Saturday 31 October 2009

Time for some statistics

For the first time in ages, I haven't got any new VMC acquisitions. On the bright side, all of my VMCs that have yet to be read now fit onto one shelf with none lying on top.

Instead, having been doing this challenge for 3.5 months, I thought it was time for some statistics.

Number of posts written: 90.
Number of VMCs posted about (not including acquisitions posts): 106
Number of books read specifically for challenge: 50
Number of books posted about which I had already read: 56
Number of gifts from other bloggers: 2
Number received from publishers: 4
Number of VMC books purchased since start of challenge (15/7): 82 (eek!)
Number of VMC books thrown out since start of challenge: 1
Number of VMC books that I own but have yet to read: 32
Number of guest posts: 1
Number of followers gained on 10

Favourite books so far include:
Pin to see the peepshow
Novel on yellow paper
The wedding
Family history
One fine day
My brilliant career
The getting of wisdom
The Ha-ha
On the side of angels

That was a difficult list to write as there have been very many books which I have really enjoyed so far, but these are the Must Reads as far as I am concerned.

I'm doing well; I seem to be about nearly a fifth of the way through the challenge which isn't bad going?! I still have a number of books which I read before this challenge which I haven't yet blogged about to "catch-up" on, so that will also help boost my totals.

Thank you to all of you who read and comment on my blog; if you just lurk, please do say hello today to help me celebrate getting this far through. It's lovely to have the comments and involvement of other VMC readers.

Thursday 29 October 2009

The lost lady (Cather) 21

Willa Cather has written a number of Virago modern classics, but I had not read any of them until I picked up The lost lady at the library the other day (I might be on a book-buying ban, but the library at least exists to enable me the pleasure of obtaining different books). It was a slim volume which didn't take too long to read, but one which made me look forward to encountering the rest of her work.

The lost lady of the title is Mrs Forrester, married to Captain Forrester, an ageing man 20 years her senior, who lives in a small American town called Sweet Water in the railroad period. A librarything member (WilfGehlen) writes: "[it] presents the complementary side of prairie life to the "homesteaders and hand-workers" who populate O Pioneers! and My Antonia. This is the story of "the bankers and gentlemen ranchers who came from the Atlantic seaboard to invest money and to 'develop our great West.'"

Mrs Forrester is observed throughout the story by Neils, first as a young boy, and then later as a grown man; he is initially captivated by her vivacity and kindness. She attracts much attention by hosting big dinners for the visiting notables passing through on the railways.

However, Captain Forrester's fortunes, like those of Sweet Water, are hit by the bank crisis and crop failure and Mrs Forrester has to come to terms with living a different sort of life with less and less money.

As Niels grows up his view of Mrs Forrester changes; he sees her having an affair, and mortgaging her property in an attempt to raise money to live the sort of life that she wants. He finds this at odds with his value-sets:

"It was what he most held against Mrs Forrester: that she was not willing to immolate herself, like a widow of all these great men, and die with the pioneer period to which she belonged; that she preferred life on any terms. In the end, Niel went away without bidding her goodbye. He went away with weary contempt for her in his heart."

Has anyone else read any Willa Cather, and if so which ones would you recommend?

Two Virago editions; the original green edition and the edition that I borrowed from the library.

Daddy was a number runner (Meriwether) 434

Another book that I was a little wary of reading was Meriwether's Daddy was a number runner. But my Dad is coming for tea tomorrow, so along with the fact that I had recently enjoyed another book that I felt intimidated by, I thought that was a good reason to get it out. And as with The wedding it paid off. What a wonderful and different book, again introducing me to a place and period of which I knew very little.

Set in Harlem in the 1930s it describes the devastation wrought on the community by the economic depression through the eyes of Francie, a 12 year old girl. Francie's father is a "number runner"; I hadn't heard of number running before this book so I looked it up. In the period, organized crime frequently ran lotteries. Run centrally, they relied on "number runners" to visit the pubs, bars, shops etc to take the people's "picks" or choices of numbers in. Her family is impoverished and much of the book describes their difficulties in living with very little money - living off credit at the grocer's shop, endless worry.

