Saturday, 30 January 2010

This week's acqusition

Just one new VMC entering my flat this week - Mr Skeffington by Elizabeth Von Arnim. I'm planning to give up buying books for February and March as part of a frugal and lenten season, so this will impact of my VMC acquisitions! I'm hoping that friends will continue to be as kind in lending me books. I have had a last "binge" of Amazon marketplacing, so there should be some acqusitions to talk about next week, and you can read about my frugal february over on my other blogs. I'm planning to create a wish-list gadget on the side of this blog to list all of the VMCs that I come across and want to read but am unable to buy!

Friday, 29 January 2010

Four frightened people (Robertson) 84

Four frightened people by Robertson has been languishing on the TBR for a while, so I thought it was time to read it. It has an interesting premise, but I have to say that like the other Robertson that I have read (Ordinary Families) it didn't really grip me. The book tells the story of four English people who are on a slow boat making its way from England to Singapore when the plague breaks out. The captain tries to hush up the outbreak, but the four are concerned, and decide to make a journey overland to some sort of safety rather than risk staying on the ship. The majority of the book is devoted to a description of their passage through the jungle and the development of a relationship between two of the four, Judy and Arnold. I was interested to find out how the story ended (I won't spoil it in case you want to read it) but didn't especially enjoy getting there.

That just leaves Cullum by Robertson to read before I have completed this author as part of the challenge! Only once published by Virago, it has the above cover fitting into the original green series of books.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Letty Fox: her luck (Stead) 4

Having loved Stead's For love alone, I had high hopes for Letty Fox: her luck. Another chunky VMC, it was very different for For love alone, and also to the Salzburg Tales. This time set predominantly in New York, it tells the story of Letty, and her quest to find a husband. Why is Letty so determined to find a partner? A large part of the book is devoted to her early life, and somewhat mixed up family circumstances. Yet somehow Letty manages to keep sabotaging her chances of marriage. I have read elsewhere on the internet that this book could be read as "early chick-lit", anticipating the concerns of contemporary women, but I feel there are other books of the period which also do that.

Ultimately this book didn't do it for me - there are many other VMCs set in New York which I have preferred, and it just didn't hold my attention in the way that For love alone did. It doesn't put me off Stead, but I will be interested to see what the rest of her novels are like, and whether or not they absorb me in the way that For love alone did, or leave me cold.

Just published once by Virago, with this cover above. I'll happily pass this novel on to anyone else who wants to give it a go - just leave a message in the comments!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Blue skies and Jack and Jill (Hodgman)

Helen Hodgman isn't an author I've come across before, but apparently she was quite well known in the 1970s, winning the Somerset Maugham prize. Originally from Colchester in England, she then moved to Tasmania, where she spent the 1960s and 1970s, from which period these two novellas were written and set in.

Blue skies tells the tale of a housewife living in the suburbs. An otherwise dull suburban existence is actually more multi-dimensional than it seems at first - the housewife is having several affairs..there is suicide, and there is murder.

Jack and Jill tells the story of a little girl who's mother dies. She and her father make a hand-to-mouth existence. Then Jack appears and is taken in by the pair, and he provides a focus to Jill's existence through the rest of her life. He provides a link to home after her father dies, and when she leaves Australia for England, but their relationship is somewhat disturbing, and does not end happily.

I found both of the novellas reasonably interesting, but not a favourite VMC read. Of the two I preferred Jack and Jill, but I don't think I am hugely keen to read any more of Helen Hodgman.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The golden spur (Powell)

Set in New York, The golden spur, is the story of Jonathan Jamieson who leaves Ohio on a quest to find his father. He believes that the man who he grew up thinking of his father was not actually his real father because he is too boring, and wonders if his mother may have had an affair with a painter or some other man, particularly since he was born only 6.5 months after his parents were married. Along the way he becomes involved in New York life, living in a studio apartment with two girls that he meets at the club, the Golden Spur. Although Jonathan's quest for his father was interesting, tracking down people who is mother once knew, what I liked most about the book was the description of life in New York. The ending was somewhat ambiguous.

Just published the once with this cover, I picked my copy up for £1 in a cheap second hand bookshop near Notting Hill.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Gone to earth (Webb) 17

I picked up Precious Bane in the Borders closing down sale, and although I have yet to read it, when I spotted a copy of Mary Webb's Gone to earth in the library this week I thought I would give that a go (I think the principle being that if I have read a library copy then I might be less likely to buy it when I see it!).

