This Weekend I Have Been …

… heading across the road to the beach with Briar. Dog ban notices have gone up on the far end of the promenade but not on our stretch, and so we are hoping she – and the other dogs we meet down there – are all legal this year.

… wonderfully engaged by an exploration of the themes explored in Lynn Knight’s ‘The Button Box.’ Women’s lives, the clothes they wear, social history and, of course, buttons. A talk, a conversation, and more questions thrown into the air than there could ever be time to answer. There was so much to think about it, and I’m eager to get back to the book that I’ve been dipping into for a while.

… learning so much about art and creativity in Russia at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century from Charlotte Hobson, author of ‘The Vanishing Futurist.’ It was clear that she knew and loved her subject, she showed a range of extraordinary images, and I left eager to read and learn more.

… taken to Battery Rocks by Briar. I hadn’t taken there for ages, not wanting to push her too much now she’s not as young as she was, but when we went across the road she turned left instead of heading down to the beach and made it clear where she wanted to go. She had no trouble with the rocks, she happily chased her tennis balls across the beach, retrieved them from the sea, and did a good bit of swimming.

… having a lovely time at the Stanhope Forbes exhibition at Penlee House. I saw paintings I loved in ‘real life’ for the first time, I learned more about the artist, and I realised there was much more to his work than I had realised. This really needs a post of its own so that I can share paintings and thoughts.

… walking in the park with Briar; just to very things up a bit.

… listening to romantic novelist Jean Burnett explaining how her reading inspired her to travel, how her subsequent memoir led to her being given the journals of a Cornish lady who had travelled to the Himalayas in the 19th century. That led to her editing the journals for publication; and though I have reservations about her work I am interested to look at the book, and I was glad to be reminded that I have a good number of Virago Travellers to read.

… captivated by  author and indigo expert Jenny Balfour Paul telling the story of forgotten adventurer Thomas Machell, whose illustrated journals she discovered in the British Library. Her book – ‘Deeper than Indigo’ – brings together his story, her uncovering of that story, and her travels to the places he visited. I had to buy a copy, and I have to say that it looks extraordinary.

… taking Briar out of town to visit Madron Well and run in the surrounding fields. There are lots of lovely places to take her around town, but she has always liked a ride in the car and a visit to somewhere she doesn’t get to go to quite so often.

… making slow but steady progress reading ‘War and Peace’ and knitting ‘Franziska.’

… realising it’s time I got back to writing about the books I’ve been reading.

It’s wonderful what you can do in when you take a couple of days off work to extend the weekend.

Thank you Penzance Literary Festival, thank you Penlee House – and thank you Briar!

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

* * * * * * *

The Diary of a Completed Knitting Project

Scilly by Gemma Atkinson was my favourite pattern from Rowan 58. I loved the mixture of colour and texture. I waited for a while, because I knew it would be an expensive undertaking, I continued to love it, and so I began to accumulate the yarn I would need.

Scilly_2_medium2 (1)

The Magazine Picture

11-08-2016

First thoughts:

The pattern is simple but effective.

Thank you to those who suggested that the first stitch of every row should be slipped. With half the stitched slipped on each row of course the edge would frill if I followed the pattern and worked that stitch on every row.

I’ve changed the order of the stripes, because there was too little contrast between the first two colours used in the pattern – Bilberry and Tawny.

There was much I loved about this when I saw it in the magazine, but I don’t like the way two colours stand out and others blur.

And I prefer a five-colour repeat to the-in-to-a point-then out-to-a-point look. There is probably a better way of expressing that but I can’t think of it right now.

The last jumper I knitted with mohair has survived for three decades with a few wears a year, so my thinking for this one is that I don’t want this one to speak too loudly of a particular time or trend.

Felted Tweed was essential but I substituted Drops Kid Silk for Kidsilk Haze, because my budget is not unlimited and what I read about it was quite positive.

So far so good ….