Through Francie we get a wonderful insight into how a 12 year old lived under these circumstances; she sells shopping bags to earn some extra cents which get spent on a hotdog and some strudels; she shares smutty magazines with a classmate in return for borrowing notes to copy for an assignment; she is beaten up by her best friend who also shares her sweets with her; she gains nickels in return for letting the baker grope her in the cinema. She dreams of a different life; she never intends to eat herrings when she is grown up ever again.

There are lots of interesting themes running through the book. One of the most interesting themes for me was the pride of the families and their reluctance to accept the "relief" offered by the government - not because the quality of the food given out was so poor (which it was) but because it meant having to admit to not being able to provide for one's family. It was particularly hard for Francie's father to accept this, and her mother kept quiet the fact that she literally had to beg for more relief after it had been suspended. This made interesting parallels with what I know about English poor relief and the pride of poor families outlined in books such as Round About A Pound A Week.

It's only once been published by Virago, and I think the above cover is truly amazing. It really sums up the all encompassing nature of Harlem for Francie.

Virago haven't published any of Meriwether's other works, but I looked her up and she has written a number of other novels, none unfortunately in my library authority. Definitely worth looking out for.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

All passion spent (Sackville-West) 110

All passion spent had quite a lot to live up to when I started it. I had enjoyed Family History very much last week, and according to the introduction this book is reputed to be Sackville-West's best.

All Passion Spent examines the life of a woman, widowed late in life, who seizes the opportunity to do what she wants for the rest of her time. Lady Slane's children expect that she will split her time between them (thus also augmenting their incomes) but she decides to take a house in Hampstead and live privately in the countryside with her long-time servant.

Although she intends to live there in peace and quiet, and to some extent does achieve this, Sackville-West surrounds her with a number of intriguing characters. There is Mr Bucktrout the landlord, who has not let the house for years because he was waiting for the right tenant and who tries to convince her not to upgrade the house to make it more comfortable. There is Mr Gosheron, the undertaker. And there is Mr Fitzgeorge, a character from Lady Slane's past who proves that all her passion is not spent, as he awakens a romantic spark inside her.

So, was it Sackville-West's best novel? Well, I've only read one other so far so it would not be fair to say. I found this extremely well written, but I enjoyed the story in Family History more.

Apparently this was filmed, but the DVD is only available in the US, which is a shame as it has rather interesting reviews on the Internet Movie Database.

Three different Virago modern classics editions, each I suppose trying to evoke Lady Slane. The copy that I own is the bottom one. I am intrigued by the similarities of the photos used in the two later covers; I looked to see where the photo had come from on my book but it is just atributed to the Getty archive.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Ordinary Families (Robertson) 85

I'm not quite sure why, it may be because I enjoyed reading Family History so much the day before, but I didn't enjoy Ordinary Families very much.

The premise was that many families are Ordinary but family life is interesting; however, I'm not sure that I really found this so in Robertson's book. It was a very descriptive novel dealing with the coming of age of Lallie, a member of one of a number of families in the book who go sailing and enjoy the outdoorsy life available to the upper middle classes in the 1930s.

Maybe I will have better luck with the other VMC by Robertson that I own, the intriguingly entitled Four Frightened People. She has written a number of other novels of which only one more is published as a VMC, Cullum.

Monday 26 October 2009

The wedding (West) 431

One of the great things about the series of Virago Modern Classics is firstly what diverse backgrounds the writers come from and inspire the writing, and secondly how this introduces one to books that one might not otherwise have encountered. With the exception of a couple of Australian novels, my reading for this challenge has thus far been set in England or what I might term "middle-class" America. Until this weekend, I had not yet read anything set in the deep South.

Having attended a wedding on Saturday, I wanted some wedding-themed reading, and since The wedding was on my Virago TBR pile it was natural to pick it up, even though I was apprehensive about reading a book set in a situation that I knew nothing about. Happily, the "risk" of reading it paid off as I greatly enjoyed it.

