Sunday, 28 February 2010

Bronte Virago Modern Classics 358, 357, 364,

Virago has published some of the Bronte's works as modern classics, just as they did with Jane Austen. The titles republished include Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte, Villette and by Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Unfortunately, despite an extensive trawl of the many editions featured on, the only VMC Bronte cover that I have come up with is this version of Agnes Grey.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Lost Booker

I recently reviewed The fire-dwellers and mentioned that it had been chosen for The lost booker longlist; there was in fact another Virago Modern Classic on the list - Nina Bawden's Birds on the trees. Virago have reprinted these, in their original covers, so they should be available, and I was kindly sent copies of the reprints. As I already own copies of these with the same covers, I thought I'd run a giveaway.

To enter, all you have to do is tell me in the comments which VMC you think is most worthy of winning the Booker prize and why. I'll be interested to see the answers, but the draw will be just a random draw of all entrants.

(I haven't quite decided whether to part with the originals or the reprints yet...)

Friday, 26 February 2010

Pirates at play (Trefusis) 416

From actual pirates, to a book with pirates in the title. In some ways, Pirates at Play by Trefusis, is similar to the other Trefusis book that I have read and reviewed for this project, Hunt the slipper. The introduction claims that "Pirates at Play" was an apt title for a novel by a social pirate who played with people and places on the page with the relentless fliratiousness that she applied to her own life", and like Hunt the slipper it is surely autobiographical.

A romantic comedy, set in the 1920s, it tells the story of Elizabeth Caracole who is sent to a Florentine family of a Papal count to be finished, joining another girl Vica, and her five brothers. It is hugely entertaining, for example, the book opens with Vica, one of the count's family, wondering whether they should create their own coat of arms, and what should appear on it. Since her father is also the papal dentist, she wonders if it should contain a tooth enclosed by the papal tiara!

So much of it was laugh out loud funny, such as when the Italians prepare for Elizabeth's arrival:
"I would remind you bambini," said Countess Papagalli, sentiously, that the English are inclined to be fussy about baths. Yes, I am well aware that your father sticks all his dental negatives on the walls of one bathroom and that Gina sleeps in the other".

I loved it - in fact I think I want to coin a new term to describe it (and hopefully other VMCs) - VMCC-lit - Virago Modern Classic Chick Lit - i.e. a frothy, entertaining but ultimately intelligent read.

According to the introduction, " "Pirates at Play" was an apt title for a novel by a social pirate who played with people and places on the page with the relentless fliratiousness that she applied to her own life"

Cindie (Devanny) 230

Cindie was an impulse e-bay purchase, a VMC that I didn't know anything about, and just bought because it was a VMC and not too expensive. But that is as good a principle as any for working my way through the VMCs and I certainly struck lucky with this one.

Subtitled, "A chronicle of the canefields", Cindie is the tale of a maid who accompanies her mistress to join her husband on the sugar-cane plantations in North Queensland at the end of the 19th century. Whilst Blanche, the mistress, struggles to come to terms with the wilderness, Cindie revels in the new world and opportunities:

"A delicious scent began to rise about Cindie...Ah! At last she had it! The perfume came from a clump of great lily-like leaves rising from the gentle slope of the bank, down near the stream...the moments of her discovery of that wild-lily stock were to remain with Cindie Comstock and recur to her as a stimulating excitement throughout the long years of her singular and uncharted life....a wave of elation swept through her as she stood, sniffing up that scent. Consciously, she only got so far to think "I'm going to like it here. There are things to do here that I'll like"

And the rest of the book describes how that happens. Cindie starts of as servant, begins working on the plantations and learns the sugar trade, coming to manage her master's properly, gaining a huge amount of confidence as a result. However, Blanche grows jealous and to hate Cindie marring her happiness.

