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.

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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.”

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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 ….

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Sixes

It was Jo’s idea, six years ago now, and it’s become an annual event – mark the end of the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

It’s not quite as simple as that sounds, but working out what book might go where is a lovely way of looking back.

I’ve already spotted Helen and Margaret posting their lists, and I am sure that there are – and there will be – others out there.

As usual, I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and to make sure that this is a celebration of books I’m happy to remember.

And in the case of my last six, happy to be reading right now or very soon.

Here are my six sixes:

Six book by authors I know will never let me down

Lise Lillywhite by Margery Sharp
Love by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy
Together and Apart by Margaret Kennedy
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

* * * * * * *

Six books holding stories of crime and intrigue

Seventy-Seven Clocks by Christopher Fowler
Danger Point by Patricia Wentworth
The Trespasser by Tana French
Six Green Bottles by Anne Hocking
Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey
Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Croft

* * * * * * *

Six books published in the last year or so

Winter: A Seasonal Anthology
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola
Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones
Crimson and Bone by Marina Fiorato

* * * * * * *

Six books written by 20th century lady authors

A Place to Stand by Ann Bridge
Fidelity by Susan Glaspell
This Real Night by Rebecca West
The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West
Crossriggs by Jane and Mary Findlater

* * * * * * *

Six books that pulled me back into the past

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser
A Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
The West Wind by Crosbie Garstin
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

* * * * * * *

Six books sitting on my bedside table

Marcella by Mary Augusta Ward
The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull
A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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.

* * * * * *

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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Another Spin with the Classics Club

Just as I found a little time for the online bookish world, my trusty, long-serving, hard-working modem gave up the ghost and died, and so I have only my work breaks today and tomorrow and that isn’t nearly as time as I’d like.

I do hope my new modem arrives on schedule …

Fortunately I had enough time to spot a new Classics Club spin, and it wasn’t too difficult to pull together a list, because I only have twenty-something books left  ….

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… and now here is that list.

  1. The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox (1752)
  2. Emmeline by Charlotte Turner Smith (1788)
  3. A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbold (1791)
  4. The Collegians by Gerald Griffin (1829)
  5. Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau (1838)
  6. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842)
  7. Vilette by Charlotte Bronte (1953)
  8. Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov (1859)
  9. Hester by Margaret Oliphant (1873)
  10. A Struggle for Fame by Charlotte Riddell (1883)
  11. La Regenta by Leopoldo Atlas (1886)
  12. The Beth Book by Sarah Grand (1897)
  13. Eline Vere by Louis Couperus (1889)
  14. The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf (1915)
  15. Kristin Lavransdattir by Sigrid Undset (1922)
  16. Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann (1927)
  17. Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson (1937)
  18. The World is Not Enough by Zoe Oldenbourg (1946)
  19. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay (1950)
  20. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Tayor (1951)

The numbers I’d most like to come up are 7, 10, 14 and 20.

The numbers I’m a little anxious about are 2, 12 and 18.

But there isn’t a book on my list I don’t want to read – it’s just that I want to read some of one day, rather than right now.

Though maybe I just need the right push …

 

A Box of Books for 2016

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 did a particular thing rather well.

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.

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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Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

“She’s a girl who never does anything that’s exactly wrong; but she’s also a girl who never really does anything that is usual or expected. She simply follows her heart; oblivious to the strictures that hold most people back.One day she took herself out to tea at the Ritz; another day she stayed in bed, eating oranges, because she read in a magazine that it would give her vitality.”

Landfalls by Naomi J Williams

“I knew nothing at all about the history, I resisted looking it up, and I’m very glad that I did; I’m sure that I would have loved the book even if I had foreknowledge, but coming to this narrative as I did made it an enthralling voyage of discovery.”

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

“The plot is beautifully constructed and controlled. I was particularly taken with the way that the author gradually opened out different stories, with the way she set her story very firmly in its period, and that her story was always a very real human story set in a very real world. It would have been so easy to add a drop of melodrama or a dash of the gothic, but she didn’t and her story is so much better, and so much more distinctive for it.”