This is a rural story, telling the tale of Hazel, an 18 year old living with her father in remote Shropshire. We learn about Hazel's rather weird existence, for example, adopting an orphaned fox cub, and her father's desire for her to be married to the first-comer. Hazel does not really believe that this will happen, and is surprised when Edward pursues her. They marry, but the relationship is more like one of brother/sister. The local squire Jack Reddin arrives on the scene and awakens her sexuality.

I reasonably enjoyed it, although it wasn't one of my favourite VMCs by any means, and I shall certainly be interested to read Precious Bane in due course now

This was one of the quite early VMCs, and has been published 4 times with 4 different covers (all above)

Saturday, 23 January 2010

This week's acquisitions (and two loans!)

Two acquisitions arrived in the post this week - Enid Bagnold's The happy foreigner and EH Young's The Curate's Wife. I've already read and enjoyed the former (review in due course), and the latter is something I've wanted to read for a while.

Two books also arrived as a test-drive/loan; Hayley from Desperate Reader kindly offered to lend me books from her Virago collection. She sent me a long list and I picked out a couple of titles which I hadn't heard of and which sounded intriguing. I ended up with Pirates at play and A fine of two hundred francs. Hayley hasn't read either of these, so I'm giving them a test drive and will be writing about them in due course. Thank you very much Hayley!

Friday, 22 January 2010

The pastor's wife (von Arnim)

I have been looking forward to reading von Arnim's books since beginning this challenge as I would consider her to be one of the stalwart Virago Modern Classics authors. I have both Elizabeth and her German garden, and The enchanted April, but I actually started with one of her lesser known novels - The pastor's wife. What an absolutely fantastic read!

The story opens with the heroine Ingeborg going to London to have a tooth looked at. The treatment takes less time than anticipated, so rather than returning home to her pretty frustrating life supporting her father, a bishop, when she sees an advert for an excursion to Lucerne in Switzerland, she makes a spur of the minute decision to go. I thought this was perhaps one of the best openings to a book that I have ever read and made me really warm to Ingeborg. On the tour, she is befriended by a german pastor, who by the end of the week proposes marriage to her! Ingeborg is a little bewildered by his conception of marriage which doesn't seem to revolve around love, but nonetheless accepts him by the end of the trip as he seems to offer an escape from her life with her parents. She returns home, and her parents are absolutely horrified (I also loved this bit - it made me laugh and cross my fingers and wonder what would happen) but the marriage goes ahead. The rest of the book tells the story of Ingeborg's life as a Pastor's Wife. Sadly, this occupation is not much better than being a bishop's daughter; her husband becomes remote and she bears endless children. When Edward, a painter, begins to pay her attention, it is inevitable that she will be swept off her feet...

I absolutely can't wait to read more von Arnim, although I will obviously be saving The enchanted April for April. Any recommendations as to which I should go for next?

Two Virago editions - I own the original green one.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Not so quiet (Zennor Smith)

I have Cath of Read_Warbler to thank for this wonderful recommendation (which is very well reviewed here) which I greatly enjoyed reading.

Telling the story of Helen, an ambulance driver during the First World War, the book is set in France on the battlefield. Whilst many wartime memoirs often paint a somewhat cosy picture of everyone pulling together and a certain amount of enjoyment coming out of the comraderie and sense of a job well done, this book is harrowing and shows how dangerous work as an ambulance driver on the Western front really was. Not only do the girls cope with long shifts and very little sleep, they are also subject to the petty whims of the camp commandent known as The Bitch who seems to specialise in victimisation for small misdemeanours. Other things seem ridiculous - despite there being 40 ambulance drivers, cocoa is only ever made for 30, meaning that the last 10 drivers struggling in in the small hours have to do without. The girls survive on packages from home since the cook is incapable of cooking food that does not poison them. On the other hand, the girls relied on the support from their friendships to cheer them up, but the picture painted is one of unremitting hard work and horrific conditions.

I especially liked the style of writing, which was a bit stream of consciousnesslike and really added to the immediacy of the scenes that were being described:

As Cath explained in her review, the book feels like it is an autobiography, when actually it is a work of fiction. The author (actually the journalist Evadne Price) had been asked to write a spoof on All quiet on the western front, but had thought that this was inappropriate, and so ended up writing this book instead to comment on the horrific nature of the war.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

My Antonia (Cather)

Cather is an author I have got around to reading solely because of the VVV challenge, and what a wonderful author she is. I have really enjoyed the other two novels I have read by her, and was looking forward to reading My Antonia, which is perhaps her most well known novel so when I spotted a lovely old green edition in Oxfam I snapped it up.