But the book is more than just a novel. Devanny was particularly interested in history, and the novel is also an exploration of the sugar industry in Queensland and the changing role of slavery and labour in the area. There was considerable racism and much debate about the replacement of Kanaka and Chinese labour with whites. This is not an area of history with which I am familiar so it made for an enlightening read.

Cindie, was Jean Devanny's last novel and the only one published by VMC. It was just published once with this original green cover.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Moonraker (Tennyson Jesse) 55

Having loved A pin to see the peepshow, I had high hopes for Moonraker, but ultimately I was disappointed as although it was a good book in itself it was a very different book indeed.

This is a book of pirates and their ship, The Moonraker. Jacky Jacka has signed on with a Plymouth ship, The Piskie, and is heading for the West Indies when they are captured. It's an adventure story in the grain of Stevenson or Kipling, but it was just not what I was anticipating from Jesse!

I'm interested to see what the third Tennyson Jesse VMC, The lacquer lady, is like. Luckily I have a copy on the way from a blogging friend and I'm sure I'll be reading it as soon as it arrives!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The edwardians (Sackville-West) 111

The edwardians is the story of an aristocratic family, in the period stated in the title. As such, there is not an obvious "plot" or storyline, rather it is a fictional account of social history and aristocratic life, and specifically how the class will maintain itself given the social change which is occuring. It's been a while since I read this, so having greatly enjoyed VSW's other works more recently, it's definitely a candidate for a re-read.

This has been published three times by Virago, with really rather wonderful cover images. Mine is the second version.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Spinster (Ashton-Warner) 40

I have to admit to being a little confused by the authorship of this book - I had confused Sylvia Ashton-Warner with Sylvia Townsend-Warner in my head, thinking that it was perhaps her maiden name. However, when I opened the book and read the information on the flyleaf, and then the introduction, I realised my error - Sylvia Ashton Warner is a completely different person! Sylvia Ashton-Warner was a teacher from New Zealand, and quite different from Sylvia Townsend Warner, the author from England!

Spinster is a very autobiographical novel, so reading it helped me learn more about SAW. It tells the story of Anna who teaches Maori children in a remote village school. (In some ways it represented a different culture version of Miss Read). I loved the way that the children were characterised, and there are frequent extracts from their work in the text, for example:
"Me and my sister" struggles Twinnie, trying to write because she saw Tame at it,
marbles when it was nearlydark. Then we
went inside and
slipped on my coat"
The character of Anna is an interesting one; she is a bit of a mystery. There are hints early on that she may have an alcohol addiction; we wonder also why she dislikes being at home so much and finds escapism in the classroom. This is developed alongside the novel as we follow through the seasons of the school year.
The book was made into a film in 1960, which I would love to see. It's just published the once by Virago, with the green cover above.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Valley of the dolls (Susann) 485

Valley of the dolls was strongly recommended to me after I enjoyed Peyton Place earlier this year. And I think that if you enjoyed Peyton Place then you should probably read this one too.

Valley of the dolls is the story of three girls in New York in the 1940s; Anne, Neely and Jennifer, and their lives and loves and careers there. Anne from the provinces escapes her future as a housewife by going to the city, but ends up plastered over the newspapers when she gets engaged to a rich man, despite not wishing to. Neely is struggling to become a theatre star, and Jennifer is trading on her beautiful looks. The dolls are capsules, red or black, often washed down with whisky, which the girls take to make life bearable - they assist sleep, enable energy - essentially modern pick-me-ups, tranquilisers and sleeping pills.

Yes it's kitsch and quite cheesy, but it manages to be simultaneously entertaining and hugely depresssing which makes the kitschness bearable and successful.

The introduction by Julie Burchill suggests that Valley of the Dolls was to the 1960s what Peyton Place had been in the 1950s; i.e. a shocking book that many teenage girls read surreptitiously. That got me wondering as to what the 1990s (when I was a teenager) equivalent was; I don't think there was one in the same way because society had changed a great deal and was a lot more open about sex. The only books I can recall reading surreptitiously were Judy Blume and Sweet Valley High which I felt that my Mum would probably object to on the grounds of their subject matter and lack of literary merit.