The Owl’s House by Crosbie Garstin

“I was swept away by their story; it was so very richly told and so very engaging. And Crosbie Garstin captured my part of Cornwall – the people, the places, the speech patterns, the way of life, everything – absolutely brilliantly. I couldn’t doubt for a moment that he loved his world, his story and the telling of it.”

Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley

“Oh, what a book this is! It has a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, it is full of drama and intrigue, it has plenty to say, and every single thing in it is so cleverly and vividly drawn that I found myself living and breathing the story.”

* * * * * * *

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Honeycomb by Dorothy Richardson

“I have loved walking through life with Miriam Henderson, sharing in her perceptions and emotions, and appreciating that maturity and experience were helping her to form ideas and steadily grow as a woman in her world. And I have loved seeing Dorothy Richardson grow as a writer, honing her craft, and making each of the first three novels of this saga distinctive and yet still part of the same whole.”

The Midas Touch by Margaret Kennedy

“The story begins as a young man named Evan Jones arrives in England for the first time. He had been born in China, the son of Welsh missionaries, and since they died he had travelled the world, living off his wits and his charm. Now he was coming home, to see the place that his parents had always called home, and he was very taken with what he saw. He had no money, he had nowhere to go, but fortune favoured him again and he prospered.”

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

“Arthur Bryant and John May met in London in November 1940. Both young men were assigned to the PCU – the Peculiar Crimes Unit – to deal with the strangest of crimes and, though they were young and had little experience, they found themselves pretty much running the place while so many resources and so many men were caught up in the war. Years later, when they were both quite elderly and much had changed they were still working together at the PCU.” 

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

“Most of all though I loved Septimus Harding. He loved his daughters, he loved the old men who were in his care, he loved the work he had been called to do, he appreciated all of the good things he had in his life; and when finally decided what was the right thing to do he proved to be as tenacious, in his own quiet way as his formidable son-in-law. The sequence of events, as he travelled to London and found his way to the people he needed to see – very much an innocent abroad – was beautifully judged and a joy to read.,”

The Song Collector by Natasha Solomons

“Fox was a wonderful narrator and I loved coming to know him as a young and an old man. He drew me into his story, he made me care about him and about what would happen, and I came to understand his hopes and his dreams, his loves and his fears. I saw his world and the people whose lives touched his so very clearly.”

* * * * * * *

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The Sacred Combe by Thomas Maloney

“A short conversation inspires him to leave his job and to travel deep into the English countryside to Combe Hall; a lovely house that had been built in the 1600s, that was still a family home, and that housed a private library holding more than eighteen thousand books and three centuries of correspondence.”

Pendower by Marianne Filleul

“I’ve read many novels that consider the reformation at court, and in the light of the marriages of Henry VIII, but I don’t think I’ve read one before that considered its impact on the country.  Marianne Filleul caught the fear and the confusion perfectly, and presented the question in its simplest form. Should mass be said in Latin, that sounded beautiful was not understood, or should it be said in plain language for all to understand?”

Summer: A Wildlife Trust Anthology for the Changing Seasons

“There are so may highlights that it is almost impossible to pick favourites. I loved bat watching with Jacqueline Bain. I was taken by surprise by some lovely writing that I would never have guessed was by Charles Dickens. I was pleased to climb a hill in the Cotswolds with Vivienne Hambly; I was delighted that Jo Cartmell wrote of replacing her lawn with meadow flowers, reminding me that I have a plan a little like that for part of our garden …”

A Woman of Letters by March Cost

“The arc of the story was perfect. It moved from a manse in the Lowlands to a cottage in the Highlands, to London, to London society, across to continental Europe, and then back to London for the war years and thee years that followed. All of the times and places were beautifully evoked. The mixture of romance and intrigue worked beautifully; and is woven into the story so well that it is difficult to say very much without giving much too much away.”

Blood Symmetry by Kate Rhodes

“The writing was wonderful. I knew that this was crime novel, but it could have turned this story into anything it might have wanted to become. And it quickly became clear than the story would be both distinctive and meaningful.”

* * * * * * *

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To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

“Sophie was a young teacher, in love with the natural world, when she met Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester. He was intrigued by the young woman who was completely unflustered when she was caught up a tree; and she was captivated when he took the time and trouble to find and lead her to the nest of a hummingbird. I was very taken with them both as individuals, and I loved them as a couple. I have found many things to love in this novel, but it was this marriage that I loved most of all.”