My Antonia has the feel of The little house on the prairie to it, giving a wonderful insight into many aspects of pioneer life. The story is told by Jim Burden; aged 10 and recently orphaned, he moves to live with his grandparents in Nebraska, and much of the book is about his experience of the different way of life. He meets Antonia, a 14-year old Bohemian who has recently moved with her parents to the USA. Their friendship forms the basis for the book and runs through it. Jim teaches Antonia to read and right but her education is suddenly cut short when her father commits suicide and she is forced to go out to work.

I thought this book was incredibly vivid and can see why this book has been described as a classic. An absolute VMC must-read.

This book has been published four times by Virago. I picked up a copy of the earliest edition which I think has my favourite cover of the four.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A suppressed cry (Glendinning)

I read this book a little while ago, having picked it up in Oxfam due to its green spine. I didn't realise that it was actually a Modern Classic until I spotted it quite by chance on my master list.

This book is a memoir of Glendinning's great-aunt, Winnie Seebohm. Despite suffering from great ill-health (she died at 22), she was one of the first female students at Newnham College, Cambridge in 1885. I found it a wonderful tale, very inspiring, but at the same time hugely tragic - it was fascinating to read about early student life for women, something that we all take for granted today, but so sad that so much potential should be lost.

Just published once, this is the edition that I have. (You may have spotted that Glendinning has written introductions to a number of the VMCs)

Monday, 18 January 2010

The land of green ginger (Holtby)

I treated myself to The land of green ginger during the holidays as I had enjoyed other books by Holtby, and thought that I would enjoy this. Set in North Riding, the landscapes and descriptions of the surroundings were very similar to other Holtby books, as was the recurring theme of socialism - it is interesting to see how Holtby uses her novel writing as a vehicle for promoting her views.

It tells the story of Joanna Burton, who as a child dreamed of living in the far off lands of Africa. When she meets Teddy, who claims that he has "been given the world as a golden ball to wear on a chain", she decides to marry him as he seems to offer the best chance of achieving a life of adventure. Unfortunately things do not work out like that and Joanna ends up as mother and farmer's wife in North Riding leading an impoverished existence that is about as far from her dreams as possible. Teddy suffers from TB and is not an easy husband. The whole book is a journey with Joanna as we wonder whether she will ever get to escape the English fog for the African sun.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

New acquisitions

I have to say that the snow is fatal for purchasing books...walking everywhere rather than going by bike makes it far easier to stop off in a bookshop. These four books were purchased last Saturday en route to work in the Oxfam Bookshop on St. Giles - all lovely old green editions.

* Life before man (Atwood). I have yet to read any Atwood for this challenge, although I have read her work before which divides into stuff which I don't enjoy (the more sci-fi) and the stuff which I do (the other stuff). I think this will fall into the latter category.
* The pastor's wife (von Arnim). As yet still to read any von Arnim, but she is a staple VMC author
* The ghostly lover (Hardwick). I got confused and thought that Hardwick was someone I wanted to read more of, when in fact when I reviewed Sleepless Nights I wrote that I wouldn't be rushing to read any more of her. Still this, and the other title I purchased look interesting, so I will be glad to see if I enjoy them a bit more.
* The simple truth (Hardwick) - see above.

PS: I haven't mentioned it here, but you may have noticed on my other blog that I picked up some Viragoes while I was in London the other week (shhhhhhh)....
- Two days in Aragon (Keane)
- My friend says its bullet-proof (Mortimer) (have already read this one but love the cover!)
- Blue skies and Jack and Jill
- The sheltered life (Glasgow)
- A jest of god (Laurence)
- The golden spur (Powell)
All picked up for around £1!

Friday, 15 January 2010

George beneath a paper moon (Bawden)

I have really enjoyed reading Nina Bawden books during my VVV, and this one, read shortly before Christmas didn't disappoint me. The George of the title is a travel agent, who remains convinced that he is the father of the daughter of his best friends, Sam and Claire. After the daughter's birth, he married, and tried to avoid thinking about things too much, but when the daughter grows up into an attractive young woman, things become more difficult. This book, like Bawden's other books, is a wonderful insight both into character and into the lies and fictions that people weave around their lives, and it is this element of psychology which makes it such a fascinating read.

Like most of Bawden's novels, this has only been published by Virago once, with the cover above, which I own.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The dud avocado (Dundy)

As an avocado eater, who hates the problem of getting the avocado to the correct ripeness, and detests either those which are too squidgy or rock hard (usually it has to be said the latter, when impatience gets the better of me!), I couldn't resist this title, and would have probably bought it anyway even if it hadn't been a VMC.