Set in The Oval, an elite African-American community in Martha's Vineyard, it centres around the impending marriage of Shelby to a struggling white musician. It is a controversial match - some members of her family are for it, hoping that if they continue to marry white people, eventually there will be no trace of their coloured skin in their descendants - others are against it believing that Shelby is betraying her heritage. The book traces other people's lives and issues; Shelby's sister was lost as a child but only found after considerable time had elapsed because everyone was looking for a "coloured" child, perceiving this to be a completely black child with negroid features, rather than one who was essentially white.

Rather than a "story" I felt that this book was an exploration of race and racial prejudice; social standing to this community was much more about the tone of one's skin than money as we are often used to. West draws a number of wonderful characters and reading this book immersed me for a morning in the lives of the Ovalites gaining an insight into a world of which I knew very little.

This book was West's first for fifty years, and I am intrigued to read the other two titles she has written published as VMCs - The living is easy, and The richer, the poorer (this is a volume of memoirs I believe).

Just the one Virago cover, which is the one that I own, above.

Saturday 24 October 2009

This week's acquisitions

Yes, yes, I know that most of you know that I'm on a book-buying ban (and ban on non-essential spending). So why am I posting about new acquisitions? Well, these four Muriel Sparks were kindly sent to me by Sophie from Virago. Virago are quite excited by the VVV and are letting me have some copies of their new books.

I've read some of these before (but can't offhand remember which), but am intending to re-read them as I definitely want to write about Muriel Spark on this blog. I am a big fan of her work.

I apologise for the blurry photo, and I'd like to point you at a post from Paperback Reader's blog earlier this year where she enthuses over these lovely covers.

Have any of you read any Muriel Spark or any of the ones above?

Friday 23 October 2009

Family History (Sackville-West) 234

I was very kindly given a copy of Family history by Simon who had accidentally acquired a copy when he already owned one (I empathise, I've done that once myself too). I had not read any other Sackville-West before this, and although I wondered whether I should start with one of her more famous books (All passion spent or The Edwardians) I wanted to do Simon the courtesy of actually reading the book rather than letting it languish!

There is a fantastic review of this book here by Leaning towards the sun which says far more than I could write about the book; I will let you read that review rather than repeat myself talking about the plot. I found the book hugely enjoyable; the premise of the difficulties encountered in relationships between those of different backgrounds and classes greatly interested me and was handled well by Sackville-West. I felt frustrated at times when characters failed to understand the viewpoint of others, such as Mr Jarrold's incomprehension that his grandson Dan should not want to pursue traditional hobbies such as shooting and fishing. I found myself identifying with Evelyn when she failed to understand the importance of Miles' work to him.

When I'd finished, I went back and had a look at the introduction by Victoria Glendinning. It said that quite a lot of the material in the book was drawn from Sackville-West's own life and relationships. Most interesting of all was the fact that the house inhabited by the Jarrold's where much of the action takes place was based on Sissinghurst where Sackville-West lived. I am now desperate to visit Sissinghurst, and also to watch Portrait of a Marriage which is a dramatisation of the relationship between Sackville West and Harold Nicholson.

I am sorry that it has taken me so long to getting around to reading Sackville West. Can't quite decide which one to read next though...I have All Passion Spent, The Edwardians and No Signposts in the Sea.

Two Virago Modern classic editions. Simon gave me the original first cover, but it has subsequently been reissued in the more modern green style.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Rumour of heaven (Lehmann) 256

No, not Rosamund Lehmann whose books I covered earlier this year (see here and here) but her sister Beatrix. I wondered if they were related when I acquired this VMC in a bundle from ebay, and the introduction told me so. Beatrix was more famous as an actress, but she wrote two novels, including Rumour of heaven which was published as a VMC.

The book starts with the ballerina Miranda Mirova; hugely successful and married to William Peacock. However, almost immediately she has the first of three children, Clare, later joined by Hector and Viola, and never dances again. She descends into madness and dies and Clare is left trying to hold the family together. Hector is semi-feral and Viola inhabits an imaginery world which she can barely distinguish from her favourite book, Wuthering Heights.

I found it difficult to identify with any of the characters in this book, and I also found it hard to follow what was happening, so it wasn't one of my favourite reads.