Through Connemara in a Duchess Cart by Somerville & Ross

“When work, life, and other things conspire to keep me at home, surrounded by visitors, at the height of the season there is only one thing to do. I turn to my bookshelves and I look for a Virago Traveller, knowing that those books can take me on wonderful journeys in the best of company.”

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

“This book caught me by surprise. I’ve read some of Ann Patchett’s work but it’s been a long time since our last encounter; because I’ve liked what I’ve well enough to want to read more, but not quite well enough for months and years to slip by before a book landed that I thought I really must read. I expected it to be good, of course I did; but I didn’t expect it to have such depth and yet be so easy to read, and I didn’t expect it to preoccupy my thoughts during the days I spent travelling through its pages.”

Tell it to a Stranger by Elizabeth Berridge

“The writing was perfectly controlled, and the skill of the author drew me right in and made me think so much of the situation of each woman. That control, that skill, and an extraordinary clarity made every story fascinating. It was the clarity that really struck me; I can only compare it to the feeling you have when you have new glasses and you see the world just that little more clearly than you did through the old pair.”

Saraband by Eliot Bliss

“Saraband is a beautifully wrought and sensitively told coming of age story, set in early 20th century London.Louie is a quiet and imaginative child, growing up in her grandmother’s house, surrounded by aunts and uncles. She loves being out in the world, and her story is scattered with her feelings about the world as the seasons change.”

* * * * * * *

Now tell me, what would you put in your box for 2016?

And what do you plan to read in 2017?

A Year in First Lines

The last month of the year is here, and so it’s time to play a particular game:

“Take the first line of each month’s post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year.”

It’s an idea that started with The Indextrious Reader a few years ago, and I remember that that it really is an interesting way to look back at a year.

So here goes …

woodcut-by-kent-ambler

December

Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins (1870)

It is said that Wilkie Collins was at the height of his powers in the 1860s, when he wrote the books generally acknowledged to be his four great novels/

November

THE 100 BOOKS TAG

A few weeks ago I said that I don’t do this thing very often, but here I am doing it again, and planning something else for the not so distant future.

October

DAWN’S LEFT HAND BY DOROTHY RICHARDSON (1931)

The tenth of the thirteen volume series of novels that Dorothy Richardson titled ‘Pilgrimage’ – picks up the story of Miriam Henderson exactly where the ninth ended.

September

THROUGH CONNEMARA IN A GOVERNESS CART BY SOMERVILLE & ROSS (1893)

When work, life, and other things conspire to keep me at home, surrounded by visitors, at the height of the season there is only one thing to do.

August

TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD BY EOWYN IVEY (2016)

I fell in love with this book; it captured both my head and my heart, completely and utterly.

July

A WOMAN OF LETTERS BY MARCH COST (1959)

I am so glad that I found  March Cost!

June

THE SACRED COMBE BY THOMAS MALONEY (2016)

This was a novel that spoke of many things that I love – in life and in literature.

May

AN A TO Z TO PICK UP THE THREADS ….

A is for A SITE OF HER OWN -ten of Margery Sharp’s novels are back in the world and her publisher – Open Road Media – is showing them off in a lovely little site of her own.

April

I SEE MORE GOLDEN AGE MYSTERIES ….

We seem to be living in a Golden Age for reissues.

March

HONEYCOMB BY DOROTHY RICHARDSON (1917)

Now that I am at the end of the first of the four volumes that collect Dorothy Richardson’s ‘Pilgrimage’ sequence of novels, it seems strange that I had ever feared that the ‘stream of consciousness’ of those thirteen novels would be difficult and that one woman’s consciousness would not be enough to fill all of those pages.

February

THE FIRST A TO Z OF THE YEAR

A is for ANNA HOPE – I thought that ‘Wake ‘ might be a one-off, but I am pleased to report that I have just finished reading her second novel and I loved it.

January

CLUNY BROWN BY MARGERY SHARP (1944)

I have been utterly charmed by Cluny Brown.

And that’s it!

Margery Sharp, Dorothy Richardson and A to Zs seem to dominate my year!

That’s not exactly right, but it’s an interesting snapshot.

