I have read all four I can say that it didn’t matter at all, but that it was interesting to consider them together, and to think about how that theme and the position of women evolved.

The four books are ConsequencesThank Heaven FastingThe Way Things Are and The Diary of a Provincial Lady and I can warmly recommend all four for what they have to say, the stories they have to tell, and the author’s ability to make her reader understand and empathise.

That said, I have to say that I think this book is not as strong as the other three, because I found it difficult to warm to the heroine, and because it is a little less distinctive than the others, having too many points in common with the much better known and much loved title that followed in its wake.

DelafieldThis is the story of Laura Temple, a provincial wife and mother of two young sons, in her early thirties. She is also a writer of short stories, that have been praised but have had no significant success beyond that. She struggles to find time to write, because managing her household and keeping up with her social obligations seems to take up every moment that she has.

Lady Kingsley-Browne tells her that she needs to be firmer with her staff, and Laura knows that she is right but she just can’t do it. She tries to be sensitive to their situations, but that often unsettles or upsets them, and they frequently decide to move on.

She also knows that she is being less than even-handed with her two boys. Edward is her first-born, and he is a bright and practical child, but Laura can’t help loving the mischievous Johnny more. She knows that sometimes that shows, that her favouring of Johnny would in all probability hurt Edward, but again she seems unable to do anything about it.

This would be an unhappy tale in the hands of many authors, but E M Delafield illuminated Laura’s life beautifully, she made her story easy to read, and she turned her into a very real person who you wanted to know, to speak to, and to set in the right direction.

I loved Laura’s voice; her perception her friends and neighbours and of the world around her; and her understanding of her foibles. It was easy to believe that she could have been a successful author.

It doesn’t help that her marriage has stagnated. She and Alfred had married young and maybe not for the best of reasons, and they had run out of things to say to one another.

They had been reasonably in love with one another. Alfred was – or so Laura supposed – incapable of being unreasonable in love, and she herself had expended most of her capabilities for romance in purely imaginary directions. She had , in her maiden days, composed speeches to an ideal lover that would have astonished and disconcerted Alfred  to a considerable extent, had she ever spoken them aloud.

But she never had, and had never seriously wished to, and in the course of seven years of child-bearing and rearing, housekeeping, writing stories to augment her income, and talking about the bulbs to her neighbours, Laura had almost forgotten that she had once thought herself destined for a grand passion.

That makes her very susceptible to a man named Marmaduke Ayland, who expresses an interest in her writing, who sees her as a woman and not just a wife and mother, and who offers words of admiration and love. A love affair begins, but Laura finds that she cannot shake off her fondness of her husband, that she cannot stop thinking of her sons and so she feels terribly torn.

The romance was rather sedate, but I am afraid I couldn’t quite believe in it. My feeling was that Laura was in love with being in love and the possibilities that offered, and that Duke’s feelings were quite similar, and that he was unprepared for the possibility that she might really leave her husband. That meant that I couldn’t feel real concern, but I did appreciate the points that were being made about the impossibility of the choices women had to make between love, marriage, family, and pursuing their own interests.

I loved the sub-plots, one comical and one serious, that said more about those important choices – and compromises – that women have to make, and about how society views them. My feelings about the two young ladies concerned – Lady Kingsley-Browne’s spoilt daughter BéBée and Laura’s younger sister, who had been a bright young thing about town, were much less conflicted than my feelings about Laura.

There was much about her that I liked, but I couldn’t get past her knowingly favouring one son over the other, and though I knew that she was trapped to some degree by circumstance and society, I couldn’t help feeling that she should have appreciated that she was luckier than a great many women, and that she could have done something to make things a little better.

That said, there are many good things in this book, more than enough for me to say that it is well worth finding and reading.

The final sentences may be the best of all, and I thought about them for a long time after I put the book down.