Monday, 30 November 2009

A touch of mistletoe (Comyns) 308

Another book, kindly lent to me by Simon, was A touch of Mistletoe, and I have to say that it was an incredibly good read. It lacks the surrealism of some of her early books but is a wonderful "coming of age"/"story of a life" tale.

It tells the story of two girls, Blanche and Vicky, in the days after their grandfather dies. Left a small legacy they are able to escape their alcoholic mother and her frenetic housework. Blanche goes to London to train as a model, and Vicky goes to Holland to be an au pair. Neither works out successfully, and they end up living in London in one room together. Vicky attends art school, but then their money runs out and they live a hand-to-mouth existence subsisting on cabbage and cheap biscuits. A procession of husbands and lovers ensure as we follow the girls through their lives and experiences.

Just the one Virago cover above - I am definitely adding this to my wishlist!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

New acquisition

One new acquisition of late, it actually arrived a few weeks ago but I didn't get around to mentioning it. I can't actually say anything else as it was kindly sent to me by Virago and is under embargo until the middle of next week.

Intrigued?! Come back on Thursday 3rd and you'll be able to see my review!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Sleepless nights (Hardwick) 41

I was pleased to be offered a lend of one of Simon's recent purchases Sleepless nights by Elizabeth Hardwick because at the time I was suffering from dreadful insomnia! Unfortunately I was sleeping better by the time that I started reading it as it would have been a good cure for insomnia. I struggled to get into it.

The book was essential a series of reflections on a woman's life. I think this quote which I took from library thing sums up how I felt:

"Sleepless Nights feels as if someone had written the most vivid and witty of diaries for several decades, then ripped out all the pages and tossed them into the air. The reader wanders into this experiment in Dada with Hardwick, picking up a moment here, an encounter there, trying to make meaning out of seemingly random conjunctions."

I'm intrigued by the title of one of her other books The Ghostly Lover, but I have to say I won't be rushing to read it.

Two Virago editions of this work - Simon lent me the earlier one.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The skin chairs (Comyns) 224

I was especially excited to be lent The skin chairs by Barbara Comyns by Simon (from Stuck in a book) because Comyns has been one of my great finds of this year and I have hugely enjoyed her other VMCs.

The skin chairs did not disappoint me. It was not as surreal as some of Comyns work, and unlike her early books, it was properly spelt and punctuated, so it turned out to be a really good read. Like some of her other books it gives a wonderful insight into the world of adults.

It tells the story of 10-year-old Frances and her mother and siblings after her father dies and they undergo a huge change in their circumstances. Initially, they are taken in by relations, but then move to a much smaller house and struggle to live on a tiny income without the maids and help that they are accustomed to. Much of the book describes the episodes resulting from their new life.

And what of the skin chairs?

' "Could I see the chairs, please?" . . . "Chairs, chairs. What does the child mean?" . . . Oh, she means the chairs in your hall, the ones your husband had covered with skin. I'm afraid she is a morbid little thing." She giggled and bounced about on her rickety chair'

One of France's neighbours owns a set of chairs which are covered with human skin - one from a white man, and the rest from black men. Frances is absolutely horrified but also fascinated by this, and later brings back a friend to see them. The chairs recurr throughout the book - when the neighbour dies and his house is sold, the contents are also sold to the new owner, Mr Blackwell. The chairs are banished to the loft. France's mother eventually marries Mr Blackwell and Frances moves to the house containing the chairs. She decides to deal with them ad the book closes with her giving the chairs a funeral.

Just the one Virago edition above.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Tea at four o'clock (McNeil) 275

Tea at four o'clock was kindly lent to me by Simon from Stuck-in-a-book and was an unexpectedly delightful read.

