You really must meet Frannie Langton ….

How do you chose one book to read from so many that contemporary authors have written set in the Victorian era?

What attributes should the book – and the author – that you chose have to make them stand out in a crowded field?

When I was invited to join a blog tour to celebrate the publication of ‘The Confessions of Fanny Langton’ I wanted to ponder those questions, because they are questions that this book can give wonderfully positive answers.

The author, Sara Collins, clearly knows and loves the period and its literature; and she adds something new and distinctive of her own, something that wouldn’t be found in a novel from the period.

When I wrote about her novel, a few weeks ago, I said:

Sara Collins writes so well. The cast of characters is wonderful, and each and every one of them has different aspects – nobody is there simply to play a part, they are all fully realised human beings who have pasts – and hopefully futures. That cast is deployed well in an engaging plot, and interesting questions are explored along the way. The atmosphere is wonderful, allowing the characters and the story to live and breathe, the prose is gorgeous and Frannie’s voice rings true.

(The rest of my thoughts are here.)

But I want you to read the author’s words, because when I read her letter to her readers I was absolutely certain that I had picked up the right book.

Dear Reader,

On the small Caribbean island where I grew up, I re-read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, trying to imagine windswept moors, drawing rooms draped in silk and sighing women, and men dashing about on horses – corrupting or taming or rescuing.

My own word stretched to coconut trees and white sand. Nothing from it ever made an appearance in those pages. At some point their came a realisation that those books I loved didn’t quite love me back. And that left questions in their wake.

Why couldn’t a Jamaican former slave be the star of her own gothic romance? Why couldn’t she be complicated, ambiguous, complex? Why had no one like that ever had a love story like those? Questions like that are the pinch that turns reader to writer, and so I found myself wanting to chronicle the twisted affections between a mutalla maid and her white mistress. A story that is among other things a tribute to Jane Eyre, but with a protagonist who would have lived outside the margins set by history. Or, rather, like Jane Eyre – if Jane had been given as a gift to ‘the finest mind in all England’, and then accused of cuckolding and murdering him.

My glad bag is bursting, as Jamaicans would say, that you’re about to read it. That we might, somewhere in the pages, catch sight of each other.

Sara

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A Box of Books for 2018

Some people make year-end lists, but I prefer to pack a box of books as each year draws to a close. I have always loved lists – writing them, reading them, studying and analysing them – since I was a child; but I find it more interesting to  approach things a little differently.

I assemble a virtual box of books to remember my reading year. And I stick a virtual post-it note to each book, with my thoughts when I read it, to remind me why that book was in my box.

Some of them will be books that I can say quite objectively were the best books I read, but others are books that spoke to me for particular reasons, and books that do something that no other book in my array if boxes does.

This year’s box has a story set so close to home that I can believe I might have passed the characters in the street, a book by my favorite literary raconteur, a book that introduced me to a marvellous Victorian heroine who was both wonderfully modern and utterly of her time …

I surprised myself by leaving out certain favourite authors, because I know I have books I like as much – or maybe more – in earlier boxes.

I try to finish with a box that holds a cross-section of what I’ve read, so that when I look at a box I know where I was in my life as a reader that year.

Books that I re-read aren’t there, because of course I know I will find them in the boxes of the years when I read them for the first time. And I only allow an author one book a year, because I have to draw a line somewhere.

I have a book in progress that I suspect should go in a box, but as I won’t finish it for a few days it will be a candidate for next year’s box and I can put the lid on this year’s box.

Before I show you what is in my box, there are people I really must thank – authors past and present, publishers, sellers of books both new and used, fellow readers – who have all done their bit to make the contents of my box so very lovely.

And now – here are the books!

* * * * * * *

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Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope

‘There were so many wonderful moments, so many perfect details, that I really could feel that I was walking through a world that had a history that had begun long before I arrived and that would go on long after I left. Anthony Trollope made that world spin, he managed all of the characters and stories in that world wonderfully well. He seemed a little less chatty than usual; maybe because there was so much going on.’