Added Fuzziness Throughout

14-08-2016

Next thoughts:

It was all going swimmingly until I reached the Jaffa colourway. Much too yellow! I ditched that and tried a dark brown shade that was left over from my House Martin Hap. It was better but too dark, and so I thought again. Gilt felt right – not too many miles from the Jaffa but that bit darker and that bit less yellow. Currently waiting for the yarn to arrive and knitting a hat for my Woolly Dozen.

Other Colours Considered

22-08-2016

Well, the designer was right and I was wrong. Gilt is much lighter than I remembered, it didn’t look right and so I gave Jaffa a second chance. When I had knitted a whole stripe it looked much better, and so I’m going with it.

Original Colours / My Sequence 

14-09-2016

The colours make much more sense now that I’ve knitted my 15th stripe, and my perception of their effect has changed.

The pattern is lovely and logical, but it’s taken me more time to learn to read it than many other patterns.

This_One_medium2

14-10-2016

The back is done and the front is underway. I love the effect, but the fuzziness means I had to peer a lot at my knitting to see where to slip and where to work the stitch every time I picked my knitting up.

03-12-2016

Curses! I’d nearly finished the front when I realised I’d picked up the wrong needle and my gauge had changed from a few rows after the armhole shaping began. I will unrip but I can’t face all of the clinging fuzziness and colour changes right now. I’m going to knit something else for a while.

09-04-2017

Time to start again. I’ll put the front to one side and knit the sleeves, then I’ll have the momentum to get this thing done.

02-06-2017

I have sleeves! And I’ve taken the front back to the point where it went wrong.

23-06-2017

I’ve redone the front and it looks so much better now. This weekend I sew it up and knit the neckband; and then it’s done.

25-06-2017

Done! I am so, so glad that I wove in all the ends as I was going.

My Finished Object!

26-06-2017

Final thoughts:

I love the look of it and the fit is perfect. Well, the arms are a little tight, but not to the point that it’s a problem.

It’s incredibly warm.

One day I will master the art of finishing projects in the right season!

It shouldn’t have taken so long from start to finish, but there were times when I needed a break from the endless rows of the slip-stitch pattern, and my mistake with the front set me back for a while.

I made the second size and I found that I needed a little bit of an extra ball of Bilberry and that I used less than half of the last ball of the other four colours. I suspect that I needed the extra because I rearranged the stripes, but I would say that if you plan to knit this you should also plan for leftovers.

(The picture of the five colours further up the page is what I had left over.)

I stuck with the original colourway because I particularly liked it. I wouldn’t have been confident changing the whole colour scheme, but I’ve seen a couple of projects that have used shades of blue and grey and they look lovely.

The knitting wasn’t difficult, but have to say that you do need to be careful to keep gauge while you are slipping pairs of stitches, and you need to look quite carefully when you need to read your knitting.

I’m glad I knitted this sweater – and now I’m glad that it’s done and I can knit something completely different.

Glass: A Collection

The two of us won’t share a glass together
Be it of water or of sweet red wine;
We won’t be kissing, in the morning either
Nor, late at night, enjoy an evening shine…
You breathe the sun, I breathe the moon; however
We are united by one love forever.

I always have with me my true soul mate,
You have with you your ever-merry girlfriend;
Yet I’m acquainted with your eye’s dismay
As you’re the reason of my lifelong ailment.
The length of our dates won’t be increased,
That’s how, it’s doomed, to honor our peace.

Yet, it’s my breath that flows in your rhymes
While in my rhymes your voice is singing clear;
Oh’ neither oblivion, nor fear
Will ever dare to touch this kind of flame.
I wish you knew how I am longing now
To feel your dry and rosy lips somehow.