We meet Laura, the main protagonist just after her sister Mildred has died. Laura has nursed Mildred for many years, and even after death remains under the shadow. The book tells the story of both Laura's life and of what she will do next; the former being strongly influential on the latter. Laura's estranged brother George, the black sheep of the family, materialises and offers Laura hospitality, but turns out to be predominantly interested in Laura's money. We learn quite why Laura spent so long nursing a sister whom she didn't especially care for - a huge sense of guilt, over what is revealed by George to have been a completely mistaken belief.

And why the title? Until Mildred's death Laura was bound by the ritual of Mildred liking tea at 4. She used to have to rush home from an outing to town or cut short domestic chores in order to be there to pour the tea. With Mildred dead, Laura's freedom is symbolised by the fact that she is no longer constrained by this.

I know Janet McNeill as the author of the children's book The battle of St George without, which my Mum read as a little girl. This is the only book of hers published as a VMC, but I must have a look to see if she has written any more adult fiction.

Just the one VMC edition above.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Plagued by the nightingale (Boyle) 47

I'm using the Teaser Tuesday format to blog about this book:

"The feeling of relinquishment in here was foul as a rat-trap and stiff and relentless there like a dried bouquet. This is what becomes of idleness, she thought in anger. She wanted the whole summer back again to make it all anew. Why am I having these bunches of old lavender, these dried knots of garlic infecting the thoughts I have? Why this chop suey mess of uncertainty in me?"

Written originally in 1930, this was published by Virago in 1981, and the same cover has been used for two different editions. I own the earlier one (top)

Monday, 23 November 2009

Winter Sonata (Edwards) 205

I wish I had managed to restrain myself from starting Winter Sonata so soon, as set over the months November to March with a Christmas interlude, this would have made perfect Christmas reading fodder. However, the weather when I read it was cold and wet and definitely wintry, so the book fitted the bill perfectly. And I would strongly recommend this book for a winter-time read.

To me, this book felt like a mixture of Jane Austen and Cranford, only brought into the 1920s. Set in a village with a wonderful cast of characters, I could just imagine this being filmed by the BBC. The book tells the stories of a number of the village's inhabitants, centring around Mr Nettles, who has recently moved into the village with his cello and works at the Post Office. One day he sees the beautiful Olivia from the window. Her family invite him for tea and he makes friends with Olivia and her sister Eleanor and their cousin George. Mr Nettles falls in love with Olivia. At the same time we follow the story of the family with whom Mr Nettles lodges with, particularly the teenage daughter of the family Pauline who is the despair of her mother, with a keen interest in boys although she also sings beautifully. It is a book about loneliness and the importance of relationships and attempts to form relationships in order to overcome loneliness.

I was sad to read that this was the only novel published by Edwards. Rhapsody, a collection of short stories, is also published as a Virago Modern Classic, but Edwards committed suicide at the early age of 33 due to struggles with her writing. Very sad indeed.

Just the one Virago edition, above.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Hunt the slipper (Trefusis) 122

Hunt the slipper was one of the titles lent to me by Simon.

This was a short novel, almost a romantic comedy, telling of the entanglements and relationships of various people. Nigel lives with his sister Molly, and one day meets his new neighbour Anthony who has just married Caroline, a girl many years his junior. When Nigel ends up crossing paths with the pair again in Paris, Nigel falls in love with Caroline, and they begin an affair. The remainder of the book is about the affair; Nigel's obsession with Caroline and determination to get her for himself, and Caroline's struggle between her loyalty for Anthony and her desire to be with Nigel as well as with the fact that divorce would be scandalous.

"I want to make sacrifices for you, Nigel. I want to throw everything away for your sake.........I wish we had to work, work hard. I wish I could have a child by you. You think that the lover has the romantic part. You're wrong: a lover, the sort of lover you'd be if I let you is a convention. But what is not a convention is a husband who is a lover. You would be that kind of husband. Oh, can't you see that it's your duty towards yourself, towards me, to run away with me and marry me".