Rough-Hewn by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

‘The  story of each life was told quite beautifully, with sensitivity, with intelligence, with empathy, and without one single drop of sentimentality. There is no plot as such, but I was captivated by the unfolding of each life. I noticed that they were told rather differently. Neale’s story was told in a straightforward way, always from his point of view; while Marise’s story was often told through the accounts of people around her. That reflected the different nature of the stories, and while I found Neale’s story easier to read I was more anxious to follow Marise’s story.’

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. Her characterisations are rich and complex, and I can believe that this community existed and that these people lived and breathed.’

Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge

‘That is just the beginning of a wonderfully rich tale of love and adventure in times and places where the world was undergoing great change. I had worried that it would be a tale of a great love lost, but of course in Elizabeth Goudge’s hands it was much more than that: it was a story that illustrated that the journey to grace so often begins by accepting that we may not be able to have what we want most and by finding strength to do what we must.’

The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings

‘An author who can set a book in a place close to home that I know very well and at a time when I could have been there, when I could have brushed shoulders with one of her characters, and hold me through the whole story without ever doubting that her characters lived and breathed, that the events she writes about happened, is an author I am very glad to have met. It takes more than authenticity to make a good book of course, and this book has much more than that. It has a wonderful understanding of character and relationships and it has an absorbing story where there is always something in the air; something like a great storm at sea moving closer and closer to the Cornish coast ….’

Thank Heaven Fasting by E M Delafield

‘Monica, her family, her friends, and her suitors were all trapped by ridiculous social conventions; and the range of characters and different experiences reinforced that point. Making herself attractive and appealing to men was the sole object of her life; because marriage was the only career opportunity for a woman of her class and anything other than that would constitute failure. Her failure meant that she remained in her mother’s care, she continued to be a child and she never learned to understand her own feelings or make decisions for herself. No woman ever needed to, because she would pass form her parent’s charge to her husband’s!’

Another Part of the Forest by G B Stern

‘G. B. Stern refers to a party she hosted for seventy literary figures, and I would love to know who they were. Maybe Somerset Maugham, as she was a guest at one of his house parties. Maybe H G Wells who was at the same house party and gave her a writing case for Christmas. Maybe Elizabeth Von Arnim. The author went on a picnic with her and imagined that she was a character in one of her books. Certainly Sheila Kaye-Smith, who was a close friend and co-author of two books about Jane Austen.’

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

‘I thought that this book might sink under the weight of its complexity but it didn’t; and I had a wonderful time caught in the moment with the narrator and his many hosts. I loved the different perspectives, and though I didn’t make a significant effort to see if all of the pieces of this gloriously complex puzzle fitted together I can say the things that I spotted did; and that said puzzle and its the myriad overlapping and intertwining story-lines can only have been the work of a brilliantly inventive mind.’

Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby

‘Each chapter is devoted to the story of one of these characters. The story-telling is immaculate, and I couldn’t doubt for a moment that Winifred Holtby had considered every detail of the different people, lives and relationships. They were beautifully observed, they were gently satirised, and the different stories spoke about so many things: class, race, faith, prejudice, family, loss, philanthropy, ambition …. Each chapter was absorbing, and could have been the foundation of a different novel.’

A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

‘Her story is very well told, by her in the first person. Her voice was lovely, the story flowed beautifully. It was simple, but it was profound, and the things that it had to say felt utterly right. The post-war generation is caught perfectly, the period detail was pitch perfect, and that made it so easy to be drawn onto Lou’s life. I found it was so easy to identify with her, I loved seeing that story though her eyes, and everything that she felt, everything that she said, everything that she did rang true.’

Diana Tempest by Mary Cholmondeley

‘One of this books greatest strengths is its youthful energy and fervour. There is passionate advocacy of a woman’s right to set the course of her own life; and a very clear light is shone on the unhappy consequences of marriages contracted for reasons other than real love. There is righteous anger at social injustice, at moral weakness, and most of all at men – and women – who stand in the way of what the author has the wisdom and foresight to advocate. I had an idea how the story would be resolved I really didn’t know how it would get there until it did.’