According to the introduction, Rosamund was somewhat scathing about her sister's abilities as a novelist and even made a veiled aside about her in one of her novels. I have to say that I am a big fan of Rosamund Lehmann and this book wasn't as good as any of hers; however it would be unfair to make a comparison to her sister, since I don't compare every other VMC to Rosamund Lehmann's works!

Just the one cover above; I wonder if the picture is supposed to evoke the character Clare - I don't think it can possibly be a representation of Miranda.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Film : The getting of wisdom

Just a brief mention today that I watched the film of The getting of wisdom last week. It's not available except as an Australian import, but one of my colleagues kindly bought it for the college collection.

I loved the book when I read it back in August, and would definitely highlight it as one of my Virago Modern Classic must-reads so I was very excited to be able to watch the film.

I thought the adaption was extremely well done and that Susannah Fowle made an excellent Laura. I loved the music used in the film; Laura's piano playing, the brass band, and the singing in the church all really added to the adaption.

I intend to watch films of VMCs as I encounter them; there are a number of them out there (apart from the obvious numerous Jane Austen adaptions) but often they are difficult to get hold of. The librarything group has started to put together a list, and I hope to make my own list at some point during my venture.

Monday 19 October 2009

Fenny (Cooper) 264, and The New house 263.

Fenny by Lettice Cooper is a much longer read than any of the other books I've read recently for the VVV. My reviews may slow down somewhat as most of the ones I have on my TBRBC for this challenge are pretty long and/or have much smaller type! However, it was a story which I enjoyed and which I found well-written.

I chose this title when I was looking through Virago Modern Classics on ebay because I have a friend called Fenny. My friend is short for Fenella, however, the Fenny of this novel is Ellen Fenwick. A governess by profession, she is given the pet name of "Fenny".

Ellen, as she is referred to throughout the book, has the chance to go to Italy after her mother's death to teach as a governess. Previously she taught at the local high school and lived at home; the fairly average life of a spinster in the 1930s. However, the trip to Italy completely changes her life and her outlook; she falls in love and is brokenhearted, she lives under the rule of fascism. It follows Ellen's experiences first with the family that she goes over to Italy with, then with the family down the road, then in a prison camp, and finally living in a house of her own with a boy who she rescued after the war. I loved reading about Ellen's life, it was the sort of saga/fictional biography that is perfect for an Autumn weekend, and I didn't mind too much that it was set in Italy, even though I tend to prefer books set in England because I can imagine them better.

Writing this review I have just realised that I have already read the other Lettice Cooper VMC which is The new house and published by Persephone books. This is a little sad as I was looking forward to encountering her again. I read The new house earlier this year (although not in a Persephone edition) and loved it. It is very different from Fenny, set entirely in England and over the course of one day as opposed to a period of thirty years and involves a whole family rather than a single central character. On this day, the family home is left; Rhoda and her mother are moving into a smaller home, and Delia is about to get married. Maurice, the brother reflects (or tries not to) on his marriage.

If you're interested in finding out more about Lettice Cooper, there is an interesting obituary here.

Just one VMC cover for each of those; I own this copy of Fenny. And what to do about the new House - would I want it in a Persephone or Virago edition?

Saturday 17 October 2009

This week's acquistion (and a little puzzle)

Only one acquisition this week, Shutter of Snow, by Holmes Coleman which I've already shared with you. However, there was a puzzle about this book when I examined it more closely, as you will see from these two pictures (it was impossible to make them come out well, but I'm sure you'll see what I mean)

Why is there a PENGUIN on my Virago? There is no sign of an apple anywhere. I have checked all of my green VMCs and none of the rest of them have Penguins on them.

Do you have any Penguin Virago modern classics? And do you have any idea WHY?!

Friday 16 October 2009

The shutter of snow (Holmes Coleman) 45

Having enjoyed The ha-ha, which deals with the theme of madness, I was recommended The shutter of snow by Emily Holmes Coleman. This was another interesting book, based in part of Holmes Coleman's experiences of incarceration in a mental institution for two months after the birth of her child and was reminiscent of The Yellow Wallpaper which also deals with postnatal depression.