Trefusis was famous apparently (I didn't know this!) for her love affair with Vita Sackville West so it is appropriate that Virago also publish some of her work. Finding this out reminded me that I would love to learn more about V SW so I am on the lookout for a biography which will hopefully enable me to find out some more about Trefusis too. Apparently the relationship between Nigel and Caroline in the book can be seen also as the relationship between Violet and Vita.

Just the one Virago cover above. Virago also publish Trefusis' novel Pirates at play (sounds like a fun title!).

Some titles on loan

As you all know, I have given up book-buying for 6 months (and dare I say, I'm doing rather well). of course this is helped immensely by the library, gifts from publishers, and items on loan from friends. Simon from Stuck-in-a-book, has lent me a clutch of lovely VMCs which will be featuring on my blog over the next month (because 1. I don't really have any space to keep them and 2. It would be churlish and ungrateful not to read them as soon as possible and 3. They are all titles that I'm keen to read).

Simon has kindly lent me:
Tea at four o'clock (Janet McNeill)
Sleepless nights (Elizabeth Hardwick)
A touch of mistletoe (Comyns)
The skin chairs (Comyns)
Hunt the slipper (Violet Trefusis)

As you can see they are all in lovely original green editions, so this is a real treat - thanks Simon!

Friday, 20 November 2009

The comforters (Spark) 542

The comforters is Spark's first novel, and it certainly sets the scene for the rather post-modernist novels which followed. Apparently very much based on Spark's own life and experiences it tells the story of Caroline Rose who is plagued by hearing voices and the sound of typewriter keys, and believes that she is actually in a novel :'it is as if a writer on another plane of existence was writing a story about us'. There is a wonderful cast of other characters, such as Laurence, her former lover, who is the grandson mentioned in the Tuesday teaser , who lives with his grandmouth and wonders whether she might be a smuggler after discovering diamonds in a loaf of bed. Like many of Spark's other novels, the plot is not the central element - rather it is the opportunity to explore the meaning of writing and what it is to be written about - and it is the way in which Spark describes her characters which make it so memorable.

I hope you enjoyed the Muriel Spark themed posts this week, and big thanks to Virago for sending me the copies which I have written about. One thing that has been mentioned in the comments is the hope for Virago to republish more of Sparks works - I would concur with this sentiment, but I suspect that Virago do not have the rights to all of the books. Another thing that I have been asked is which Spark novel is my favourite; unfortunately my two favourite Sparks novels are ones which I have not mentioned this week because they have not been published by Virago - they are The prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The girls of slender means.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Loitering with intent (Spark) 527

Loitering with intent was the other VMC Spark title that was new to me this week, and it was another very typical Spark novel, although I didn't quite enjoy it as much as A far cry from Kensington. It is the story of Fleur Talbot, who works as a secretary for the Autobiographical Association (a body which collects people's memoirs as they are written, and keeps them for 70 years until the people mentioned in the memoirs have all died and can be safely published). At the same time Fleur is trying to get her own book, Warrender Chase, published. Like other Spark books this combines both comedy and mystery - after Fleur's manuscript is stolen, events in her life and at the Autobiographical Association start to mirror the novel surprisingly closely.

I enjoyed the story, and as usual Spark's depiction of the characters, but I can't help feeling that some of the subtleties of the novel may have been lost on me; it made me think about the process of fiction and wonder whether the novel was imitating life, or life was imitating the novel, but I never really came to a conclusion on that. However, it did offer an insight into the mind of an author, and I wondered if this perhaps was giving me an insight into the mind of Muriel Spark.

Have any of you read this? And what thoughts did you have about it?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Symposium (Spark) 526

One of Spark's later novels, this was written in 1991. The title, and the book itself is a nod to the title of the same name by Plato, written 1600 years earlier, which involves a series of discourses by characters, telling a number of stories within stories. In contrast to Plato's novel however, which dealt predominantly with love, Spark's Symposium deals with the more negative emotion of malice and the issue of motive.