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

‘The story moves slowly and it rewards slow reading. The writing is gorgeous, there are so much many stories within the story to read and appreciate, and it is lovely spending time with all of the people who are part of those stories. Every detail was right, every note rang true, and the world of this book felt utterly, utterly real. It was a wrench to leave, and I can’t quite believe that I couldn’t go to the Swan Inn and listen to the descendants of the people I have been reading about telling tales of them, telling the tales of this book, telling tales of their own ….’

* * * * * * *

Now tell me, what would you put in your box for 2018?

And what do you plan to read in 2019?

A Little Something for Rebecca West Day

I thought that it might be a mistake, putting a date so close to Christmas in the Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors.

She belonged there but I really don’t have the time or attention at his time of year to do justice to Rebecca West’s wonderful writing. I picked up three of her novels, and each time I read a little but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t the right moment for that book

That means that I don’t have a book to talk about today, but I can share the opening of the one I think I will be reading first.

* * * * * * * *

‘She never could understand machinery. So when the chauffeur tried to explain what was so seriously the matter with the automobile that it would take a whole two hours to repair, she cut him short and said, ‘Never mind, Harrowby. Accidents will happen, and anyway it’s much nicer than travelling by train.’ She noticed a look of real perturbation round his nice eyes, and was puzzled till a flash of comprehension came to her, and she hastily explained, ‘Oh, it’s all right about my being late. I’m not expecting—anyone.’ But she did wish Essington would not get so angry when she was late that the servants noticed. It wasn’t her dignity she was thinking of; she was too tired to think of that. But it dug away her defences. For if nobody else knew how he behaved, then when she woke in the middle of the night and felt like a trapped rat she could pretend that things weren’t so bad, she could say to herself, ‘I expect I imagine most of it. For he’s awfully fond of me, really. He can’t get on without me. Look how he always wants me to go away with him for his holidays. Yes, I’m silly, that’s what I am.’ But if other people knew about it she couldn’t fool herself, and had to go on feeling like a trapped rat.

She shivered, and said, ‘Well, I suppose I can’t go on sitting here if you’re going to do all that to her. I’ll go for a walk,’ and stepped out of the automobile. The garage yard was full of the clear light of May, and it was a pleasanter place than most of its kind, for it had evidently been an old livery-stable and its walks were of mellow red brick, patterned with streaks of moss and golden patches like freckles where time and sunshine had toasted away the surface. In the end wall was an archway barred by an iron gate, through which one could see a green country garden that was as much orchard as garden, with fruit trees standing in grass too long and strong for a lawn, and rows of rhubarb. It made her think of the orchards round Chiswick when she was a little girl. They had been so pretty; and she had had time to look at them, for then her days had been too empty as now they were too full. She was glad that this breakdown which gave her an hour to herself had happened in this little market town, where there were orchards.

‘Harrowby,’ she asked, ‘didn’t we pass a pretty place with water, just before we came into the town?’

‘Yes, Miss, a kind of big pond it was, with lily pools. A gentleman’s estate left to the district for a park, I should say it was. There were seats. About three quarters of a mile back, it was.’

‘Oh, dear! That’s too far. I’d have to walk a mile and a half in all. I suppose I won’t have time. And it was so pretty. It seems as if one never could do anything one wanted, doesn’t it?’ She felt like crying. Nowadays she was all to pieces.

‘But you said, Miss, that you hadn’t got to hurry. And I could run you back to town in an hour and a half from here. This is Packbury, you know. I should go if I were you, Miss. It’ll do you good.’

It was all right. There was really no reason at all why she should not go. It was simply that she was so unused to liberty, so seldom free from the leash that jerked her back to heel whenever she was doing anything she enjoyed, that she felt at a loss when she was on her own. She pulled herself together and said gaily, ‘All right. I’ll come back here. Don’t try to fetch me, for I’ll take a footpath if I can.’ She hadn’t been on a footpath for years. He tuned up his engine and took the car, calling over his shoulder, ‘Never known you have an hour to yourself before, Miss!’ She smiled and waved her hand, and turned towards the street. She meant to buy some fruit and chocolate, and eat it sitting by the pond.’

From ‘Sunflower’ by Rebecca West

* * * * * * * *

This the final date marked in the Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors.