Do have a go – it’s a lovely way to look back , and I’d love to see your results.

The 100 Books Tag

A few weeks ago I said that I don’t do this thing very often, but here I am doing it again, and planning something else for the not so distant future.

FictionFan posed these questions to celebrate her 100th TBR Thursday post,  and I  just had to come up with some answers of my own.

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(I hope that literary cupcakes will be welcome at this centenary celebration)

* * * * * * *

What is the 100th book on your TBR list? (In the unlikely event that you don’t have 100 books on your TBR, what book’s been on there longest?)

I don’t keep a record of my unread books, and I don’t shelve them separately. I could use LibraryThing to work out what the 100th book was, but what I decided to do was pick a room and count the unread books until I reached the magic number.

My 100th book was:

‘The World is Not Enough’ by Zoe Oldenbourg.

This story, set in twelfth-century France, at the time of the Third Crusade, chronicling the lives and loves of one family, has been waiting for a long time. I really want to read it but I think it’s the kind of book that needs exactly the right moment.

* * * * * * *

Open your current book to page 100 (or randomly, if you don’t have page numbers on your e-reader) and quote a few sentences that you like.

“The trees are in their autumn beauty,
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”

From ‘The Wild Swans at Coode’ by William Butler Yates, in the Wildlife Trust’s new Autumn anthology.

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(‘Swan’ by Kristin Vestgard)

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When you are 100, what author(s) do you know you will still be re-reading regularly? (This should be an easy one for those of you who are already over 100…)

This is a question I struggle to answer, but ….

It would be lovely if that could be a time – and to have the time – for re-reading the big Victorian classics.

Agatha Christie too….

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Link to your 100th post (if you’re a new blogger then link to your tenth post, or any one you like). Do you still agree with what you said back then?

I’ve counted back, and this couldn’t have fallen better if I’d planned it myself.

WELCOME BACK INTO THE WORLD, MARGERY SHARP!

There are so many books in the world, the accumulation of years and years of authors writing away, and that is lovely for devoted readers, but it can also be a little worrying. How do we know that we have found the very best books for us? How do we know that the very best book of all is a book we haven’t found yet?
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I worry much less about those things since I discovered the work of a wonderful author named Margery Sharp, and that is why I am so thrilled that Open Road Media has taken the first step to introduce her to a wider audience, many of whom I know will fall in love with her, by issuing ten of her works as e-books.

I still agree with every word!

And this reminds me to say that there will be a third Margery Sharp Day, on 25th January 2017.

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Name a book you love that has less than 100 pages. Why do you love it?

‘Rock Crystal’ by Adalbert Stifter

(Just 81 pages in my NYRB Classics edition!)

“Two children—Conrad and his little sister, Sanna—set out from their village high up in the Alps to visit their grandparents in the neighboring valley. It is the day before Christmas but the weather is mild, though of course night falls early in December and the children are warned not to linger. The grandparents welcome the children with presents and pack them off with kisses. Then snow begins to fall, ever more thickly and steadily. Undaunted, the children press on, only to take a wrong turn. The snow rises higher and higher, time passes: it is deep night when the sky clears and Conrad and Sanna discover themselves out on a glacier, terrifying and beautiful, the heart of the void.”

I love it for the simplicity of the story, the beauty of the prose, and the evocation of the two children and the world about them

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If someone gave you £100, what would be the five books you would rush to buy?

My first inclination would be to tour the second-hand bookshops of the south-west, but, if I was to step into  my favourite local independent bookshop, what might I buy?

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‘Bookshops’ by Jorge Carrión. I read a wonderful piece in the Guardian a few weeks ago, I’ve read some lovely reviews, and I never could resist a book about books or bookshops.

‘The Forgotten Smile’ by Margaret Kennedy, because I’m still building my collection of her books.

‘The Invention of Angela Carter’ by Edmund Gordon. I’ve been waiting for this biography for such a long time.

‘Every Good Deed and Other Stories’ by Dorothy Whipple, because it’s top of my Persephone wishlist.

‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ by John Curran. I’ve brought the library’s copy home a few times, and I really want a copy to keep.

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Looking at The Guardian’s list of “The 100 greatest novels of all time”, how many have you read? Of the ones you haven’t, which ones would you most like to read? And which will you never read?