Anna Akhmatova

* * * * * * *

‘Solitude Bowl’ by Celia Colman

* * * * * * *

“Part of her wanted simply to sit and stare out of the window, at the lawn, flaky with sodden leaves, and the branches with yellow leaves, or few, or none, she thought, taking pleasure at least in Shakespeare’s rhythm, but also feeling old. She took pleasure, too, in the inert solidity of glass panes and polished furniture and rows of ordered books around her, and the magic trees of life woven in glowing colours on the rugs at her feet.”

From ‘The Children’s Book’ by A S Byatt

* * * * * * *

‘Potions and Cure Alls’ by Victoria Appleyard

* * * * * * *

““While I dress it is my habit to read. Some book is propped up open against the looking-glass, and sometimes, for one’s eyes can’t be everywhere at once, my hooks in consequence don’t get quite satisfactorily fastened. Indeed I would be very neat if I could, but there are other things … “

From ‘In The Mountains’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim

* * * * * * *

Gothic Conservatory by Adale Rene

* * * * * * *

“I always think about what it means to wear eyeglasses. When you get used to glasses you don’t know how far you could really see. I think about all the people before eyeglasses were invented. It must have been weird because everyone was seeing in different ways according to how bad their eyes were. Now, eyeglasses standardize everyone’s vision to 20-20. That’s an example of everyone becoming more alike. Everyone could be seeing at different levels if it weren’t for glasses.”

Andy Warhol

* * * * * * *

‘Amber Cairns’ by David and Melanie Leppla

‘Cairns have held deep significance for millennia. These Cairns, born of glass in heat and light, capture a brief moment in time when the elements are in balance. Each unique composition represents accomplishments, knowledge and experience gained, difficulties overcome and guidance for pathways yet to be travelled.’

* * * * * * *

‘Blue Monday’ by Caleb Siemon

* * * * * * *

unguentaria

glass blown glass

colossal potteries made tiny bottles
spindle necked, ovoid bodied, long footed
for perfume to anoint the dead
they were buried with their contents
flattening into triangular shapes
though always a long neck
an elongated tear
and a tear
contained

it’s possible
no one can say no

bottles were also bird shaped
break beak or tail to open
shells, shoes, snails
and little boats
even dates in amber
and the heads of gods and men

glass unguentarium
aqua green and yellow
stoppered with cork or wax
the perfume inside expensive
refined not distilled
thousands in a store room

this is  the first century
Bay of Naples
for roses, lilies, violets
from Eygypt and the east
bergamot, cinnamon, cloves
perfumiers  are named on Pompeii’s wall

first find
in an abandoned room
painfully thin and broken
so easily smashed
the wall of the vase
less than a millimetre through
beautiful blue glass
in fragments
grave goods

From ‘Tear Treasury Poems’ – collected by Clare Whistler

* * * * * * *

‘Marbles’ by Margaret Morrison

* * * * * * *

“The two women sat by the fire, tilting their glasses and drinking in small peaceful sips. The lamplight shone upon the tidy room and the polished table, lighting topaz in the dandelion wine, spilling pools of crimson through the flanks of the bottle of plum gin. It shone on the contented drinkers, and threw their large, close-at-hand shadows upon the wall. When Mrs Leak smoothed her apron the shadow solemnified the gesture as though she were moulding an universe. Laura’s nose and chin were defined as sharply as the peaks peaks on a holly leaf.”

From ‘Lolly Willowes’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner

* * * * * * *

‘Oeillets Bowl’ by Rene Lalique (c 1932)

* * * * * * *

No, I did not swallow or inhale the glass piano.
It has grown inside me like a crystal in salt water
or an alien cell, accreting keys and string after string
until one day I reached the full eight octaves.
Some days I’m loud. I growl bass chords
or sigh chromatically from a to middle C,
play a waltz or gigue until notes hurtle form my skin.
Still, I keep my distance. Clasped or grasped I’ll shatter
endlessly with every lovely theme and variation.