It's been published twice by Virago, once in later paperback style and once in 30th anniversary hardback style which is the one that I own. It's a gorgeous cover design and makes me want the other five hardbacks to complete my set of six.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

New header!

Isn't it wonderful? We have Paperback Reader Claire's boyfriend to thank for kindly producing this for me!

And one more acquisition...the new Janet Frame

I also have another book to mention:
Technically it arrived last week, but I didn't want to detract from gushing about my wonderful parcel from Fleur Fisher. It's An angel at my table by Janet Frame, and will be published by Virago this March. I actually reviewed this book last year, and you can find it here. It's nice to have my own copy, and reading the introduction by Jane Campion reminded me that I never got around to seeing the film and would love to do so.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

This week's acquisitions

A final splurge ahead of lenten frugality saw me on Ebay picking up some cheap VMCs...
Familiar passions (Bawden)
Miss Herbert (Christina Stead)
Cindie (Jean Devanny)
Painted clay (Boake)
A Saturday life (Radclyffe Hall)
Cotter's England (Christina Stead).
I've been wanting to read Familiar Passions for ages, so this is exciting. And A Saturday life should be a good read too. Painted clay and Cindie both sounded interesting, and I've enjoyed most of the Christina Stead books that I've read before.

I did also treat myself to the lovely 30th anniversary hardback edition of Valley of the Dolls; I've been wanting to read it for a while, and I only have 2 other of the hardbacks so thought this would make a nice addition.

Anyway, let's see how many of these I can get through before the end of Lent!!!!!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Barren Ground (Glasgow) 219

According to her preface, Barren Ground was the book that Glasgow considered to be her favourite and the one that she wished most to be remembered for writing.

This is the story of Dorinda. We meet her first as a young woman who works in a general store in Virginia trying to eke out her parents poverty-stricken existence as farmers. The ground is indeed barren and it is an extremely monotonous existence. Meeting Jason, who has returned to the town to support an ailing father, she falls in love, perhaps because he seems to offer an escape from this life. They get engaged. However, Dorinda's hopes are shattered when after a two-week absence during which she works on her trousseau, he returns to the town married to another girl.

The story doesn't end there - in fact, at that point we are only halfway through the book. In shame, Dorinda packs up her carpet bag and heads for New York. Struggling to find employment, she meets with a road accident and wakes up in hospital. However, this leads to her gaining employment as a secretary/childminder for the doctor that helped her, and she is richer than she has been, able to send money back to her family. But she misses the South, and dreams of returning home to run a farm. When her father is ill, she returns home and takes over running of the farm. She marries, and eventually manages to buy a farm of her own.

As Glasgow herself wrote: "For once in Southern fiction, the betrayed woman would become the victor instead of the victim".

Glasgow's writing is hugely evocative and her descriptions of life in the south are wonderful. Glasgow writes in the preface that she was influenced by recollections of her childhood, and I think it is that which makes the writing so vivid.

I enjoyed this much more than a Sheltered Life and I shall definitely look forward to reading her third VMC, Virginia. It is such a shame that she is not more well-known as this book certainly rivals Cather. This book has been published just once by Virago, but I would love to see it republished.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Mr Skeffington (Arnim) 391

Having enjoyed A pastor's wife so much, it wasn't going to be long before I picked up another Elizabeth von Arnim. I wanted to go for the Caravaners, but having spotted Mr Skeffington in a charity shop, my choice was made for me. It seems that I will be makingmy way through her "other" novels before reading the Garden ones and The enchanted April as a colleague has next offered to lend me Vera.