You can read an extract from the novel here.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The comforters (Spark) 542

A Tuesday teaser:

"I'll have a large wholemeal. I've got my grandson stopping for a week who's on the BBC...he won't eat white bread, one of his fads".

Monday, 16 November 2009

A far cry from Kensington (Spark)

I had not previously read A far cry from Kensington so I was delighted to be reading a new Muriel Spark, and I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I would concur with Kimbofo's review here that:

"To say I was utterly charmed by it would probably be an understatement. This is a deliciously enjoyable story that is so perfectly constructed it's almost impossible to find fault with it -- on any level. The prose is simple, the characters believable and the plot expertly drawn, so that you're never quite sure where it's going to take you and then feel overwhelmingly satisfied when you arrive at its destination."

The book tells the story of Mrs Hawkins, looking back 30 years to her life in South Kensington in the 1950s, as a young widow of 28, and the people and incidents in it. Living in a "rooming house" (a large house divided between landlady and lodgers), she encountered a number of interesting characters. About half of the book is devoted to description of this part of her life; we meet Wanda, the polish dressmaker who is being blackmailed and later commits suicide, Isabel, her younger neighbour who becomes pregnant and whose father tries to pursue Mrs Hawkins. the landlady Milly. The other half of the book concerns Mrs Hawkin's career in publishing and gives a witty insight into the industry; we see her dealing with manuscripts, undertaking editing and then proof reading.

I loved Spark's descriptions of the characters, and the episodic format of the plot and truly this was a hugely enjoyable read. I am very glad that Virago obtained the rights to re-publish this, especially as it also came out in one of the lovely hardback editions (see below), which I would love to lay my hands on to accompany my paperback.

Muriel Spark week

As you may remember, Sophie from Virago very kindly sent me a set of the Sparknovels which have been republished recently as Modern Classics, and I decided that it would be nice to have a Muriel Spark week on the blog.

So, do stop by this week when I will be re-reading Symposium and The Comforters and reading A far cry from Kensington and Loitering with intent.

I would also recommend the new biography of Muriel Spark by Martin Stannard which gives an excellent account of her life and an insight into the woman behind her writing.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

New acquisition

Thanks to Sophie from Virago for sending me the latest Barbara Pym. I wrote about Pym earlier in the year and am excited that there has been another addition to the set. I've already read this one, but it was one of my favourites and I am looking forward to rereading it.

I believe that Virago will be bringing out Less than angels in April to add to the collection.

Friday, 13 November 2009

The brimming cup (Canfield) 254

After discussing Canfield's The home-maker, published by Persephone books, with a friend yesterday, and talking about Her Son's wife (a VMC Canfield), I couldn't resist grabbing The brimming cup from the VMC TBRs to see what that was like. I loved The home-maker, and enjoyed Her son's wife (though not quite as much), so I had high hopes for this title.

The book is the narrative of the life of Marise, a wife and mother living in Vermont. We meet her first in a prologue as she has just become engaged to her husband, and then officially several years later when she is sending off her youngest child for his first day of school. This event, as for many mothers, causes her to reassess her life. The book progresses through the next year, witnessing the changing seasons in their small town, and describing the outlook of Marise and various other characters - children, husband, neighbours. We learn that Marise thinks life in a small town is better than in the cities and the book explains her reasons why.

Unfortunately for me this title didn't live up to the two other Canfield's that I have read. I was certainly in the mood for her gentle writing style, but I think I found that the book was a bit too heavy on description and a lot lighter on plot than the two previous books.

Only one Virago edition, an original green cover, above, which I own. (Intriguingly, when I googled it to look for pictures I found that it is available for download onto Kindle! I'm not sure if this is the VMC edition though, and it certainly wouldn't come with a green cover).