‘The Glass Piano’ by Katharine Towers

(Inspired by the true story of Princess Alexandra Amalie of Bavaria (b. 1826) who believed that her body contained a grand piano made of glass)

* * * * * * *

‘Looking for Squirrels’ by Nicholas Hely Hutchinson

* * * * * * *

“She kept her glass dreams from him, even whilst she appeared to talk about them. He was an admiring listener, but she only showed him the opaque skin of her dreams–window glass, the price of transporting it, the difficulties with builders who would not pay their bills inside six months. He imagined this was her business, and of course it was, but all the things she spoke of were a fog across its landscape which was filled with such soaring mountains she would be embarrassed to lay claim to them. Her true ambition, the one she would not confess to him, was to build something Extraordinary and Fine from glass and cast iron. A conservatory, but not a conservatory. Glass laced with steel, spun like a spider web–the idea danced around the periphery of her vision, never long enough to be clear. When she attempted to make a sketch, it became diminished, wooden, inelegant. Sometimes, in her dreams, she felt she had discovered its form, but if she had, it was like an improperly fixed photograph which fades when exposed to daylight. She was wise enough, or foolish enough, to believe this did not matter, that the form would present itself to her in the end.”

From ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ by Peter Carey

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

“I hope, in years to come, I shall hold my heart up and it will be a pane of clear glass, through which I see all, but nothing is distorted.”

From ‘The Folded World’ by Catherynne M Valente

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!

War and Peace: The Before We Begin Questions

I’ve been wanting to read ‘War and Peace’ ever since I finished ‘Anna Karenina’ and I think that the time has come.

The ‘War and Peace’ read-along at Reading in Bed begins in July

Here are my thoughts about the ‘before we begin’ type questions:

Have you read (or attempted) War and Peace?

I looked at this read-along – a chapter a day for the whole year – back in January. The idea was lovely but I realised quite early on that the pacing too slow for me and I drifted away.

What edition and translation are you reading?

I have two and I’m really not sure which one I’m going to read.

On one hand I have the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation in a lovely old Macmillan edition, with maps for endpapers and headings at the top of each page.

When I auditioned translations of ‘Anna Karenina’ theirs was my favourite by far, I love that they knew Tolstoy, and what I’ve read of their translation of ‘War and Peace’ feels right.

On the other hand I have the Anthony Briggs translation in a recent Penguin edition.

 

It’s wonderfully readable, I’d be less worried about wear and tear with a newer, more replaceable edition, I like what he has to say is his translator’s note. But it feels a little less Russian, a little less of the period than the Maudes.

I’m going to read a little more of each translation, and then I’ll make a decision and stick to it.

How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc)?

I watched the most recent BBC adaptation. That’s given me an idea of the characters and the story arc, but I know that there is going to be much more to the book.

How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

I don’t want to over-think this, so I’ve just read the introductory material and the translator’s notes from my two edition.

What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

I hope to enjoy spending time with the characters in their world. And to be able to say that I’ve read it!

What are you intimidated by?

Just the sheer scale of the thing.

Do you think it’s okay to skip the ‘war’ parts?

I have no plans to – the ‘war’ parts are a large and significant part of the book.

I’ve come across the Napoleonic War in books before, I’m interested in seeing it from a different perspective. So I have no plans to skip it though I suspect that – as when I read ‘Vanity Fair’ – I might be wishing that Jonathan Strange might appear to help move things along ….

And that’s it!

Any advice would, as always, be gratefully received!

Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy (1871)

The idea of re-reading Thomas Hardy’s work in order of publication floated in my head for quite some time; and now that I have made a start and re-visited his first published novel I think that it was a rather good idea.

‘Desperate Remedies’ isn’t his finest work but it is a good start, and a very readable story. Hardy wrote another novel before this one, but after it was rejected and now it is lost. He took advice; and it resulted in a book that is a curious mixture of Hardy and of certain other novelists who had found success some years before he did.

Cytheria Graye was named after her father’s great lost love; a young woman who had, quite explicably, sent him away and broke his heart. He built a career as an architect, some years later he married, and when his wife died he raised their two children, Cytheria and Owen, alone. He was a good man, but he made some poor decisions and he trusted some people who were not worthy of that trust, and when he died his children found that they had nothing.