It deals with the circumstances of Marthe Gail who we meet in a state hospital suffering from chronic psychosis after the birth of her son. She believes that she is Jesus Christ and has lost the ability to maintain relationships and look after herself. As the book proceeds, Marthe attempts to make herself heard and struggles to regain her identity; she works her way "up" through the hospital from the basement where the illest patients stay to the less restrictive and quieter ward upstairs. She continues to have psychotic episodes but eventually gets to go home to her husband and new baby.

I liked the style of the writing, which lacked any punctuation apart from full-stops. This made it feel very fluid, and almost as if it was a stream of consciousness even though it was written in the third person.

This is the only novel that Holmes Coleman wrote, she was a poet primarily, and continued to write poetry and journals throughout her life. It's just been printed the once by Virago, with the above cover.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

The lifted veil (Eliot) 189

I've never read any books by George Eliot, so when I spotted The lifted veil in a VMC edition in Oxfam I decided to pick it up. Especially as it was a slim volume!

However, (and I'm sorry to post another slightly negative review), it was probably not the best George Eliot to start with. The introduction acknowledges that this work is atypical for Eliot - it was written in 1859, but not published until 1878, and it is certainly not as popular as her other "classic" novels.

It takes the unusual theme of ESP and clairvoyancy; Latimer, the principle character discovers one night that he has powers in this area, and has a vision of a "pale, fatal eyed woman". He later meets her and discovers that she is the fiancee of his brother. He gets visions filled with warnings but is unwilling to take action on them. The most interesting concept for me in the book was the way that Eliot explains how it is human nature to end up getting involved in situations that one knows one should be avoided; this takes on an even weightier message given the clairvoyancy involved for Latimer.

There is another George Eliot VMC, Brother Jacob.

Two Virago covers, both featuring the same image, presumably meant to imply Bertha? My copy is the later one.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

The squire (Bagnold) 246

I was surprised to find that Enid Bagnold had written novels for adults, as I know her as the author of the children's story National Velvet. So I was interested to come across The Squire as part of VVV. According to the blurb at the front of the book she was forced to publish her earliest novels (she wrote four, and this is the second) under a pseudonym as her father was somewhat embarassed to have a writer daughter.

Unfortunately I didn't really enjoy this book as much as National Velvet. It tells the story of The squire, a woman in late pregnancy, awaiting the arrival of her 5th child. I was confused from the start because I always thought Squires were male! Her husband has gone away on a business trip to Bombay and will arrive back after the birth of the baby, and the book is essentially a languid exposition on motherhood and pregnancy.

It was written in the 1920s and published in 1930, and I can imagine that it must have seemed slightly shocking to have such discussions of childbirth, breastfeeding and childcare in a novel, and can understand why Bagnold's father insisted on the pen name.

There are two more books by Bagnold published as Virago Modern Classics so I shall have to see if I have better luck with those.

Just published the once by Virago, a lovely green edition (see above) which I own.

Monday 12 October 2009

The compass error (Bedford) 133

Last week saw the arrival of the new students at Oxford and the town was suddenly filled with young people looking distinctly lost. On my pile of Viragos I had a copy of The compass error which is the story of a girl studying for Oxford entrance, and that seemed like an appropriate book to read.

It turned out that the Oxford entrance was not really a key part of the book, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It concerns seventeen year old Flavia, who is spending the summer in a villa in Provence whilst her mother, Constanze, goes travelling with her new lover, Michel. She is using the time to study for the Oxford entrance exam, and at the start is applying herself diligently to her work.

I enjoyed this section most of all; Flavia aspires to being a writer and has her career envisioned. She will attend Oxford, and then leave and hope to earn a living reviewing books. From this, she will support herself as a writer. I loved the passage where she considers whether a book reviewer might ever be able to sell their books on to augment their income, or whether a real bibliophiles would actually be able to part with them. (It sounded familiar).

