A Simpler Sweater

When I finished knitting Franziska I knew that my next knitting project had to be something much simpler and quicker. I had patterns and I had yarn in hand, but new things caught my eye

The pattern:


Kazahana by Eri

I liked the mix of simplicity with enough to hold the attention; and I liked that it was a yoked sweater. That was something I had never knitted before.

I particularly liked one knitter’s version, knitted in a yarn that she praised highly and the like of which I had never used before.

The yarn:


Garnstudio DROPS Air

‘Drops Air Mix is an exciting “blown yarn” made of soft baby alpaca and warm merino wool. The structure of Air Mix is unique because the fibers are blown through a tube with air. This technique makes clothes made from Air Drops particularly light and airy.’

I was curious, the price was very reasonable, and so I placed an order with the ever reliable Wool Warehouse.

The yarn that arrived looked lovely and I was very pleased with the colour I chose. Fog (#10) is a lovely mix of blue and grey.

I started to knit. The pattern was simply but clearly written, and the few modifications I made were to suit me and the kind of sweater I wanted.

  • I added an extra repeat of the pattern to the yoke.
  • I changed the body from straight to A-line by adding four sets of increases.
  • I changed the hem to moss stich because I wanted a simple, narrow band. The pattern that the designer chose was lovely but it needed several pattern repeats to be effective and that made it too wide and too much of a focus for me
  • I added decreases to the sleeves so that they would taper. I liked the wide sleeves so I didn’t decrease too much, but I wanted a little shaping and the pattern had none.

The yarn was lovely to work with, though it wasn’t easy to undo, and the stitches weren’t easy to read. That was fine for this pattern but I wouldn’t want to knit anything too complex with it.

The yoke stitch pattern

It wasn’t too long until I had a finished sweater. It was warm and light, and quite different from anything else I had made.

There was just one problem.

The neckline was wide, and I liked that but it was a little bit too wide and it slipped off my shoulders. I don’t think its the fault of the design; I think that it was the combination of my narrow shoulders and my yarn choice.

I knew that there was a way of fixing that but I hadn’t ever tried it. I found a tutorial, I looked at it carefully, and then I added slip crochet just below the edge to limit the stretching of the neck band. It wasn’t easy, because the yarn is fuzzy and the pattern there had increases and decreases, but it is as even as I could make it – and it works!

It’s not an ideal solution but it works and it had taught me something. Next time I knit a wide neckline from the top down I’ll think more carefully about how it will sit and whether it will stretch and plan accordingly.

The Finished Object

I’m happy that I found a way to make a sweater that I might wear once in a while into a sweater I could wear whenever it was right for the weather.

Next up: I join the masses who have knit Carbeth!

Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge (1944)

A long time ago, when I made the transition from junior to senior member of the library, my mother steered me towards a number of authors whose books she loved and that she thought I might love too. I read some of them then, I read some of them later, but it was years before I began to read Elizabeth Goudge, who I knew was a particular favourite.

Her books didn’t appeal to me at all back in the day, and when their author fell out of fashion and her books disappeared from the library shelves I forgot all about her. I can’t remember how or where I found her again, but I’m very pleased that I did.

I’m also pleased that I didn’t read her all those years ago, because I think that the qualities that make her an interesting writer are better appreciated with a little age and experience, with an awareness that life is short and may take unexpected and difficult turns.

I always liked the look of ‘Green Dolphin Country’, but because it was such a very big book I picked up others first. This year though, when I was looking for a book to read on Elizabeth Gouge’s birthday, I decided that its time had come; and I had a lovely few days caught up with the story, the characters, the world, through nearly half a century.

The story opens on one of the Channel Islands – the author has given the fictional name of St. Pierre – in the middle of the 19th century. Two very different sisters were growing up there. Marianne was sixteen, she was dark and lacking in beauty, she had a passionate temper and she was bright and curious about everything the world had to offer. Too bright and too curious for the age and the place where she lived. Eleven year-old Marguerite was fair and pretty, she was vivacious, she loved her life, her home and her family, and she wanted nothing more than happiness for the people she loved and the world around her.

The courses of both their lives begin to change when a newly widowed doctor and his thirteen year-old son, William, come home to the island. Marianne is quick to see something happening, to investigate and to make friends; Marguerite follows a little more cautiously, and makes an equally good but quite different impression.