They made plans together. Owen would continue his training to become and architect, and his sister would go into service, just until his training was complete and he could support the household. Cytheria was beautiful, she was accomplished, and they thought that she would find a position easily. She didn’t, and she had to lower her sights time and time again.

Cytheria was downhearted, because she had fallen in love with her brother’s friend, Edward Springrove; and he had fallen in love with her.

6352716One day, unexpectedly and inexplicably, Cytheria was offered a position much grander than she dared to hope for.

She became lady’s maid to the mercurial Miss Aldclyffe. She could be terribly imperious, but it was clear that she desperately want to be a mother to the girl, and and bring her up to be strong and not to be dependent on any man. There were definitely echoes of Miss Havisham ….  

When Cytheria learned that her employer shared her distinctive name, she realised that she must be her father’s lost love.

She realised that Miss Aldclyffe was troubled, and that she had secrets she was determined to keep.

She couldn’t understand why Miss Aldclyffe went to such lengths to secure a man named Aeneas Manston as her steward. Edward Springrove had applied, he was well qualified, he was a local man, and he had the support if the lady’s solicitor; but Miss Aldclyffe disregarded that and insisted that she would have Manston, even though her solicitor told her that he was “a scoundrel of the first order”….

Miss Aldclyffe tried to plant doubts about Edward in Cyrethia’s mind; and to encourage a match with Manston. Cyrethia disliked Manston and was resolute in her love for Edward; but when his family faced a crisis and Owen was taken ill she found herself alone and trapped ….

The story starts slowly but it accelerates and turns into a wonderful, page-turning sensation novel. There are wonderful twists and turns, there is much more to the plot than I have set out, and there were questions in my mind right to the end.

There is a little too much melodrama; but not so much that it spoils the story.

This may sound more like Wilkie Collins than Thomas Hardy – and yes, it is – but there is so much in this book that is Hardy. The descriptions are lyrical, country life is portrayed with real understanding, the set pieces are beautifully handled, and I saw themes and ideas in this book that he would develop in later works.

Aeneas Manston was a magnificent villain, Edward Seagrove was a reliable, if slightly dull, hero, and Owen Graye had an interesting part to play.

Cyrethia was a little unpredictable – sometimes brave and sometimes just the opposite – but I found it easy to like her, I could always empathise with her, and she carried me through the story. Hardy would go on to create stronger, more complex heroines, but Cyrethia was the right heroine for this book.

I loved the story arc of Miss Aldclyffe. I didn’t remember it and I didn’t work it out, because I was far too caught up with the story to stop and think.

Thomas Hardy wrote a good sensation novel; and it was lovely to read that story mixed with the things that Hardy did so well. That made it feel familiar and yet unlike any other book I’ve read. I’m glad though that he didn’t continue down that route, and that he went on to do the other things he began to do well in this book even better as his writing career progressed.

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.”

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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.

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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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Kingdom Lost by Patricia Wentworth (1930)

I had intended to make steady progress through Patricia Wentworth’ Miss Silver mysteries, but I was distracted from that plan when one of her stand-alone novels caught my eye. It sounded quite unlike any of her other books that I’ve read, it sounded a little like a certain other book that I loved, and it sounded far too good to resist.

It sits somewhere between a golden age mystery and romantic suspense, and I would say that the vintage cover that proclaimed it as a ‘romantic adventure’ got it about right.

What I want to say is that this is the story of the most spirited and engaging heroine you could ever hope to meet.

Valentine Ryven was born on an ocean liner and she was shipwrecked on a small island in the South Seas not very much later. She was picked up and carried to safety by Edward Bowden, a distinguished scholar taking long and rambling holiday after working much too hard.