I’ve read 35. That doesn’t sound very good, but I don’t believe in reading books just because they’re classics, and I don’t believe that the same books can work for everyone, because we all have different lives, different experiences and different reading histories. I believe in reading the books you believe will speak to you; and in looking at lists simply for reminders and suggestions of books I might want to read; nothing more.

I want to read ‘Clarissa’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, but I don’t expect to read James Joyce or Samuel Becket in this lifetime.

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What book do you expect to be reading 100 days from now?

I have no idea. I have plans but they’re pretty flexible and I try to read as the mood strikes.

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(‘Our House is Filled with Birds’ by David Brayne)

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Free Question – Create a 100 themed question of your own choice and answer it.

My question:

“Can you create 100 stars from 20 5-star books! Don’t look at book lists, make your selections from the books you can see and the books you can remember!”

My answer:

‘The Feast’ by Margaret Kennedy
‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins
‘A Pin to See the Peepshow’ by F Tennyson Jesse
‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey
‘The Innocents’ by Margery Sharp
‘Case Histories’ by Kate Atkinson
‘Possession’ by A S Byatt
‘South Riding’ by Winifred Holtby
‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas
‘In a Dark Wood Wandering’ by Hella S Haasse
‘The Meaning of Night’ by Michael Cox
‘Oscar and Lucinda’ by Peter Carey
‘The Custom of the Country’ by Edith Wharton
‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter
‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens
‘The Return of the Solidier’ by Rebecca West
‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke
‘Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie’
‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte
‘The Great Western Beach’ by Emma Smith

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I’m not going to name names, because I’ve seen a great many people doing this already, and because don’t want to push anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, but if you’ve been thinking of answers – or wondering what you might answer – please consider yourself tagged!

10% Report: 100 Years of Books

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I’ve rather neglected my 100 Years of Books project, and this is my first 10% report in more than a year.

There was a time when that would have horrified me, but I’ve learned to be more relaxed about the whole thing.

I’ve learned that the way to enjoy the project is to take my time; to focus on it when I want to and to put it to one side when I want to read other things. I’m reading the books I want to read. Sometimes I realise that a book I want to read will fill a year; and sometimes I think it’s time I filled another year and see if I can spot a book to fill a gap.

I’ll fill the 100 years one day, but I don’t know when that will be.

The couple of books I’ve added to my list recently have re-awakened my enthusiasm for the project.

I have books I’m eager to read to fill more gaps. In between the books from years already filled, the books from authors already on the list, and the books from years outside my project. That’s why it’s going to take some time!

I do still think that I can do this, and that I won’t have to read any ‘duty books’ along the way.

I 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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1855 – North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mrs Gaskell constructed her plot very cleverly, drawing in all of her character in the north and in the south. It is in a large part driven by familiar devices – a misunderstanding and an inheritance – but they are woven in so well, every thing that happens, every character, every relationship, every interaction, rings completely true. On my second journey through ‘North and South’ what struck me was the wonderful depth of everything: character, plot, time and place. The has things to say about people, families and communities that are timeless; and it speaks equally well about its period, about the consequences of industrialisation; about the social history of a particular time and place.

1861 – East Lynne by Ellen Wood

I could tell you that ‘East Lynne’, a huge popular success in its day, has unremarkable writing, is horribly contrived, holds no real surprises, drifts into silliness and goes on for much too long.But I could also tell you that I had to keep reading, that I was very well entertained, and that the book was very easy to read.

1877 – Pendower: a story of Cornwall in the time of Henry VIII by Marianne Filleul

I’ve read many novels that consider the reformation at court, and in the light of the marriages of Henry VIII, but I don’t think I’ve read one before that considered its impact on the country. Marianne Filleul caught the fear and the confusion perfectly, and presented the question in its simplest form. Should mass be said in Latin, that sounded beautiful was not understood, or should it be said in plain language for all to understand?

1885 – Called Back by Hugh Conway

After its first publication, in 1885, ‘Called Back’ was a great success. It sold in huge quantities, it was adapted for the stage; and yet it vanished into obscurity quite quickly. Maybe because the author died young, and maybe because there were other authors who wrote this kind of story – a mixture of sensation and detection – very well. Wilkie Collins is the first name that comes to mind; and I have to say that Hugh Conway wasn’t quite in his league. But he clearly knew how to spin a yarn and how to keep readers turning pages.