Marianne plans to win William as her own; but it is clear to everyone except her that he sees her as a friend – maybe the sibling he never had – and that  Marguerite is the girl he loves – and will always love – above all others. She isn’t a fool by any means. Knowing that she wasn’t a beauty and that she couldn’t match the feminine ideal of her time Marianne set about becoming the most chic, the most witty of her social circle and she succeeded; she just couldn’t understand that there were some things that she could never change, that never could be changed.

William joined that Royal Navy, and he tried to secure his future with Marguerite before he sailed away, but circumstances – and a little manipulation from Marianne – resulted in him leaving before he had said many of the things he had intended to say. When he was ashore in the  Far East William was tricked and robbed and couldn’t reach his ship before it sailed. That meant that he was AWOL from the Navy, and that he would be arrested if he travelled back home. He was extremely lucky to meet someone he knew, and to be offered the chance travel to a small colony in New Zealand to build a new life.

Over the course of the next few years William established himself, and then he was able to write home to ask the girl he loved to sail across the world to be his bride. He was tired, he had been drinking, he had a great deal to say, and somehow he wrote the name Marianne when he had written to write Marguerite ….

It sounds improbable, but this twist in the tale was inspired by a real-life story in which exactly the same thing happened!

Marianne travelled to New Zealand with no idea at all that she was not expected; Marguerite was left at home struggling to understand what had happened; and William waited with no idea at all he had sent for the wrong girl.

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

There are lessons about loyalty and friendship, about the depth and complexity of marriage, about the human spirit  in the darkest and happiest of times, and the emotional and spiritual lives of the characters at the centre of the story were illuminated so very well.

Marianne is at the centre of the story, and she a very difficult character to like. Her spirit is wonderful, but she was manipulative, she could see no point of view but her own, and there were some lessons that it seemed she could never quite learn. I couldn’t ever say that I liked her, but I could understand who she was and why she spoke and acted as she did, and I believed in her; as I did in William and Marguerite.

There is a wonderful supporting cast whose stories are woven around the stories of those three, and that did much to make the world in this book live and breathe.

Elizabeth Goudge wrote that she never travelled to New Zealand, and that she researched as much as she could and imagined the rest. I suspect that she  imagined too much, that many of the pictures she has drawn were not true to life, but for the purposes of her story I think that they work.

She wrote so beautifully. I loved the descriptive prose that drew me so close to her characters and allowed me to see the places they saw and the world that they lives in so very clearly. It also served to control the pace, to allow time to absorb the human emotions that are the lifeblood of this book. It is a big book but I find myself wising that it could have been bigger, that I could have stayed longer and seen more. I would have like rather more time with Marguerite, though I do understand why New Zealand was the main focus of the story.

I couldn’t see how there could be a right ending, but there was, and it was so utterly right – emotionally and spiritually – that there was a smile on my face and there were tears in my eyes.

A Spring Exhibition at The Virago Art Gallery

Here is another celebration of the art that adorns the covers of some of my favourite books.

The the covers are lovely, but the paintings really come alive when they are released from their green frames.

Sometimes just a detail has been chosen, or the painting has been cropped because it wasn’t book-shaped. That may be the best way to make a good cover for a book, but it shouldn’t be the only way we see work of the artists.

I do hope that you will enjoy looking at this season’s exhibits.

* * * * * * *

The new edition of the book is lovely, but I am very fond of my old, green copy

Lyme Regis by Richard Ernst Eurich


A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor (#245)

“Passions intrudes into the dull, predictable world of a faded coastal resort when Tory, recently divorced, begins an affair with her neighbor Robert, the local doctor. His wife Beth, Tory’s best friend, writes successful and melodramatic novels, oblivious to household chores and the relationship developing next door. But their daughter Prudence is aware and appalled by Robert and Tory’s treachery. The resolution of these painful matters is conveyed with wit and compassion, as are the restricted lives of other characters: the refreshingly coarse Mrs. Bracey, the young widow Lily Wilson and the self-deceiving Bertram … an unforgettable picture of love, loss, and the keeping up of appearances.”