I’m glad that I did it and I don’t rule out doing it again one day, with some of the same authors and some different ones. I will definitely go on celebrating authors on their birthday, but I want to do something different next year …..

A Little Something for Margaret Kennedy Day

I very nearly missed my own party!

That’s because I’ve not been up to much reading or writing for a while, and so, rather than rush through a book and struggle to do it justice, I’m going to mark the day by sharing a a lovely part of a favourite book.

The story of someone who does miss her own party, and of what happens next …

* * * * * * * *

‘What is she like? Is she pretty? Is she at all like you, I mean?’

‘Not a bit. She is tall and slender, while I am short and dumpy.’

‘You are not. You aren’t dumpy.’

‘I would be, if I wasn’t as light as a bird. She has short, light-brown, curly hair. Very attractive.’

‘So have you. I mean your hair is dark but it curls.’

lucy-carmichael‘I’m glad you think so. Lucy’s nose is aquiline, not retrousse, and her eyes are grey. She has a very delicate skin, too pale, but that’s easily remedied. I wouldn’t  call her pretty. When she is well and happy she is extremely beautiful. When she is out of sorts or depressed she is all nose, and dashes about like an intelligent greyhound after an electric hare. She has a natural tendency to vehemence which is unbecoming to one so tall, but under my influence she occasionally restrains it. She believes me to be very sophisticated — a perfect woman of the world. She admires my taste beyond anything and does her best to imitate me. She is incautious and intrepid. She will go on to several wrong places, and arrive at the right one, while I am still making up my mind to cross the road. … Until I knew her I had always been convinced that I must be destined for misery. … I don’t expect I’d have had the courage to marry you, to marry anybody, if it hadn’t been for Lucy.’

‘In that case,’ said John, ‘I shall have no difficulty in loving her.’

‘You will oblige me by trying to do so. She’s not everybody’s cup of tea.  My mother is very supercilious about her, simply because her father , who is dead, was only a chartered accountant, and her mother is a woman doctor in Surrey. …

And in some ways she is still rather childish. It is her ambition to be suave and mondaine, which she will never be. When she remembers this she undulates about with a remote smile. When she forgets, which is pretty nearly all the time, she prances along and roars with laughter.’

* * * * * * * *

I’ll be back in a week or two …

A Thank You Letter after Margaret Kennedy Day

88fe70ca7a39902253fe85ae7e942f1fI want to say thank you to everyone who played a part in this celebration of the lovely legacy of books that Margaret Kennedy left to the world.

Circumstances meant that the announcement was low-key and I’m sorry that this thank you is rather late; but I do really appreciate everyone who found a book to read, and everyone who spread the word.

I found some summer flowers for you all.

We covered a interesting range of titles, from four different decades, and we had some quite different – and very interesting – thoughts.

* * * * * * *

The Constant Nymph (1924)

Madame Bibi Lophile said:

“The novel is also not wholly a romance, but also a consideration of art and how to create it, how to pursue it, the value we attach to it and the various ways in which it is consumed. This is done with a lightness of touch and Kennedy never lets the broader themes get in the way of the plot.”

Christine said:

“It’s a clash of worlds as much as a clash of personalities: natural versus artifice; conformity versus rebellion; order versus disorder; outsiders versus those who belong… Lewis, Tessa, Tony, Lina and Sebastian are wild, anarchic, passionate creatures who know no rules and trail chaos in their wake. Set against them is the conventional, well ordered society created by Florence and her friends, where appearance is everything, and talking about feelings is more important than the feelings themselves.”

Juliana said:

“I could not help but have the feeling that there was a stronger story that had been left behind, waiting to be told. Either you tried to tame the circus and lost; or the circus has come close to enchanting you, and you run away from its wild exuberance.”

Together and Apart (1936)

Audrey said:

“Reading Together and Apart reminded me that one of M.K.’s greatest strengths, in my view, is how she draws her characters. From the very first page, when Betsy tells her mother in a letter that she is planning to divorce Alec, we have a strong sense of who she is, and M.K. stays true to this for the rest of the book. Whether we like them or not, or think they’re sympathetic or worthy or not, they definitely come to life.”