1898 – Victoria by Knut Hamsun

This is a very slim novel, and it tells a story that had been told a great many times over the years – the story of young lovers from different classes, pulled together by love but pulled in different directions by life – but it is so well told and so distinctive that I found it irresistible.

1899 – Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley

Mary Cholmondeley plotted her story so cleverly, twisting it again and again; and making my heart rise and fall so many times as I followed the fortunes of a cast of characters who became so very real to me. The two storylines are separate, meeting only as the two friends meet, but the book works because each storyline is so good. There are echoes of great authors, there is glorious satire and wit, there is passionate advocacy of a woman’s right to set the course of her own life; and that is all held together by the most compelling of human dramas and writing that is full of heart and intelligence. It feels like a Victorian novel, but it also feels wonderfully subversive.

1919 – The Tunnel by Dorothy Richardson

Reading Dorothy Richardson requires the ability to notice small things and to accept that there are some things that you many never know. I spotted a reference to Miriam’s employment having been found by a family friend, but how she found her lodgings, how she came to know her friends, I don’t know. To complain about that though would be missing the point. This is the story of Miriam’s journey, filtered through her consciousness, and the best way to appreciate it is to stay in the moment with her. There is so very much to appreciate.

1942 – The Vienna Melody by Ernst Lothar

Towards the end of the 19th century Christopher Alt was a renowned piano-maker. He was a master of his craft; the best in Vienna, the best in Austria, and quite possibly the best in the world. When his life ended, he left behind a will containing an extraordinary clause. Because he was a strong believer in family, because he wanted his children, his grandchildren and the generations that followed to remain close, his will said that his descendants must live within the walls of the family home at number 10 Seilerstatte to claim any inheritance . He had hoped to create a harmonious family unit that would live happily side by side and continue the work that he had started, but the reality was rather different.

1947 – The Bull Calves by Naomi Mitchison

Naomi Mitchison spent the Second World War in Carradale, Kintyre. She welcomed evacuees and refugees into her home,  she managed the farm, she organised the local Labour Party, she was involved with her local dramatic society, and she wrote a diary for Mass Observation, of more than a million words. She also wrote this novel; beginning in the dark days of 1940 and working slowly and carefully because she knew that what she wanted to say was important. She wanted to write about the need for peace and reconciliation after war; and she did that in a story set early two hundred years earlier, in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745.

1948 – Murder in the Telephone Exchange by June Wright

June Wright constructed a very good story of suspense; she doesn’t play entirely fair, withholding significant information from the reader and playing fast and loose with police procedure, but it works well enough.It works because the time and place, the people and relationships are so very well drawn. As she tells her story June Wright illuminates the lives of the telephonists, the work that they do and the lives that they lead. She brings the telephone exchange to life, and she uses her knowledge of the telephonists’ work, of the hierarchy of the telephone exchange, and of the procedures that they must follow to excellent effect as she tells her story.

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The full list of what I’ve read is here and my first five 10% reports are  here, here, here, here and here.

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The Bookish Time Travel Tag

antique_mechanical_clockIt’s a long time since I’ve done anything like this, but englishlitgeek was kind enough to tag me, I loved the theme and the questions that  The Library Lizard set out in the world, and so I decided that it was time.

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What is your favourite historical setting for a book?

Oh my goodness, it is so difficult – almost impossible – for me to pick a setting; because as long as I’ve been reading the most magical thing about books is that they can take me to so many different places and so many times in history.

There is one setting though that has an extra special magic, and I love those authors who have set stories close to my Cornish home and had me believing that the people they wrote about really lived and the stories they told really played out.

I loved the familiar train journey down through the county that John Trevena caught in well in ‘A Pixy in Petticoats’.

I’ve sat on top of a hill near St Just and placed character and events in ‘Penmarric’ by Susan Howatch in places I could see.

I’ve wondered which town centre pubs were visited in ‘The Owl House’ by Crosbie Garstin – The Star, I suspect.

I loved that the title character  in ‘Ruan’ by Bryher walked across the same beach that my dog loves ….