However, one night at dinner in the local restaurant she meets the wife of an eminent painter and is suddenly catapaulted into the adult world of dinners, drinking and love. However, this is no straightforward coming of age. She meets another woman who uses her to track down her mother, since Michel is her ex. Much of the first half of the book is given over to this woman's reminicenses. Flavia faces difficult decisions; should she compromise her happiness for that of her mother.

Just the one publication by Virago, but I see from librarything and Amazon that it has been released more recently by Penguin and also by a number of other publishing houses. According to a review that I read on Amazon, her novels are very interlinked; however only one other of her books is published by Virago, A favourite of the gods.

Saturday 10 October 2009

This week's acquistions

I don't know if anyone else has been frustrated by Royal Mail recently, but I am getting really fed up at the moment. It seems to be taking forever for my internet purchases to arrive. I was lucky with one marketplace purchase recently; the seller lives in the same city as me and got her husband to drop it off the same day that I had bought it!

I've read 4 of these this week (and one which I'd already read!) - blog posts to follow - so I feel I'm doing well with my purchase/reading ratio...

This week's arrivals are:
Saraband (Bliss) - read about this online
A compass error (Bedford) - ditto
The ha-ha (Dawson) - written about here
Family history (Sackville-West) - this was a kind gift from Stuck-in-a-book who had accidentally acquired two copies.
A lifted veil (Eliot) - came home with this from Oxfam; it was a slim volume, and I've not read any Eliot yet.
Diary of a provincial lady - I wrote about this a little while ago, and couldn't resist buying myself the hardback when I spotted it in Oxfam.*

* Ok, I have to come clean here...if you haven't read my confession on my other blog, then I am forced to admit to you that I bought two copies of Provincial...I'm too embarassed to write any more about it here.

I've also been buying Virago Daphne Du Mauriers to complete my collection...these have been trickling in, but I shall show you them next week, by which time I hope that they have all arrived!

Friday 9 October 2009

Saraband (Bliss) 223

I acquired this book only at the weekend, and was most amused to discover that Stuck-in-a-book had also obtained a copy extremely recently. I was intrigued by the description on the back cover: "this beautiful, atmospheric novel, like Antonia White's Frost in May quartet, charts the emotional and intellectual growth of a young girl." I am a big fan of Frost in May, and I also love "coming of age" stories.

This book wasn't exactly a "story"; whereas there is a strong element of linear plot development in Frost in May, this book felt somewhat ethereal. Essentially it tells the story of Louie, an only child who lives in her own world until the arrival of her cousin Timothy, who gives her companionship and understanding. She then goes to school, in a convent. War breaks out and her father is killed. So after the war, she is forced to seek employment and goes to train in secretarial skills; she has a vision of becoming a professional woman with a briefcase.

The episodes in this book were beautifully described and written, it is poetic and dreamy.
I liked this passage, early on in the book, from the child Louie's thoughts:
"Winter had a most exciting smell, it made one think of people whom one knew and yet had never met, places where at some time or other one felt sure one must have lived and yet could not remember. The frost hung on the trees, it made them look as if they had gone white during the night from fear, it gave them a very queer stark look"
But while I enjoyed the beautiful writing in this novel, I didn't feel gripped and it has taken me a while to write this review.

Bliss was not an author who I have come across previously; however I see she has another title on my VMC list - Luminous Isle. Apparently this is also an autobiographical novel.

Just the once published by Virago in a traditional green cover above.

Thursday 8 October 2009

The Ha-Ha (Dawson) 165

Paperback reader pointed out a review of this book to me last week and I knew that I HAD to read this VMC straight away. I immediately ordered it off Amazon, and to my surprise it was delivered later that night; it turned out that the marketplace seller lives in Oxford and got her husband to drop it off for me! What wonderful service and much better than being messed around by Royal Mail, which has happened a little too frequently for my liking recently.

The book tells the story of Jennifer. We learn that she has recently been removed from Oxford where she was studying for a degree at Somerville; she is now in a mental institution run by kindly nuns trying to come to terms with her life. As the story progresses, we find out more about how her illness has manifested itself and her struggles to fit in with normal society. She is working for a couple who live near to the institution, cataloguing their books. She enjoys the order and the quietness of this occupation. She spends much time in the Ha-Ha, or garden, nearby, often on her way home from work, and becomes friendly with another inmate and develops her first relationship.

