Monday, 27 July 2009

The holiday (Smith) VMC 7

Having enjoyed Novel on yellow paper very much last week, I was keen to read the other two Stevie Smith VMCs and when I spotted The holiday in Blackwells' Secondhand bookshop I just couldn't resist (even though I find their books a bit overpriced). Particularly as I was hoping to go away for the weekend, and a book called The holiday, just needs to be read on holiday. The synopsis excited me - the story of a young woman who goes on holiday with her uncle in the immediate post-war period. However, I'm afraid to report that I was disappointed.

Like Novel on yellow paper, The holiday is strongly autobiographical. Celia - the main character - works as a secretary at the ministry, and spends much time thinking about politics and the issues of the day. She then goes on holiday with her cousin and uncle; "here they talk endlessly, argue, eat, tell stories, love and hate - moments of wild humour alternating with waves of melancholy as Celia ponders obsessively on the inevitable pain of love" (from the cover). Like the earlier novel, the story is strongly discursive and is almost a vehicle for Smith to relay her own thoughts and feelings.

According to the introduction, even though the book is apparently set after WW2, it was mostly written during the war, and Smith decided to "update" it when the war finished and it had not been published.

There were however some very beautiful passages of writing - the book is interspersed with poetry (let us not forget that Smith was foremost a poet) and a short story - such as this:

"There is the sea, and one wishes to get into it, but there are always so many things to do, and the end of the holiday comes and still there is the sea, and still one has not got into it, one has forgotten to get into the sea, but that is what one has most wished to do, so strongly one has wished to do that, and now the holiday is over"

I think that is absolutely exquisite and so very true. How often one feels like that at the end of a holiday!

So I have mixed feelings about this book. But have just ordered the other Smith VMC (Over the frontier) from the library and look forward to comparing that with the other two works.

There are three Virago covers, and I own the first one.


  1. It's unfortunate that you were disappointed by this when you thought so highly of Novel on Yellow Paper. It is always the danger of reading the "masterpiece" of an author first! Although we often are attracted to the one that is more well-known.

  2. Claire - I think you're right - it is the danger of reading the masterpiece first, but we are more likely to read it, just because it's more readily available or we've heard about it. Maybe for this challenge I have to read the obscure VMCs first...

  3. I thought I had posted on here last night but clearly I didn't do it properly...

    I have often seen Stevie Smith viragos in bookshops and not even looked at them because I only knew her as a poet and assumed they would be long poems or just weird poetical novels. I don't get on well with poetry. Clearly I am wrong though all the same I'm not sure if she sounds like she's my cup of tea from your review!

  4. Rachel - you can definitely see Smith's role as a poet influencing her writing in these novels. I would certainly recommend Novel on yellow paper to you, just that this was not for me as enjoyable. I am sure I am not going to enjoy every one of the 550+ VMCs along the way...

  5. Ok I will look out for Novel on Yellow Paper...I'll see if the library has it. Though I doubt it, my library only does Sagas and Crime!

    Yes it's funny with Virago - as there are so many you can't guarantee all of them will be to your liking, despite your interests fitting its ethos. What I love about Persephone is how well chosen the books are, and how they feed into common themes despite their individual differences. I have yet to be disappointed by one of their books, but Virago have published a fair few duds in my opinion!

  6. You're right about Persephone, I haven't been disappointed by any of them and I must have read over half now.