The book starts: "Fanny, who had married a Mr. Skeffington, and long ago, for reasons she considered compelling, divorced him, after not having given him a thought for years, began, to her surprise, to think of him a great deal." and this seems to sum up this rather quirky read. Fanny, Mrs Skeffington, approaching her 50s, suddenly finds herself plagued by thoughts of her ex-husband and then sets off on a trail to visit her previous lovers in an attempt to come to terms with reaching middle age.

I didn't quite enjoy it as much as A pastor's wife, but the storyline certainly had me hooked. I particularly loved the part set in Oxford, because I could imagine exactly the places that Fanny was visiting. I find Arnim's writing style witty and an absolutely pleasure and I am very much looking forward to encountering her more famous works.

As far as I can see, this book has only been published once, with this green cover, which is the one that I picked up. I thought this book was not to be confused with the 1944 film starring Bette Davis, but apparently the film is based loosely on it, although the action has been moved from England to the US!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The passion of New Eve (Carter) 96

I am normally very meticulous about reading books that I have been sent, either by friends or publishers, but unfortunately The passion of New Eve by Angela Carter has been sitting on the side for some time. I had very kindly been sent a copy by Catherine who reads this blog.

It tells the story of Evelyn, an Englishman who comes to New York, gets involved with a woman who nearly dies from a subsequent abortion, and then moves on, and later undergoes a sex change operation. It's a book about gender and gender issues, and I think the book is somewhat stronger in being a discourse about this than in being a "story" in the more obvious sense.

I had been promised that this book was "bizarre" and I think that this was a bit of an understatement. I didn't really know what to make of it, and found myself repulsed by quite a lot of it. I can't say that I enjoyed it at all, but on the other hand I could recognise the amazing quality of Carter's writing which is quite unlike most other prose that I read.

It's been published three times by Virago, and of the three covers I think that the original green one best sum up the confusion of Evelyn/Eve, although the picture on the most recent copy which I own is also quite clever.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The fire-dwellers (Laurence) 304

It didn't take long for me to get around to reading the third of Laurence's Manawaka novels, having so much enjoyed the first two in the sequence (Stone Angel and Jest of God), but I was further spurred on by discovering The fire-dwellers inclusion in the Lost Booker prize longlist. (In fact, another VMC is featured on the list - The birds on the trees).

This book is a portrait of jaded mother Stacey, tackling the issues of parenthood and marriage and the frustration that Stacey feels. Stacey is married to a salesman, but they barely talk these days. Her children are growing up and don't need her so much. And she isn't really sure where she is going in life. It's a book about struggling for happiness and wondering quite what that happiness would be if it arrived. There's not so much a story or a plot but a dialogue between Stacey and herself and those around to build up a picture of ordinary life that is very easy to identify with.

So how do I rate this book's chances of being selected for the Lost Booker shortlist? I think the book is quite dated now. If it had been Jest of God, I would have said certainly that it was worthy of inclusion, but I think it is very unlikely that this one will make the cut. Which is a shame as I would like to see a resurgence of popularity for Laurence who I would not have encountered but for this challenge.

It's just been published the once by Virago with this original green cover.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Love (von Arnim) 297

My Valentine's Day reading had to be Love by Elizabeth von Arnim. It's very different from her other books, and didn't quite provide the fluffy, escapist, almost chick-lit read that I was anticipating. Love tells the story of Christopher and Catherine who meet at the theatre; Christopher is on his 36th visit to the play that Catherine is seeing for the ninth time. Inevitably they fall in love. Such a romantic start seemed promising, but the story was much darker and complicated. Catherine is considerably older than Christopher and the book turns into a discourse on the issues of age-gap relationships - she is concerned about her looks, what her friends and family will think, and she already has a daughter who is about Christopher's age.

The novel was wonderfully executed and I thought that Arnim handled the subject matter extremely well; it was indeed a very very good book which I would recommend to all fans of Arnim and those who have not read any of her books. According to the introduction, it is based much on Arnim's own experience, being written just after she had had her own age-gap relationship, and I think that this knowledge and awareness really shows through in the writing.