Madame Bibi Lophile said:

“I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say everything works out in the end. Which is not to say things work out perfectly. Lives are messy and Together and Apart shows how much of that mess is of our own making, but how we are myopic regarding our own situations and so clear-sighted regarding others. Once again, there are piercing, but sympathetic psychological insights.”

Lucy Carmichael (1951)

Simon said:

“The writing is great, there is wit and thoughtfulness; Kennedy is clearly trying to inherit the mantle of Jane Austen (and there are many references to Austen throughout; Melissa and Lucy are both aficionados) and that’s an admirable intention, even if it highlights the disparity between their achievements are ‘structurers’. There is a lot to love here, and I did love the final chapter so much that I almost forgave everything else”

Helen said:

“Margaret Kennedy shows a lot of understanding and sympathy for Lucy’s situation; being jilted at the altar is, thankfully, not something I have experienced myself but if it did happen I hope that I would have the strength to react the way Lucy does, with dignity and resilience, rather than allowing her heartbreak and humiliation to destroy the rest of her life.”

GenusRosa said:

“I really enjoy this aspect of Kennedy’s novels–how she creates character. Even seemingly unimportant characters are built in with a solid foundation and story. This gives the impression that you are entering a real world–warts and all–and a social environment that, while not one I have actually experienced, is still believable as though I know these types of situations and the personalities that give them life.”

The Oracles (1955)

I said:

“Margaret Kennedy’s twelfth novel is dark and clever. It is set in a small town close to the Bristol Channel, not long after the war; and it spins around the family of a Bohemian artist, a more conventional young married couple with a new baby, a number of their friends and neighbours, and its catalyst is a remarkable work of art.”

The Forgotten Smile (1961)

Ali said

“The Forgotten Smile is a later Margaret Kennedy novel – one offering the reader a wonderful escape to another world. The majority of the novel takes place on Keritha, a tiny Greek Island, largely forgotten by the rest of the world. A place of Pagan mysticism and legend, where the cruise ships don’t stop and aren’t really welcome. It’s a place out of step with the modern world and is perfect for an escape.”

* * * * * * *

BadgeI think that’s everyone, but if it isn’t please let me know so that I can put things right.

I’m looking forward to seeing who reads what next.

I should tell you that this was the last day of celebration of this kind. But it isn’t the last celebration, because I have something a little different in mind for next year ….

* * * * * * *

A Book for Margaret Kennedy Day: The Oracles (1955)

Margaret Kennedy’s twelfth novel is dark and clever.

It is set in a small town close to the Bristol Channel, not long after the war; and it spins around the family of a Bohemian artist, a more conventional young married couple with a new baby, a number of their friends and neighbours, and its catalyst is a remarkable work of art.

The story begins as an apocalyptic thunderstorm rages over the town. The residents, horribly reminded of wartime bombings, huddle in their houses; but when they look outside only one thing has changed. A huge tree near the home of abstract sculptor Conrad Swann has been struck by lightning and is split in two.

When his wife died, leaving him with three young children, the sculptor had ran away from London to the country with the wife of his agent and his oldest friend, Frank Archer. Elizabeth, the mother of twins who came along with her, had been an actress, but her beauty was faded and she was drawn to of alcohol and idleness. Ten year-old Serafina Swann was left to manage the house and the four younger children as best she could. Serafina was bright, she did her best, but the the family’s new home was beginning to decay.

The tree had been the children’s refuge, where they hid from their fathers work, which they saw as malevolent ‘artifaxes’. Imagine their horror when they saw that it had been struck, and that in his branches was a horrible new creation. Serafina took charge, hauling the strange form of distorted arms and legs and hiding it in the shed, pushing a new work of her father’s that was to be collected for an exhibition well out of the way.

Only Joe, the youngest of the children realised what it was – the remains of the chair they had used to climb into the tree – but when he shouted at it nobody seemed to be listening.

Meanwhile, Christina Pattison was happy with her new home, her new baby, and her role as the perfect housewife. She was only a little worried that her husband Dickie might feel a little left out, might be a little less than happy. She was right. Dickie hadn’t really wanted to come back to his home town after the war, but his mother had died and so he felt that he had to, for the sake of his elderly father.