* * * * * * *

This is so like a very old picture I have of my mother

Mary Lapsley Caughey by John Butler Yeats


The Fly on the Wheel by Katherine Cecil Thurston (#265)

“Isabel Costello’s return to Waterford causes a stir in the Carey household when Stephen, an upstanding lawyer, hears that his impecunious brother has become engaged to her. Outraged by Frank’s attachment to a woman with few material prospects, Stephen intervenes. But his actions are the prelude to a far more devastating entanglement – he and Isabel fall in love. As a married man with children, Stephen faces the full weight of society’s moral and religious opprobrium. For Isabel the consequences are equally circumscribed: a beautiful and reckless woman with no inheritance has little freedom in turn-of-the-century Ireland. This vivid portrait of social behaviour among the Catholic middle classes, originally published in 1908, is also a moving story of illicit love.”

* * * * * * *

When the painting caught my eye it felt so familiar

Spring Day at Boscastle by Charles Ginner


One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes (#195)

“The English village of Wealding is no longer troubled by distant sirens, yet the rustling coils of barbed wire are a reminder that something, some quality of life, has evaporated. Together again after years of separation, Laura and Stephen Marshall and their daughter Victoria are forced to manage without “those anonymous caps and aprons who lived out of sight and pulled the strings.” Their rambling garden refuses to be tamed, the house seems perceptibly to crumble. But alone on a hillside, as evening falls, Laura comes to see what it would have meant if the war had been lost, and looks to the future with a new hope and optimism. This subtle, finely wrought novel presents a memorable portrait of the aftermath of war, its effect upon a marriage, and the gradual but significant change in the nature of English middle-class life.”

* * * * * * *

A book I should love to revisit

The Violet Kimono by Robert Reid


Christopher and Columbus by Elizabeth Von Arnim (#395)

“As WWI looms, Anna-Rose, and Anna-Felicitas, seventeen-year-old orphan twins, are thrust upon relatives. But Uncle Arthur, a blustering patriot, is a reluctant guardian: the twins are half-German and, who knows, they could be spying from the nursery window . . . Packed off to America they meet Mr Twist, a wealthy engineer with a tendency to motherliness, who befriends them on the voyage. However, he has failed to consider the pitfalls of taking such young and beautiful women under his wing, especially two who will continue to require his protection long after the ship has docked, and who are incapable of behaving with tact…”

* * * * * * *

The cover is effective but I’m not convinced that it suits the book

Bank Holiday by William Strang


The Misses Mallet by E H Young (#141)

“There are four Misses Mallett. Caroline and Sophia are large, jolly spinsters with recollections of a past glamour to sustain them as the years slip by. Then there is beautiful Rose. Much younger than her stepsisters, she calmly awaits the event — or the man — that will take her away from their life of small social successes in the city of Radstowe. But she is independent and fastidious; no man, not even the eligible Francis Sales, can entirely capture her heart. The fourth Miss Mallett is Henrietta, who comes to share the conventional home of her three aunts. With her Aunt Rose’s beauty and her own willful spirit, she devotes her energies to eluding spinsterhood. Encountering Francis (no longer so eligible), she falls under his spell. As Rose and Henrietta both circle ’round Francis, they are forced to decide between sense and sensibility — and each of them makes the perfect choice.”

* * * * * * *

The cover is effective  the whole painting is so much more striking

Dreaming Head by John Armstrong


Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (#8)

“Part detective novel, part psychological thriller, Surfacing is the story of a talented woman artist who goes in search of her missing father on a remote island in northern Quebec. Setting out with her lover and another young couple, she soon finds herself captivated by the isolated setting, where a marriage begins to fall apart, violence and death lurk just beneath the surface, and sex becomes a catalyst for conflict and dangerous choices.”

* * * * * * *

I wonder what she is thinking …

The Blue Girl by Mainie Jellett


Two Days in Aragon by M L Farrell (Molly Keane) (#193)

“The Georgian house of Aragon stands amongst rhododendrons and scented azaleas, a testament to centuries of gracious living. Here, with their mother, their dotty Aunt Pidgie and Nan O’Neill, the family nurse, live Grania and Sylvia Fox. Wild-blooded Grania is conducting a secret affair with Nan’s son, Foley, a wiley horse-breeder, whilst Sylvia who is “pretty in the right and accepted way” falls for the charms of Captain Purvis. Attending Aragon’s strawberry teas, the British Army Officers can almost forget the reason for their presence in Ireland. But the days of dignified calm at Aragon are numbered, for Foley is a member of Sinn Fein …”

* * * * * * *

That’s the last painting in this collection and this is the last of four seasonal exhibitions, but there are many more paintings in the archive and I am sure that there will be more exhibitions in the feature.

Please do tell me if you have any particular favourite cover artwork, or any other suggestions for future exhibitions.