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Their eyes were watching God (Hurston) 199

I first came across Their eyes were watching God earlier in the year, when I was eye-ing up the gorgeous 30-year anniversary hardbacks produced by Virago - they'd been out a little while but had only just caught my attention. This was one of the only ones I hadn't read, but looking at it, I was intimidated by the dialect used by Hurston which I thought would make it difficult to read. I later obtained a copy of the first green edition through a bundle of books bought on ebay, but I put it on one side to read later. The other week I read and greatly enjoyed Daddy was a number runner fitting into a genre of books about the Harlem renaissance about which I knew very little and Claire, from Paperback reader pointed out that the forerunner to these books was the title I had on one side.

Once I started it, I felt sorry that I had been putting it off for so long. Far from making it difficult to read, the use of "Ebonics" (thanks again to Claire for introducing me to this concept, which refers to vernacular language used by African Americans) added an extra dimension to the writing and made the prose look extremely lyrical, as this passage where Janie talks about love demonstrates:

"Love ain't somethin' lak uh grindstone dat's de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore"

The book tells the story of Janie, raised by her grandmother in Florida just after the end of slavery but before the start of the civil rights movement. Her grandmother marries her off at an early age, believing that this is the only way to avoid trouble with boys and to keep her "chaste". But this first marriage is loveless and soon her husband stops treating her well. So when her grandmother dies, she runs off with another man, Joe Sparks. He takes her away to a new town, inhabited only by blacks, and sets up a store and becomes the town mayor. He gives Janie everything that she wants, but as Joe Sparks becomes more and more involved in the running of the town he has less and less time for Janie. He becomes ill, and whilst Janie at first nurses him, he gradually refuses to allow her into his sickroom, and dies. For a time, Janie runs the store herself, adjusting to life alone, with little interest in meeting another man. But then "Tea cake" comes into her life and she finally has a fulfilling relationship which does not diminish her self-worth.

It is a hugely intriguing read dealing with all sorts of issues; the role and status of women, the issue of race (Janie is a fair-skinned black woman), and the whole culture of the period - so absolutely fascinating as well as a beautifully written and enthralling story.

Anyway, there are three Virago editions, two in green, and one in Anniversary hardback, which I am now coveting... I see that Virago have published Jonah's Gourd Vine by Hurston as well, so I look forward to encountering that.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Harriet Hume (West) 34

Last week I went to London for the day, so I picked up some London-themed reading from my VMC pile. Harriet Hume by Rebecca West is set predominantly in Kensington and is subtitled "A London fantasy".

The book is about two characters, Harriet, a pianist with powers of intiution, and Arnold, an ambitious and aspiring politician who is effectively Harriet's opposite. We first meet them after they have been making love in Harriet's flat, which provided a delightful start to the novel. However, Harriet's power to read Arnold's mind means that she discovers that even though they have just had a wonderful time together, his career is far more important to him, and reluctantly she lets him walk out of her life. The pair meet again several times, 6 years later, and 20 years later. Arnold's career is now in ruins, and he blames Harriet for not sharing any intuitive knowledge of his downfall with him; he sets out to kill her...

While I quite enjoyed her Cousin Rosamund trilogy which I wrote about yesterday, I did not enjoy this one so much. The plot sounds interesting but the writing was not for me; there were many long "speeches" by the principle characters which went on for pages and pages, which just bored me. Harriet started to irritate me, and Arnold's thoughts on politics just annoyed me.

Just the one cover, above, which I rather liked as not only was it a nice painting, but it evoked the feeling of Harriet's rather haphazard living arrangements.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Rebecca West catch-up 143, 270, 303

Earlier in the year I read a trilogy of books by Rebecca West, known informally as The cousin Rosamund trilogy. It consists of The fountain overflows (probably one of the most well known of West's work), This real night and Cousin Rosamund.

It is a while since I read them so I shall content myself with showing you the covers, and asking if anyone has read any other Rebecca West novels as there are a number published as VMCs.