Dickie, eager for new experiences and new friends, was glad to accept an invitation to a party to celebrate the completion of Conrad Swann’s latest work. Christina was reluctant. She clung to convention, she worried about the children in that most unconventional of households, and she had no taste for modern art. Dickie went to the party alone, and rolled home the next morning with a hideous hangover.

Conrad Swann had disappeared. It was said that he was going to Mexico, but Frank Archer, who had come to face his friend for the first time since he absconded, pointed out that he didn’t have the means to get very far from home at all. He was right, but that’s another story. Elizabeth wept and wailed, and Frank enlisted Dickie to keep the party going, with the help of a crate of brandy that he found in the kitchen. The supposed next artwork – actually the children’s artefax – was unveiled, and the company was astounded by the sculptor’s radical new direction.

Martha Rawson, Swann’s would be patron is eager to celebrate and promote the wonderful new work. Architect, Alan Wetherby, who bought an earlier work in unconvinced, and eventually he will uncover the truth.

While that is happening Elizabeth abandons her household, Conrad finds a new life in the country, Serafina struggles to look after herself and the younger children, and – as sides are drawn in the dispute over the new artwork – the Christina becomes more conventional and Dickie more determined to explore new possibilities.

The satire is lovely – and I was pleased that Margaret Kennedy was satirising the people rather than the art – and there is much more here to appreciate.

The plot is cleverly and elaborately constructed, and the outcomes are unexpected.

Margaret Kennedy draw her characters so well, and she is at her most clear-sighted in this book. Some are lightly sketched, others are drawn with much more detail, but all are real fallible human beings. That made it easier for me than I expected to believe this rather improbable story.

The portraits of Christina and Dickie as their marriage reached crisis point, and Christina finally realised that she had to learn to change and make compromises, was wonderful.

Serafina Swann, who was thrilled when a lady at church described her as ‘a little mother’, who had to cope somehow when the adults abandoned the children of her family, who was so worried when she thought that her next home might not have enough books, was a marvellous creation, and one my favourite Margaret Kennedy characters. I should love to spend a little more time with her, and know rather more about her future.

My disappointment with this book was that it spent a little too much time with the characters I couldn’t care for and focused a little too much on the weaknesses of the characters I liked. That meant that I couldn’t feel quite as engaged with this book as I did with many of Margaret Kennedy’s other works.

I was disappointed that neither Conrad nor Elizabeth were ever held to account for abandoning their children.

The way that the story played out made me realise why much of that had to be though.

And when I look back at this book as a whole, I realise that I found much to love and much to admire.

* * * * * *

Now, please do tell me if you’ve read  – or if you’re reading – a book for Margaret Kennedy Day.

I’ll post a round up in a few days.

And please don’t worry if you haven’t found a book or haven’t been able to read for this particular celebration  – Margaret Kennedy posts are welcome on any day of the year!

Margaret Kennedy Day is just a week away …. so I pulled out some of my favourite books ….

…. because I’d realised that I had read twelve of them and that I only had four left.

It felt like time to take stock, and to decide if I should re-read one of the twelve or read one of the four for the first time.

That inspired me to write a list of favourites, to share descriptions and reviews of those books, and to try to explain what makes them special. It’s not a definitive list, because I still have books to read, because the margins are very fine, and because I always reserve the right to change my mind.

The first two books picked themselves, but I had to shuffle the books that followed quite a few times and expand the list from five to six before I felt that it was right, and that it showed all of the different qualities to be found in Margaret Kennedy’s work.

* * * * * *

ONE

The Feast (1950)

“The germ of the idea for The Feast – Margaret Kennedy’s ninth novel and perhaps her most ingenious, first published in 1950 – came to the author in 1937 when she and a social gathering of literary friends were discussing the Medieval Masque of the Seven Deadly Sins. The talk turned excitedly to the notion that a collection of stories might be fashioned from seven different authors, each re-imagining one of the Sins through the medium of a modern-day character. That notion fell away, but something more considerable stayed in Margaret Kennedy’s mind over the next ten years, and so she conceived of a story that would gather the Sins all under the roof of a Cornish seaside hotel managed by the unhappy wife of Sloth…”

There was no question in my mind that this book had to come first. It really is the most accomplished, most engaging and most intriguing of Margaret Kennedy’s novels, and it should be much better known and widely read.