The book tells the story of Sally Jay, an American who has come to 1950s Paris to experience the French lifestyle, and to pursue a stage career. She spends her time flitting around cafes and falling in love. I was a little disappointed by this book as it was very American; I was anticipating a sort of French coming of age story, but this could easily have been set in New York. I didn't feel that Sally Jay ever really experienced France as much as she could have. And ultimately this is the case; at the end of the book Sally Jay returns to America and finds that actually this is where she belongs.

I shall be interested to see how the follow up, The old man and me, also published as a VMC compares. Two Virago editions; mine, purchased in the Waterstones 3 for 2 earlier this year, is the more recent bottom one.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The misses Mallet (Young)

I received The misses Mallett as part of a wonderful surprise Christmas gift from Maren who reads this blog, and it was my first VMC of 2010. It is the slightly Jane Austen-esque tale of four unmarried women - Sophia and Caroline, middle aged spinsters, and their younger step-sister Rose, and their niece Henrietta, who comes to live with them halfway through the story after her mother dies. Neither Rose nor Henrietta are very happy with the idea of spinsterhood and devote their energies to trying to escape it, both trying to win over Francis Sale, a local gentleman.

There's just the one VMC cover, above, but my copy was actually a Dial Press edition - same picture but with black instead of green.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Nightingale Wood (Gibbons)

Nightingale Wood was the only VMC that I read whilst in Austria, and it was an absolutely perfect winter holiday read. I never really enjoyed Cold Comfort Farm, but I read a number of reviews on blogs when Nightingale Wood was republished by Virago that were enough to tempt me to get hold of a copy of this to read. It just took me six months to get around to doing so...

It was worth waiting for. Nightingale Wood is the story of the Withers family, particularly daughters Madge and Tina, and the impact of the arrival of their penniless, widowed sister in law Viola on their household. There is plenty of romantic interest - Tina falls in love with the chauffeur whilst learning to drive, and Viola falls for the local squire. In some ways this was very Jane Austen-esque - a comedy of manners and social situations, but I found it witty and entertaining and very readable. I especially loved the miserly character of Mr Withers - whilst his penny-pinching annoyed the family, it envelops the whole story, and the reader is left wondering whether he will win through or whether the women will actually be able to get what they want.

Just the one VMC cover, above. I do hope that Virago consider republishing some more of Gibbon's books - I shall definitely start to look out for her again, and maybe even re-attempt Cold Comfort Farm.

Monday, 11 January 2010

For love alone (Stead) 5

I wrote about the Salzburg tales just before I broke for Christmas, but actually my first Christina Stead was For love alone, an absolutely fantasticly chunky book with an extremely engrossing plot. Unusually, it took me three days to read, partly because there was so much of it, but also because the story broke down into distinct sections (although there were no part numbers, just the usual chapters), and I wanted to savour the different parts to the story.

For love alone is the story of Teresa. Set initially in Australia, we meet Teresa. Brought up in a family where she recieves little emotional affection, she nonetheless believes that love is the most important goal in life. On reaching adulthood, she becomes a teacher, and starts evening classes in Latin. She inevitably falls in love with her tutor, Jonathan Crow, and is devastated when he goes to England to pursue his academic career. However, the pair keep in touch, by letters which take three months to reach each other, and Teresa sets on saving enough money to follow him over there. She takes a job in a factory, and virtually starves herself in order to reach her goal within three years. Her focus is amazing, but it is the thought of love which drives her. After arriving in London however, it seems that Crow is no longer very interested - Teresa is not as he imagined her anymore. Devastated she is forced to try to make her own life. Eventually, she DOES meet a man who is worthy of love, and finally grows to understand what love means, but it has been a very long journey.

I would highly recommend this VMC if you come across it - gripping and beautifully written! There are loads more Christina Steads on the VMC list, so I am definitely looking forward to them.

Two Virago covers, unusually both in the original green format. My copy is the later one with the photograph which I really like, and prefer to the original.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Some new acquisitons

Just before Christmas, I was lucky enough to acquire three more VMCs for my collection. The first two, Precious bane and Peyton Place, were 40% off in the closing down sale at Borders - I've heard good things about both of these - I think they could be considered Classic Virago Modern Classics if there is such a thing. The enchanted April was kindly sent to me by Virago following a conversation on twitter (do follow both @ViragoBooks and myself @verityjdo if you are on twitter). I will probably save that to read in April for obvious reasons...

When I returned from my holiday, I was lucky enough to discover a parcel waiting for me from a friend from librarything - Maren had kindly sent me these two lovely VMCs (including one of the exotic dialpress editions)
So, an ready to continue my VVV in 2010!