I was interested in this book for a number of reasons. Firstly, the main protagonist, Josephine, has recently attended Oxford University, which is the institution where I took my first degree and for whom I work. Secondly, she is no longer at Oxford, since she has been removed due to mental illness. Both I, and a couple of close friends struggled with different mental health problems whilst we were studying at Oxford; my friends took years out, but I struggled on, but this is something I really empathised with. Thirdly, she is being rehabilitated into "normal" life
through working as a librarian to catalogue books for a couple who live near to the hospital. I am a librarian, and throughout my degree I spent the holidays working in a library at home, and I credit the work and my colleagues there with helping me to stay sane. Librarianism is surprisingly good for mental health; rationalisation and organisation is surprisingly satisfying and helping people is another feel-good element to the occupation.

As Leaning Towards The Sun notes, one of the best things about this book is the way that mental illness is not as far-out as it is sometimes portrayed. Jennifer's problems were characterised by her inability to fit in with conventional society; although she has a relapse at the end of the book when her new relationship ends, we are left feeling hopeful that she will be able to overcome her difficulties.

Although Dawson, who lived in the same county as me and in the same village that one of my colleagues lives, wrote 5 other novels this is the only one that is published by Virago. I intend to add her to my list of authors to watch out for.

It's only been published once by Virago, cover image above.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

The rector's daughter (Mayor) 259

I have been looking forward to reading The rector's daughter for some time, especially since I read the author's The third Miss Symons last month.

Like The third Miss Symons, The rector's daughter concerns a spinster. Mary, in her thirties, the daughter of the widowed Canon Jocelyn, has a busy life in his parish, running Bible classes, cataloguing library books and visiting parishioners. She is determined to be cheerful, even when attempts to broaden her horizons beyond these parameters are blocked by her father. Life is suddenly changed when she falls in love with Mr Herbert; they are on the brink of marriage, or so she feels, when he writes to her announcing his plans to be married to a lady called Kathy. She is shattered. We then witness the marriage of Mr Herbert to Kathy and become appalled by how such an unsuitable attachment could be made, leaving Mary behind. Mary avoids the couple as much as possible, until Kathy becomes ill and Mary carries out her parish duty of visiting her,a and there is some reconciliation, even if "there was not a spark of friendliness" any longer between her and Mr Herbert. Towards the end of the book, Mary does eventually find a life beyond that as rector's daughter, although it takes the death of the rector for this to be achieved. She moves to the suburbs and finally is able to pursue friendships, find her own views on matters and undertake some writing. So sad then that she dies before she reaches forty.

The novel is minutely observed; there is beautiful detail about each day and the East Anglian countryside, so that although time passes in the book very slowly, it is wonderfully described. This could make the book feel a little slow but I revelled in it. I found that many of the twists and turns in the plot were unexpected; I was surprised and extremely sad that Mary died when she was finally living as her own person rather than as her father's daughter.

Intriguingly, I have heard that Susan Hill has put this novel among her 4o books that she could not do without in her forthcoming Howards End is on the landing; I have yet to see this book, and am anxiously awaiting for my pre-order to arrive, and look forward to seeing what she says about it.

One more Mayor VMC title to read - The squire's daughter.

This book has been published twice by Virago. I find the picture on the front of the earlier Green edition somewhat terrifying. I cheated slightly as I did not read this book in a Virago edition; this was because although I had come across it as a VMC, I spotted it on a friend's bookshelf and asked to borrow it before I embarked on this challenge and I didn't feel that I could very well give it back without reading it because it was the wrong edition!

Monday 5 October 2009

Walking naked (Bawden) 377

I thought Walking Naked was an intriguing title for a novel and couldn't resist buying this the other day when I spotted it in Oxfam for 1.99. I have already enjoyed a number of Nina Bawden's books, both before and during this venture, and am pleased to have the opportunity to read almost all of her adult fiction (14 novels) as part of this challenge.