It's been published twice by Virago, and I own the more modern cover which may have contributed to my belief that it would be a light, Valentine-appropriate read.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Valentine's Day reading

It may or may not have escaped your attention that it is Valentine's Day today, so as a little extra I thought I'd highlight the Virago Modern Classics that I've reviewed so far with "Love" in the title, in case you are in need of some inspiration for something to read this February 14th.

The love-child
For love alone (Stead)
Love lessons (Wyndam)
A little love, a little learning (Bawden)
The loving spirit (Du Maurier)
No fond return of love (Pym)

Have you read any other VMCs with Love in the title?

And what will be my Valentine's Day reading? How could it be anything other than Love by Elizabeth von Arnim! Check back later in the week to read about it.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

This week's acquisitions

I had the most amazing batch of post on Tuesday this week, from the extremely kind Fleur Fisher (do check out her blog which has lots of wonderful reviews and frequently mentions Virago Modern Classics). A few weeks ago she sent me a list of her VMC duplicates and asked if there were any that I would like - silly question! I let her know which ones I was missing, and very soon four packages had arrived containing all of these lovely books. Isn't she amazing?

A note in music (Lehmann)
A crowded street (Holtby)
The ante-room (O'brien)
Mary Lavelle (O'Brien)
Madame de Tremaynes (Wharton)
Indifferent heroes (Hocking)
The age of innocence (Wharton)
The lacquer lady (Tennyson Jesse)
Losing battles (Welty)
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow (Eldershaw)

A few of them I have read already, A crowded street, A note in music and The ante-room; I thought I had read Mary Lavelle, but I hadn't, so that was my first read (review coming up shortly, although I have a bit of a backlog of reviews to post!). Which of these do you recommend? I am most keen to read The Lacquer Lady, having loved A pin to see the peepshow.

I have one little plea to my readers too. Mary Hocking's Indifferent heroes is actually number two in a trilogy, following on from Good daughters which I have been desperate to read for a while. I won't be able to read Indifferent Heroes until I've read Good daughters so I was wondering if anyone had a spare copy they would like to lend or donate to the cause?

I did have another acquisition this week, the latest VMC from Virago, but I'll save writing about that for next week :)

*PS: If you are wondering like I did, how she has so many duplicates, it is a combination of the fact that her fiance is trained to spot VMCs and brings them home, and her inability not to "rescue" Virago books otherwise consigned to pulping. Either way, it's a policy which has been very much to my advantage!

Friday, 12 February 2010

The jest of God (Laurence) 252

I wrote recently about how much I loved Laurence's Stone Angel, so it wasn't long before I read the other Margaret Laurence I had waiting on my bookshelf. It turns out that Stone Angel wasn't exactly part of a trilogy, but is part of a cycle of books set in the Manitoba town of Manawaka, a fictional Canadian town, loosely based on the town where Laurence lived. The jest of God is the second book in the sequence.

Equally wonderful as The stone angel, The jest of god is a very different tale although there were some elements of similarity. Rachel, the main character, is a Grade 2 teacher, who has returned to the town to live with her somewhat manipulative widowed mother. The old age theme of The stone angel recurs as Rachel lives with her elderly mother and finds herself limited by her preoccupations and difficulties. The main part of the story deals with Rachel meeting Nick, a man who grew up in a different area of Manitoba, who is visiting his parents for the summer. Rachel is extremely naieve, having never had a proper relationship, and it is obvious to the reader, if not to Rachel, what Nick is after. It's very much a book about a woman's emotional journey told through everyday events, but I absolutely loved it.

The book has also been filmed as "Rachel Rachel" with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, but sadly it doesn't seem to be available over here. Very keen to read the other two Margaret Laurence VMCs, so hopefully they will cross my path soon.