I said:

“I might describe The Feast, Margaret Kennedy’s ninth novel in many ways: a character study, a morality tale, a social comedy, an allegory. But, above all of that, I would describe it as very readable novel.”

Kaggsy said:

“Reading “The Feast” was a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience and I’m so glad I chose it. In fact, I think it will benefit from a re-read as I was so anxious to reach the conclusion that I’m sure there are many profound little bits I’ve missed.”

* * * * * *

TWO

Lucy Carmichael (1951)

“This work by a mature novelist at the height of her powers – opens on an unforgettably disastrous scene, as the novel’s eponymous heroine, preparing to savour her wedding day, is instead jilted at the altar. Lucy Carmichael’s recovery from this calamity forms the substance of the story that follows. She takes a job in the rural Lincolnshire village of Ravonsbridge, at an educational institute established by a wealthy manufacturer for the cultural benefit of the local community. This employment will come to offer Lucy a second chance at romance, but it also brings her unexpectedly into contact with a host of remarkable characters who will influence how she sees the world.”

Lucy’s story is a little uneven, but she is the most wonderful heroine, and you really should meet her.

This is how her best friend describes her:

“She is incautious and intrepid. She will go to several wrong places and arrive at the right one, while I am still making up my mind to cross the road. She is cheerful and confident and expects to be happy. She taught me how to enjoy myself … Lucy forced me to believe that I might be happy. I don’t expect I’d have had the courage to marry you, to marry anybody, if it hadn’t been for Lucy”.

And this is the very perceptive review that Audrey wrote for last year’s Margaret Kennedy Day.

* * * * * *

THREE

The Fool of the Family (1930)

“The fool of the title in this charming light-hearted Margaret Kennedy novel is solid, reliable, put-upon Caryl, one of the innumerable offspring of the eccentric musician Sanger. He too is a musician and to save money to put on a concert, he works in the evening as a cinema pianist on the Lido in Venice. Within the space of one summer week, two fateful meeting disrupt his calm and ordered life: that with beautiful Fenella and, much less welcome, with his handsome, amoral half-brother Sebastian.”

‘The Constant Nymph’ was a huge success in the 1920s, and it is a very good book indeed; but I am fonder of its rather less successful sequel, and I had a lovely time wandering through.

Here is a lovely review at GenusRosa, explaining the charm of this book much better than I can.

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FOUR

A Night in Cold Harbour (1960)

“Romilly Brandon was heir to a fortune and the handsomest and liveliest young man in the county. But in his twenty-first year, the pretty daughter of the local parson, Jenny Newbolt broke his heart, and he left to live a dissipated life in London. Returning years later, Romily finds many surprises – his one-time sweetheart grown old and withered, and in possession of a great secret that shakes him to his core. When Romily finally learns the truth, is it too late to atone?”

This a rare thing – a perfectly pitched historical novel with something to say that still resonates today.

I wouldn’t often reference an Amazon review, but this one catches the book perfectly, and I am so glad that I saw it and it inspired me to pick up one of Margaret Kennedy’s most obscure works.

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FIVE

The Midas Touch (1938)

“A young Welshman, Evan Jones, arrives in London towards the end of the 1930s. Attractive and agreeable to outsiders, he has the power to sell anything to anyone; and he sees other people as an opportunity.Across the city, Mrs Carter Blake sells her psychic powers, mixed with a healthy dose of charlatanism. Desperate to maintain a respectable life, though ashamed of her work, she preys upon the superstitious and susceptible rich. And the self-made capitalist, Corris Morgan, is one of the richest men in Europe, with the power to destroy anyone who crosses him. But even Corris has his weak points – and as he struggles to escape the fate he fears, both Mrs Carter Blake and Evan are drawn into his orbit and inexorably swept along with him.”