The fountain overflows has been published four times:
This real night, published three times:
and Cousin Rosamund (which only seems to have been published twice in original green and more modern photograph):

Monday, 9 November 2009

She done him wrong (West) 401

Originally a play, then a film, and then a novel, She done him wrong went through a number of versions before it became the book that I read. I wanted to widen my VMC reading again, having enjoyed a couple of other non-English-middle-class VMCs recently, so I picked this one up from my VMC TBR. I had heard of Mae West as an actress and was surprised to tie her together with the author of this book, but the introduction by Kathy Lette explained that she wrote a number of plays and a couple of novels as well. She was famous for her curvaceous figure: during the Second World War soldiers called their inflatable life preservers "Mae Wests", partly because they were rhyming slang for breasts, but also because their shape resembled her body!

In fact, Mae West's theatrical background came out strongly in this novel; the scenes were vividly painted and the whole reminded me of a stage-show like Chicago.

She done him wrong is a story about Lil Diamond (namef from the diamonds she gains from suitors, since they are more valuable and reliable than men), a girl living in New York in the Gay Nineties; she sings and is surrounded by men and loosely involved in the trade of prostitutes. However, she falls in love with a Salvation Army Officer, Captain Cummings, and is determined to seduce him, despite the differences in their lifestyles.

Much more famous as a movie than the book, the book is full of the same wonderful one-liners that make the film so entertaining. Here's a quote (from the film!) where Diamond Lil (played by West) tries to get Cummings (played by Cary Grant) to come out on a date.

West: "Why don't you come up some time, see me? I'm here every night."
Grant: "Yeah, but I'm busy every night."
West: "What're you tryin' to do, insult me?... You can be had."

One of West's other novels, The constant sinner, is also published as a VMC and I will be interested to see how that compares.

Just the one VMC publication, in a green cover above. Definitely worth a read whether you've seen the film or not.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Manhattan when I was young (Cantwell) 478

What a fascinating read Manhattan when I was young was. It is a wonderfully elegant account of Cantwell's life in New York in the 1950s. She moved there just before she married her fiancee B, and started working on the magazine Mademoiselle, and was later to work for Vogue. The book is split into five sections, each of which correspond to a place where she lived in New York and outlining the events of her life which happened while she lives there. It gives the reader a real insight into life in the period.

Whilst much of Cantwell's life is entertaining and amusing, unfortunately it doesn't work out that way. She gets married, has two children, but then suffers considerable mental health problems, quitting her job and spending years in therapy. Marriage is somewhat loveless and Cantwell is racked with guilt about the thought of divorcing her husband, but this is inevitable.

This forms part of a trilogy of memoirs by Cantwell, including American Girl and Speaking with Strangers (none of the others are published as VMCs) and I am certainly interested to read more about her. Just the one VMC edition, above.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The wind changes (Manning) 302

The wind changes has been sitting on my VMC TBR for quite a while, so with less acquisitions coming in it was definitely time to give it a go. I had never read any Manning before this year - I was aware of her as the author of The Balkan Trilogy (not published as a VMC), but this has never hugely appealed. However, I read, and greatly enjoyed both of Manning's other VMCs, The play room and The Doves of Venus, as you found out from yesterday's post so I thought I should read The wind changes.

This is a book about a week in the life of three people in Dublin in 1921, following the Easter Rising. Riordan, an exiled leader of a group of Catholics is about to return, and Sean, Arion and Elizabeth await this event and form a "non-love" triangle. Elizabeth is a lonely painter who finds herself torn between Sean, a young Irish patriot and Arion, a pro Republican middle aged English novelist.

This was Manning's first novel but I'm afraid that I did not enjoy it as much as the other two which I had read.

Just the one VMC cover above (does anyone find the use of portraits of women to be getting a little repetitive?)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Shadow Dance (Carter) 442

Initially nervous about reading Angela Carter, I greatly enjoyed reading The magic toyshop back in August and I was quite looking forward (but still quite nervous about) to encountering her again. I found Shadow dance lurking at work when I was looking for a VMC to occupy me one lunchtime and thought that I would give that a go. This was Carter's first novel, and although I found it reasonably enjoyable, I was not gripped in the way that I had been by The magic toyshop. It will be interesting as I read more of Carter to see the development in her writing from this title.