A Book for Monica Dickens Day: Flowers on the Grass (1949)

I knew that Monica Dickens was an interesting author. I knew that she had written a marvellous range of books, works of fictions and non fiction, stories for children and stories for adults; but when I picked up this book – with flowers in the title and on the cover, with my own name as the title of the first chapter – I really didn’t expect such a distinctive novel.

Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view but linked by the presence of the same man.

Daniel was an only child, and when he was orphaned at the age of fourteen he became the ward of an elderly relation who wasn’t much interested in him. When he was expelled from Eton, his guardian sent the troubled boy to another distant relative in Italy, hoping that he would have no more responsibility and the scandal would be quickly forgotten. Daniel was happy there. His new guardian gave him a great deal of freedom, and he found that he loved the bohemian lifestyle and that he had a gift for art.

When war broke out he returned to England, he joined the army, and he met a distant cousin named Jane. She knew Daniel’s history, she appreciated what he had been through, and she fell in love with him. It was Jane who supported him when he was shattered by his experiences, and who guided him towards a new life in the English countryside.

Daniel’s stability and domestic happiness was shattered by Jane’s sudden and unexpectedly death. He abandoned his home and work and sets off,  not entirely sure where he would go or what he would do, only certain that he could not stay.

He would drift from place to place and from job to job. He doesn’t fall apart on the surface, but he withdrew and he began to drink heavily.

When he took a room at a small hotel a maid named Doris was concerned for him. She helped him to keep his dog – Jane’s dog – illicitly in his room, she smuggled out his empty wine bottles bottles and she made excuses for him and tried to help him when his behaviour became somewhat erratic. It was inevitable that the hotel owner would find out and that Doris would lose her job; but Daniel had a strong sense of justice, he was worldly wise, and he found a way for her to get her job back.

After that Daniel found a landlady who rented out a room in her house so that she could have a little money in her pocket without having to ask her husband or her sons, and because she liked having company in the house. She thought that her new lodger was charming, but her boys saw that he was idle and when they found that he had a talent for art they found a role for him in their business. He did a good job, but he found out a little more that they wanted him to know. In the end they thought he might get them in to trouble; he didn’t, but they found themselves paying a price as Daniel moved on again.

Some years later, when Daniel is working for an advertising firm, he rents a room from an attractive war widow named Valerie, who makes ends meet by taking in lodgers. They become good friends, she enjoys modelling for his sketches, but he resents her commitment to her role and her friendship with her other, more conventional lodger, Mr. Piggott. They talk of marriage, and it is then that Valerie realises that her feelings for Daniel are not strong enough to stop her thinking of herself as her widow.

There are other stories between these: Daniel has a spell as a tutor to an epileptic young man in Cornwall, who is unsettled by an approach and attitudes quite different to his predecessors; he sees a holiday camp very differently to the young man who looks after him when he comes to make sketches for an advertising campaign, and they make each other question their futures; he takes a position at a modern, experimental school where he might harm or he might help a troubled young woman named Pamela, who was a loner like him …

In the end an accident, a stay in hospital and a chance to help the patient in the next bed brought his story full circle and made me realise just how far Daniel had come.

I loved reading these stories. Each one was different, and distinctive, but they sat quite naturally together.

Some are stronger than others, but they all work.

The characters and settings were so clearly and distinctively drawn in that I found myself drawn in and wanting to know more about them and their situations before Daniel appeared and I found out how they would affect his life and how he would affect theirs.

When I read Daniel’s progress often felt secondary, but now I have put the book down I am thinking of him more and realising how very clever Monica Dickens was, writing this novel about his life as a chain of short stories about other people. She wrote with warms and understanding, and she conveyed the happiness in their lives as well as their sorrows.

The stories that Monica Dickens told in this book, the lives that she portrayed, created panorama of post-war England; its strengths and its weaknesses, the problems that it faced and the potential for the future that it held.

Her voice was strong and true, making this a book for both the heart and the head.

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope (1861)

History records that Elizabeth Gaskell said:

“I wish Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage for ever. I don’t see any reason why it should come to an end.”

I’m inclined to agree with her, and I think that is because it has so very many of the things I look for in a Trollope novel done rather well:

  • Church and Parliament
  • Vicarages and Country Houses
  • New and Returning Characters
  • Town and Country
  • Financial and Romantic Intrigues

At the centre of this book is a young man named Mark Robarts.