One thing that Margaret Kennedy does particularly well is bring together curious mixtures of character, plot strands and themes to make a fascinating and thought provoking story. This is said to be her favourite of her own books, and my review is here.

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SIX

Together and Apart (1936)

“Betsy Canning is dissatisfied with life. She has always taken pains to be healthy, popular and well-treated, but despite her wealth, her comfortable homes and beautiful children, happiness eludes her. The problem must lie, she thinks, in her marriage to Alec, and a neat, civilised divorce seems the perfect solution. But talk of divorce sparks interference from family and friends, and soon public opinion tears into the fragile fabric of family life and private desire. Alec and Betsy’s marriage will not be the only casualty, and in this newly complicated world, happiness is more elusive than ever.”

I wrote about this very recently and so I won’t repeat my own thoughts.

I’ll just say that I agree with Darlene, who said:

“There is so much more to this book than initially meets the eye … This story delivers far more than the light read I initially bargained for and is almost epic in scope; it’s a book buyer’s dream.”

It would be an interesting first book for anyone who has read the works of Margaret Kennedy’s contemporaries.

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Do tell me which Margaret Kennedy novels are your favourites.

If you haven’t read her, please do.

And remember that Margaret Kennedy Day is just a week away.

It’s really quite simple.: all you need to do to take part is read a book and post about it on the day.

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A Book for Elizabeth Goudge’s Birthday: The Little White Horse (1946)

‘The Little White Horse’ is one of a number of stories that Elizabeth Goudge wrote for children. It is set sometime in the 19th century, in the Devonshire countryside that the author so loved; and it is an engaging and old-fashioned tale, underpinned by both magic and faith.

Maria Merryweather was born and raised in London, but when was thirteen she was orphaned and sent to live with her  last living relative – Sir Benjamin of Moonacre Manor – in the heart of the country. She travelled with her governess, Miss Heliotrope, and her beloved spaniel, Wiggins. Night was falling when arrived, and they were all enchanted by the sight of a moonlit castle set in a beautiful and expansive grounds.

The travellers are made wonderfully welcome, and immediately feel completely at home. Everything that they might want has been thought of and every detail is right. Maria is particularly taken with her tower bedroom, its ceiling covered in moons and stars, its silvery furniture, its little tin of sugar biscuits ….

8826252_origThere are no servants to be seen, and Sir Benjamin declares that no woman has set foot on the house for twenty years!

Maria finds that her imaginary friend from London is a real boy living in the nearby village of Silverdew.

Yes, there is magic in the air.

There is also something darker. Maria learns of her sadness and wrong-going in her family’s history, and she realises that it has fallen to her to set things right.

Elizabeth tells her story beautifully; she really was a mistress of the art of story-telling. Every sentence is beautifully wrought; every character is clearly and distinctively drawn; every place, every meal, every setting is perfectly explained; and there is a wealth of lovely detail.

I think that this  is a book that would work best read in childhood – and I do wish I had discovered it as a child – but it still has a great deal to offer to the grown-up reader who is still in touch with her inner child who loved books.

I say ‘her’ because this is a very girly book.

My inner child loved this book.

But as a grown-up reader I have to point out a few failings.

It has a little too much squeezed into its pages, and as a result sometimes things feel rather rushed and there isn’t quite as much suspense and intrigue as there could have been.

And in the end everything was tied up rather too neatly, with happy-ever-afters for all.

I think I might understand why. I think that just after the war Elizabeth Goudge wanted to say – wanted to believe – that the world could be a better and happier place, that everything could be alright again.

The Little White Horse won the Carnegie Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature in 1946, when it was described as ‘not merely the best children’s book of this year, but the best which has appeared for the past ten years.

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I’m very pleased that I chose this book to read for Elizabeth Goudge Day .

Thank you Lory, for steering me back towards her work again.

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I inherited a love of Elizabeth Goudge’s  writing from my mother. She has been seriously ill, she is probably near the end of her life, and that is why I have been quite elusive over that last few weeks.

She recommended a few authors when I progressed from the junior to the adult library, and others over the years since them; but now, as I look back, I think that it is her recommendation of Elizabeth Goudge that says much about the woman she was and is.

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