There was a less clearly developed plot in this novel; I felt it was more a description of characters and episodes to illustrate the 1960s urban landscape. It was theatrical and like The magic toyshop, full of distinctive writing utilising fabulous description and imagery. I loved this passage at the beginning describing Ghislaine:

"she used to come here, every night; but she drank little - she only used to have her little half pint to last her a whole evening, a modest, temperate, unassuming half that she would buy for herself, to demonstrate her independence. She would use it to mark her place at a table when she made butterfly darts across the crowd to settle lightly at someone's table, smiling her tremulous, shy, disingenuous smile and saying "Hallooo" with the dying fall of an F.Scott Fitzgerald chick spinning giddily to hell; and she gathered them up in armfuls, her lovers, every night in the manner of a careless baby playing in a meadow, pulling both flowers and grass and nettles and piss-the-beds in a spilling promiscuous bundle"

It's been published a number of times as a VMC, but I've only been able to find a picture online of the most recent edition (above)
(if anyone can help with other pictures, then let me know and I will add them to this post or post about them in future!)

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Olivia Manning: The play room (148); Doves of Venus (149)

The play room is definitely my favourite of Manning's novels, perhaps because it is my favourite sort of story, that of a girl growing up and "coming of age". I love to read tales of other people's experiences, particularly the more unconventional ones, since my own childhood and teenagedom was really quite dull.
This novel is set in the 1960s by the seaside (perhaps this is another reason why I enjoyed it since I like to visit small seaside resorts) and deals with the life of Laura, who longs to grow up and move to London. One of the main threads through the book is her friendship with Vicky; initially Laura admires her from afar and is surprised when they become friends. Other threads in the story include sibling relationships and Laura's feeling that she is the unfavoured child, image and Laura's dissatisfaction with her looks, and mother-daughter relationships.
This certainly contains all the elements needed for an excellent "coming of age" story, so if you like that sort of thing that I would warmly recommend it.

The doves of venus seems almost to be the twin of The Playroom. Like Laura, the main protagonist Ellie grows up in a small seaside town and hopes to escape to London. Unlike Laura, she manages to make the move to London and we follow her life in the metropolis. To some extent it is what she hoped for, meeting a boyfriend, but at the same time she struggles to take advantage of all of the excitements available due to her limited income, frequently having to choose between having toast or cake when out in a tea shop. The boyfriend also is not what he seems - he is a man about town who goes around picking up young girls.

Unfortunately I don't have copies of either of these, I borrowed them from the library, but would love to add them to my collection should I ever spot them around. I would certainly swap my copy of The wind changes for either of them. I currently have another Manning book, The school of love, which is not a VMC on my TBR pile and having revisited these two books I am looking forward to it.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Well of loneliness (Radclyffe Hall) 76

I spotted this on the shelves at work and remembered that I had read it earlier in the year, and should thus write about it for the VVV.

I remember picking it out because I had heard that it was a ground breaking book and one which really seemed to embody the ideas behind the Virago Modern Classics series. It certainly was revolutionary; with its lesbian themes it was immediately banned in Britain and only available in the US after a long court battle.

It tells the story of a girl named Stephen born into a family in England at the beginning of the last century. Just this existence of a girl with a boy's name suggests that there is something abnormal going on. Stephen's father desperately wanted a son, hence the name. As Stephen grows up, she finds that she wants to be a boy, and in adulthood pursues a series of lesbian relationships. It is not a happy existence and we learn a lot about the problems of being homosexuality 100 years ago.

The good thing about resurrecting this book from my memory is that having consulted my list, I see that she wrote three further VMCs: The unlit lamp, Adam's breed and A Saturday life which I am definitely now on the look out for.

Four VMC covers - I borrowed the most recent one from the library.