Mark was the son of a doctor from Devon, who shared a tutor with the young Lord Lufton. The dowager Lady Lufton was delighted with the friendship, and she guided Mark towards an excellent education, a career in the church, a comfortable living at the parish of Framley in the diocese of Barchester, and a happy marriage with her daughter’s lovely friend, Fanny.

He was genial and likeable young man, but his passage though life had been so smooth that he hadn’t learned many important lessons, and that led him into trouble.

Mark was drawn into the local political set, and he was persuaded to sign a bill for a significant amount of money. He knew that the man who made the request had a bad reputation, that Lord Lufton had already had unhappy dealings with him; but he didn’t know how to say no and it didn’t occur to him that any man wouldn’t do all that he could to meet his obligations and that he would be called upon to pay money that he didn’t have.

He was, and so he signed another bill.

He knew that he had done the wrong thing, and he couldn’t bring himself to tell his wife.

It was maddening, it was understandable, it was utterly believable ….

That’s the framework of the story – what you would read about if you looked up the book;  but, as is almost always with Trollope’s big books, there was much more that he hung on that framework to make it a delight.

0140432132.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Consider a Christmas tree. A fir tree in its natural state is lovely, but when it has been adorned with a lovely mixture of old familiar and shiny new ornaments it is something else entirely …

When Mark’s father died he was heartbroken, but it occurred to him that a legacy might solve his financial problems. It didn’t, because Mark’s father believed he was well set up in life and that his siblings needed what little capital he had rather more; but it did bring him a lovely adornment to his home in the shape of his sister Lucy. She became one of my favourite Trollope heroines, with her lovely mix of intelligence, practicality and femininity.

Lord Lufton was drawn to Lucy, and she to him, but she knew that his mother disapproved and so she tried to pull away.

Though I often disagreed with her, I thought that the dowager Lady Lufton was a wonderful character. She was wonderfully active in her efforts to put the world to rights. She sent in a poor and pious perpetual curate, Mr Crawley, to try to draw Mark away from his unsuitable companions. He was not a character I could love, but his story was so well thought out that I could understand. She also promoted a match between her son and the lovely Griselda Grantly, daughter of the Archdeacon of Barchester.

Lady Lufton was formidable, but she had the best of intentions, she only wanted her son to be happy, and she could also be humble when realised that she had erred.

I was delighted to meet the Miss Dunstable, the wonderfully independently minded heiress again. She was close to the young Greshams and Doctor Thorne still, but she had been drawn into the  same local political set as Mark. She was interested in politics, and they were interested in her as a matrimonial prize who would bring them a very fine fortune.

I found the political set to be the weak link in this book, its members the least engaging of its characters; and  I suspect that they were there to allow stories to play out as Trollope wanted them to,  and not because he loved them for their own sakes.

I so hoped that Miss Dunstable’s good sense would prevail.

She was wonderfully entertained by Mrs Proudie and Mrs Grantly, as each lady wished to outdo each other socially, and as each lady had daughters to be married off. I was too, but I was disappointed that the Griselda Grantly was shallow and self-absorbed, and I really could not understand how the daughter of the archdeacon and his wife had turned out that way.

She didn’t appreciate her grandfather, Mr Harding, but I was delighted that he was given a moment in the spotlight, and even more delighted that he was given the opportunity to talk about Barchester Cathedral and Hiram’s Hospital.

There were so many wonderful moments, so many perfect details, that I really could feel that I was walking through a world that had a history that had begun long before I arrived and that would go on long after I left. Anthony Trollope made that world spin, he managed all of the characters and stories in that world wonderfully well.

He seemed a little less chatty than usual; maybe because there was so much going on.

I was caught up in the human drama from the first page to the last; and thought I had a fair idea where the story was going I wasn’t really sure until the very end.

The resolution was magnificent, I was sorry to have to leave this world, but I plan to travel back there very soon.

Building a Name out of Books

I never could resist an invitation to look through books to create something I would never have thought of myself.

This particular invitation came from Lynne at Fictionophile  and I found it thanks to Sandra @ A Corner of Cornwall.

“Spell your blog’s name from books on your shelves!”

With lots of books on the shelves and a reasonable short name I thought I can do it and I did. I found books that I loved for every letter.

It was only then that I read the small print, and realised that I should have been looking at books that I hadn’t read.

Maybe I’ll do that one day, but right now I rather like my name in books that I have loved and am happy to recommend.