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What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

I’m a little wary of meeting authors, because I’m shy and would be overwhelmed by some of them, because I can see that some of them valued their privacy and I want to respect that, and because in same cases books are better when you don’t know too much about the author.

But I can think of a few, and I’ve planned a day out with three of my favourite 20th century English lady writers.

I’d spend the morning walking along the River Dart with Agatha Christie. I love the countryside there, and I’ve always admired her riverside home. I’d love to talk to her about books – her own and others she admires – and everything I’ve read about her suggests that we have similar values and would get on well.

I’d call on Margery Sharp in the afternoon. She always looks so at ease in photographs taken in domestic settings, and I so want to tell her how much I love her books. I’d like to ask her what might have happened to Cluny Brown after the surprise ending of the book that bears her name, and I’d hope that she might have a copy of ‘Rhododendron Pie’ – a book that is very scarce and horribly expensive – that I might borrow.

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In the evening I’d go to a dinner party with G B Stern. Her gloriously discursive memoirs have told me that she had an extraordinary circle of friends, that she had wide ranging interests – many of which I share – and that she would be a wonderfully entertaining companion.

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What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

There are two kinds of books that I would take. There are books that I’ve read recently and suspect I would have liked even more when I was a little younger; Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels come to mind. There are books by prolific authors I would have liked to have made a start on earlier; authors like Anthony Trollope and Patricia Wentworth.

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But I would leave all of those books here in the present of I could just give my younger self some advice; that there are so many great books in the world already, as well as books still to be written and rediscovered, so there’s no need to read anything that isn’t wonderful; that many of the long, classic novels that look like hard work are nothing of the kind; and that the green Virago Modern Classics that she will see on a display in her university bookshop would be excellent investments ….

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What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

I’m not sure that I’d take anything. I’m filling the house with books and I think I have to trust my older self to make her own choices, because I really don’t know how life will change her and influence what she wants to read between now and then.

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What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?

I really can’t think of one – the books I read all seem to be set in the present or the past.

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What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

I can never pick a single book, and I could give you umpteen titles, but these were the first five must-mention books that I haven’t mentioned already:

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The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
South Riding by Winifred Holtby
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

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Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

Never! I learned my lesson a long time ago when I looked to see how many pages were left in a particular book and saw something that ruined the rest of the story.

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If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

I’d go here, there and everywhere!

I’d go to Ireland and visit Delia Scully and her lovely gran.
(‘Never No More’ by Maura Laverty)

I’d go to Venice and have my portrait painted by Cecilia Cornaro.
(‘Carnevale’ by Michelle Lovric)

I’d go to Edwardian London to walk, talk and argue with Miriam Henderson.
(‘Pilgrimage’ by Dorothy Richardson)

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I’d travel north, to Yorkshire, to see a very special garden with my own eyes.
(‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson-Burnett)

I’d love to spend some time exploring Castle Gormenghast.
(‘The Gormenghast Trilogy’ by Mervyn Peake)

I’d board a certain boat, and travel to America with Adeliza Golding.
(‘The Visitors’ by Rebecca Mascull)

I’d settle in Canada for a while, and try to be a good friend and neighbour to Sophie Forrester while her husband is away.
(‘To the Bright Edge of the World’ by Eowyn Ivey)

And when I grew weary of travelling I would visit the library at Hurfew and read and read and read ….
(Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clark)

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Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?

“Lying awake at night, Tom hears the old grandfather clock downstairs strike . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen! When Tom gets up to investigate, he discovers a magical garden. A garden that everyone told him doesn’t exist. A garden that only he can enter . . .”

I fell in love with ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce when I was very, very young.

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What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

This is a wish I make often about beloved books. The book where it would make the most difference is ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ by Agatha Christie, because I would love to read it again without knowing its clever twist.

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I don’t want to push anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, but I will mention some names of others who might be interested and whose answers I’d love to read:

Jessica @ The Bookworm Chronicles

Cirtnecce @ Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices

Helen @ She Reads Novels

Sandra @ A Corner of Cornwall

Lori @ The Emerald City Book Review

Answering those questions pulled some lovely books and ideas from the back of my mind, so please, even if I haven’t mentioned you, do go ahead and answer some or all of them.