This was a particularly good Nina Bawden, and if you haven't read anything by her I would suggest starting with this one. It uses the device of spending the day in the life of the main character Laura to tell a fascinating tale about her life. Laura is a novelist, happily married with several children. But life does not run so smoothly; on the day in question she has to entertain the wife of one of her husband's colleagues whilst the men play tennis, she and her husband have to visit her son in prison, they have to visit her father who is believed to be on his death bed, and then finally they have to come to terms with the near-death of his mother who has been looking after the children. All these episodes bring previously unresolved conflicts to the fore. At the same time, we can see how the conflicts have come about through Laura's recall of her past; we learn about her time at Oxford and the friendships formed there and how these have subsequently influenced her, as well as her childhood.

Only the one cover (above) which is now in my collection.

Saturday 3 October 2009

This week's acquistions

Three books this week, Try anything twice (Struther), Walking naked (Bawden), and Kinflicks (Alther) each from a different era of green spines. I decided to photograph the spines as well as the cover, as Kinflicks barely resembles a VMC from the cover.

Have already read two of them; I wrote about the Struther here, and will be writing about the Bawden on Monday.

Friday 2 October 2009

Anderby Wold (Holtby) 65

I was reminded earlier this week how much I enjoyed reading South Riding and The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby (I shall post about them tomorrow). I then remembered that I had another novel by her on the VMC TBR shelf and decided that it was time to read it. Consulting my list of VMCs I am delighted to find that there are six Holtby titles on the list, so I have another three to look forward to.

Anderby Wold is Holtby's first novel, and it was suggested by the introduction that in some ways it was a rehearsal for South Riding; certainly many of the themes, such as country life and socialism, and features, such as strongly characterised women are present.

It tells the tale of Mary Robson, heiress to Anderby Wold. The book opens with a party to celebrate the fact that she and her husband have paid off the mortgage on the estate which Mary was left with after her father's death. Anderby Wold is quite literally the focus of Mary's life, and attempts by her cousin to get her to "loosen up" in modern parlance are quite futile. She also struggles with her relationship with her husband John who is extremely dull. Aged 28, she is faced with being middle-aged before her time.

However, into her life comes David Rossitur, a young man who she takes in on a rainy night. Rossitur is deeply committed to social reform, and quite by chance Mary has read one of his pamphlets a fortnight earlier, but completely dismissed his ideas. Encountering the man and his ideas himself is a different matter and Mary finds her life strongly influenced, much to the dismay of her cousins and the surrounding community.

Apparently there is a biography of Holtby published by Virago; I would certainly like to read this now to find out more about her life as both writer and social reformist.

Just the one cover above. I definitely think that this should be a candidate for Virago to re-issue.

Thursday 1 October 2009

Holtby : South Riding 273, The Crowded Street 66.

I started reading Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby last night, but didn't quite finish it, so I thought it might be appropriate in the meantime to write about the two other Holtby novels published as Virago modern classics which I have already read; South Riding and The crowded street.

I read South Riding many years ago. I had come across Winifred Holtby through Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth (which I shall have to blog about sometime soon as it is also published as a VMC), and then later Brittain's Testament of Friendship, and so when I spotted South Riding in the library I borrowed it to find out more about this author. I loved the novel, Holtby's last and often suggested to be her finest, very much indeed. Set in the 1930s, the book is the tale of a provincial English community, strongly influenced by Holtby's socialist values. There is also a film apparently, which I have not seen - has anyone?

I came across The crowded Street through the Persephone imprint; perusing their catalogue it sounded like an interesting title by an author who I had already enjoyed. I was restrained and borrowed a copy (neither a Virago or Persephone edition I'm afraid) from the library.
Claire from Paperback reader wrote about it earlier this year, and having read her review I remembered how much I had enjoyed it, and The crowded Street got added to my wish-list of books. I will let you read her review for a description of the novel. Of course I'd love to own it in both Persephone and Virago editions, as I love the illustration on the green cover, but love the Persephone endpapers.

There are two covers for South Riding. I noted the other day when writing about Mrs Miniver that Virago had reused the same image for both green editions of the title and thought this unusual; however the same is true here, so it may be more common than I thought. Just the one edition for The crowded street.