Edward was wonderfully resourceful, salvaging a great deal from the wrecked liner and harbouring the islands natural resources. He also educated Valentine and brought her up to be ready to take her place in the world he had left behind. He was sure that one day another boat would pass by to rescue them; but he prepared Valentine for the possibility that he might die before that day came.

4449347This story begins some twenty years later, when a young man named Austin Muir came ashore and heard a young woman reciting Matthew Arnold. He was amazed and when Valentine recovered from her initial fright she was thrilled that she was being rescued and that she would have a chance to meet more people and to see so many things that she had only been told about by Edward.

Austin had been sent ashore by his employer, Nicholas Barclay, who had set out to find the island not on any map  that one of his ancestors swore he had discovered.  He was delighted with Austin’s discover, he was charmed by Valentine, and when he saw the papers that Edward had told her to present to her rescuer he knew who she was straight away.

Valentine was the missing heiress to a vast fortune!

Barclay took Valentine home via a Caribbean island, where he bought her clothes, shoes, and all of the other accoutrements a young woman going home to England should have. Valentine was delighted with it all, and she was smitten with the two very different men who were taking her back to her family.

It didn’t occur to Valentine for a minute that her family might not be pleased to see her.

She didn’t know that society had changed a great deal in the years since Edward left England.

Helena Ryven – Valentine’s aunt – was very correct and proper. That was a shock to the warm- hearted Valentine, who had been so looking forward to having a family she was sure she would love and would love her back.

She thought that the problem might be that she was disinheriting Helen’s son, Eustace, and so she offered him as much of the estate as he wanted. She explained that she needed very little to be happy, that all she needed was food and shelter and the lovely countryside around her. Her offer was rejected out of hand!

When she saw the wonderful work that Eustace was doing, restoring run down properties and looking after poor families in the East End of London, she knew that she had to find a way for him to carry on. She realised that the answer was simple – she and Eustace should be married and then everything that was hers would be his.

She loved Austin but he had rejected her – explaining that their family backgrounds. She didn’t understand but he stood firm, and after that it really didn’t matter who she married.

Her proposal was accepted.

Valentine tried to be happy but she couldn’t.

She loved the warm family home of Aunt Helena’s elder sister, Ida Cobb. She loved spending time in the country cottage where Aunt Helena’s younger brother, Timothy Brand, lived with his soon to be married half-sister, Lil. But she knew that Aunt Helena – a knitter who thought that wool-winding was an excellent occupation for her niece – would never understand her, and that she would never quite understand Aunt Helena. She also began to suspect that Eustace wanted to marry another woman, and that he was marrying her from a sense of duty.

She could never quite fit into the role life had given her.

As the wedding day drew nearer she knew that she couldn’t go through with it, but she wasn’t sure how to get out of it.

And one or two things happened that made her think she was in danger ….

I found so much to love in this book.

Patricia Wentworth is always good at clothes and in this book she must have had a lovely time writing about the joy Valentine found in so many lovely things in her new world.

She understood Valentine so well; and she created a wonderfully diverse band of characters to populate her world.

Eustace’s work in London gave the story just enough serious underpinning.

And I should say that ‘Kingdom Lost’ was not so like that certain other book – ‘Miss Ranskill Comes Home’ by Barbara Euphan Todd. They had similar beginnings, they had some themes and ideas in common, but the two heroines and their stories are different and distinctive.

I loved – and can recommend – both!

This particular story was improbable but it was so engaging; it rang true logically and emotionally.

I really didn’t know how the it would play out, and I so wanted to know, I was so concerned for Valentine, that I had to turn the pages very quickly.

There was romance, but I couldn’t even predict how that would play out.

Some might consider the twist at the end of the story to be a little too convenient, but I loved that it had the roots in the very first pages of the book, and it made me realise that Patricia Wentworth had plotted very cleverly.

Most of all, I loved spending time with Valentine.

I’m thinking now that maybe I should alternate Miss Silver books and Patricia Wentworth’s other stories ….