Grania: the Story of an Island by Emily Lawless (1892)

This tale of a girl who grows up on Inishmaan, the second largest of the three Arran Islands, evokes its heroine, her fellow islanders and the world that they live in quite beautifully.

It begins on the kind of day that anyone who lives near the coast in a similar climate will recognise:

Clouds over the whole expanse of sky, nowhere showing any immediate disposition to fall as rain, yet nowhere allowing the sky to appear decidedly, nowhere even becoming themselves decided, keeping everywhere a broad indefinable wash of greyness, a grey so dim, uniform, and all-pervasive, that it defied observation, floating and melting away into a dimly blotted horizon, an horizon which, whether at any given point to call sea or sky, land or water, it was all but impossible to decide.

Here and there in that wide cloud-covered sweep of sky a sort of break or window occurred, and through this break or window long shafts of sunlight fell in a cold and chastened drizzle, now upon the bluish levels of crestless waves, now upon the bleak untrodden corner of some portion of the coast of Clare, tilted perpendicularly upwards; now perhaps again upon that low line of islands which breaks the outermost curve of the bay of Galway, and beyond which is nothing, nothing, that is to say, but the Atlantic, a region which, despite the ploughing of innumerable keels, is still given up by the dwellers of those islands to a mystic condition of things unknown to geographers, but too deeply rooted in their consciousness to yield to any mere reports from without.”

Grania O’Malley is out at sea with her father, on his small fishing boat. She is delighted to be there with him, to be part of what is going on. Her father’s companion, Shan Daly, who is careless of the welfare of his poor family does not impress her, but she is delighted to encounter young Murdough Blake, her greatest friend.

She was a happy child, curious and confident, and utterly at home in the world around her. Her family was better off than many of the islanders, they were respected, and though her mother had died when she was young her father and her elder sister, Honor, were bringing her up well and she loved them both dearly.

‘To her Inishmaan was much more than home, much more than a place she lived in, it was practically the world, and she wished for no bigger, hardly for any more prosperous, one. It was not merely her own little holding and cabin, but every inch of it that was in this peculiar sense hers. It belonged to her as the rock on which it has been born belongs to the young seamew. She had grown to it, and it had grown to her. She was a part of it, and it was a part of her, and the bare idea of leaving it—of leaving it, that is to say, permanently—would have filled her with nothing short of sheer consternation.’

Her father saw Grania grow into a handsome and capable young woman, and when he died she took on responsibility for the family home. It was a simple two-room cabin, but it was comfortable and familiar, and they knew that many of their neighbours had less space and more people to occupy it.

Grania took care of Honor, whose health was failing; and she worked hard, getting in her own crops of potatoes and oats, and fattening her calves and pigs for the market; and she thrived.

‘Did others find the same pleasure merely in breathing—merely in moving and working—as she did, she sometimes wondered. Even her love for Honor—the strongest feeling but one she possessed—the despair which now and then swept over her at the thought of losing her, could not check this. Nay, it is even possible that the enforced companionship for so many hours of the day and night of that pitiful sick-bed, the pain and weakness which she shared, so far as they could be shared, lent a sort of reactionary zest to the freedom of these wild rushes over the rocks and through the cold sea air. She did not guess it herself, but so no doubt it was.’

Everyone thought that Grania O’Malley and Murdough Blake would marry – and they thought so themselves –  but he had not grown up as well as she had. He was handsome, but he was vain, he was lazy and he took Grania’s affection for granted. She continued to love him, but one day when she really needed him he let her down, and then she had to accept that he didn’t love her as she loved him.

Grania struck out independently, but the consequences would be tragic.

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

Her characterisations are rich and complex, and I can believe that this community existed and that these people lived and breathed. Shan Daly would always be feckless and his family suffered for it; Peggy O’Dowd would always be gossiping with the other women; Pete Durane and his father were gentlemen in the best sense of the word; and Teige O’Shaughnesse was a little simple but he was devoted to Grania

She was the star, and I had to both love and admire her. It was lovely to share her joy in her life and her world, but I was devastated when things went wrong.

Her story is a wonderful variation on the new woman novel of the period. Grania loved her family, her community, her world; but her life was circumscribed by them and she had the capacity to do so much more, to be so much more.

But this book is titled ‘Grania: the Story of an Island’ for a very good reason.

It is also a lovely, lyrical account of an island and a way of life that had been unchanged and untouched by outside influences for generations, but would not be for much longer; and it leaves me haunted by that world and by one young woman who lived there.

A Little Something for Margaret Kennedy Day

I very nearly missed my own party!

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

‘You are not. You aren’t dumpy.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’ll be back in a week or two …

10% Report: 100 Years of Books


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

I realised some time ago that the way to finish a  project like this was 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.

That’s why it’s been nearly a year and a half since my last 10% report; and it’s also why since looking at my list of possible books a few weeks ago I’ve read four of them and have several more sitting on my bedside table because I really want to read them soon!

I want to press on with this  100 Years of Books project, and maybe finish by the end of the year.

Now that I have read seventy books I really feel that the end is in sight and that this can be done.

But I say maybe because I know I’ll want to read other things, and I’m never going to tell myself that I can’t.

And I am never going to read a book just to fill a year; every book on the list is going to be one I wanted to read for its own sake.

I really want to see the final list one day – 100 years, 100 books and 100 authors!

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

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1870 – Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins

‘The very best things were the points that were made about the absurdities of marriage laws and the inequity of men and women in marriage. They were powerfully made and they were utterly right. That is both this books greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The author seems over-bearing when he addresses the reader directly; and his wish to make his point sometimes bends his characters and their stories out of shape.’

1871 – Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy

‘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.’

1872 – The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart

‘I loved Clarice for her lovely mix of imagination and sensibleness; and I appreciated that she was good not for its own sake but because the world and the people around her cared for her and she cared for them and wanted them to be happy. I loved Olga for her vitality, her joie de vivre, and her gift for doing the unexpected. The story shows them both off so well, a dramatic conclusion bring the best out of both of them, and I was captivated from the first page to the last.’

1880 – A Strange Disappearance by Anna Katherine Green

‘Anna Katherine Green constructed a very cunning plot, and she wrote very well. The story could have been set in any of a number of periods, but her writing style and her handling of romance places it very firmly in the Victorian era. When I read ‘The Leavenworth Case’ I saw the influence of Wilkie Collins, and I see it again in this book.’

1890 – An Australian Girl by Catherine Martin

‘ ‘An Australian Girl’ is the story of Stella Courtland. She was beautiful, articulate, and sociable; and she loved the world around her and all the things she could do in that world just as much as she loved her books and intellectual pursuits. She was one of the youngest children of a large family, most of her siblings had scattered, and only the youngest were left at home with their widowed mother. Stella was ready to fly, but she would never flout the conventions of society’

1896 – Beauty’s Hour by Olivia Shakespear

‘The plot is well constructed, and the story moves along at a good pace. It makes its points well, and though some of them might feel obvious they were points that were definitely worth making clearly. It was fantastical, but there was enough truth in the characters and the situations to make it feel real and to make me believe that it might have happened. And the suspense, the atmosphere, was perfect.’

1908 – Crossriggs by Jane and Mary Findlater

‘The story was beautifully positioned between two different eras. Much of it feels wonderfully Victorian, but Alex is quite clearly a ‘New Woman’ caught up in small town life. The influences were clear. There are definite echoes of a particular Jane Austen novel in the characters and the relationships, and there were something in the style and in the drawing of the community that told me that the Findlater sisters must have read and loved Trollope too.’

1922 – Rough-Hewn by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

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

1931 – Saraband by Eliot Bliss

‘I saw the influence of Dorothy Richardson – a friend of the authors – on her writing; but I found Eliot Bliss’s style to be simpler and more accessible. Louie remembered and considered things; I was particularly taken with passages late in the book where she remembered stories her grandmother had told her about her youth, as the end of grandmother’s life was drawing near.’

1933 – Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge

‘ ‘Hostages to Fortune’ is one of those books, wisely rescued by the lovely Persephone Books, and it does some of the things I love most in a quiet book. It speaks to my sense of wonder that there are so many people in the world and that each and every one of them has a story of their own that might be told. It illuminates lives lived at a particular time, at a particular point in history so very well that I really do feel that these fictional characters lived and breathed, and that I have come understand how their lives were for them without ever intruding at all.’

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

My thoughts on the books that will represent 1892 and 1917 will be along quite soon.

And I’ll get back to my list once I’ve read a book for Elizabeth Goudge’s birthday, a book for Margaret Kennedy’s birthday,  a wonderful new book by an author whose first novel I fell in love with a few years ago ….

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