Just the one green VMC cover for this item; I am wondering if I should try to persuade Virago to reprint Margaret Laurence as it is a shame that she is not more widely known.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The curate's wife (Young) 178

The curate's wife by Young is actually a companion to another one of Young's novels, Jenny Wren, which I have not yet read, but although the character of Jenny crops up in The curate's wife, I did not feel that I suffered from not having read Jenny Wren, even though it was written first.

EH Young is definitely an amusing writer, and I found this book entertaining. it is the tale of Dahlia and Cecil Sproat, recently married. Cecil is a curate, and deeply in love with Dahlia. Dahlia on the other hand has principally chosen marriage as an escape from her stepfather. Dahlia finds it extremely difficult to fit into the role of Curate's Wife, partly because she doesn't ascribe to the church beliefs, and partly because her previous experiences are just so different to those needed in the village. I was amused by the description of the fete, where with some reluctance Dahlia dresses up with the other women acting as stallholders as shepherdesses. It becomes obvious that Cecil and Dahlia will never have a romantic marriage; Dahlia takes some satisfaction from the attentions of an admirer, and then after her sister Jenny comes to live with them, lives out her hopes for romance through Jenny's involvement with local men.

Published just once by Virago in an original green edition, I feel that this title fits into a theme in the titles of Virago novels - [some male profession]'s [some female relative]

* The rector's daughter
* The vicar's daughter
* The squire's daughter
* Her son's wife
* The pastor's wife

Can you think of any other VMC titles in this category?

I've also read The Vicar's Daughter, before this project started, and here is its cover:

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The thinking reed (West)

I'm slightly indifferent about Rebecca West. I've enjoyed some of her books; her Fountain overflows trilogy was quite a good read, and I am looking forward to getting hold of a copy of The return of the soldier. But I didn't really "get" Harriet Hume, and I felt similarly about The thinking reed; the story just didn't grab me at all.

The thinking reed is the story of Isabel, an American who leaves for Paris in 1928 in search of love, and ideally a husband. She has three potential suitors, but ends up marrying Marc. I suppose the themes were quite similar to Harriet Hume, principally the differences between men and women, and it seems that West is suggesting that these can never be reconciled.

Published just the once with an original green cover which I own.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The stone angel (Laurence) 251

"Above the town, on the hill brow, the stone angel used to stand...sumer and winter she viewed the town with sightless eyes. She was doubly blind, not only stone, but unendowed with even a pretence of sight" The stone angel sits on top of the grave of Regina Weese, now forgotten, a fate that seems like to beset the book's narrator.

The stone angel is the wonderful tale narrated by Hagar Shipley. An old lady, living with her son and daughter in law, who wish to put her into a home, she tells us about her life from childhood on the prairie, through marriage, to old age. The people important to Shipley are wonderfully evoked, making for a beautiful read. Astoundingly, although Hagar is 90, Laurence was only in her thirties when she wrote it, which is all the more impressive. I don't want to give too much away about the story, but it is so cleverly constructed, taking the reader between present, and past, and then into the future.

This book is the first book of a trilogy; the remaining titlesJest of God and the Fire-dwellers are also published by Virago, as is another one of her novels. I will be intrigued to read the rest of the trilogy, since apparently the second book has been filmed (and it seems unusual to film the second of three...). Published twice by Virago, my copy has the more recent cover.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Peyton Place (Metalious) 480

Described as a "scorcher" by one of my contacts at Virago, with the cover tagline "The notorious banned bestseller", I was extremely keen to read Peyton Place which has somehow previously passed me by.

What a great read! Peyton Place is the story of a small town in Mississipi in the 1950s, revealing the private lives and stories of its inhabitants, and particularly the hypocrisy and scandal behind the front doors. It is easy to see why the book was so shocking when it was first published - events include incest, abortion, heavy alcoholism and unmarried pregnancies, although to those reading in the 21st century this might seem less contentious. I suppose the issue was that such things did occur in the 1950s, but they were not talked about, and everyone was keen to cover them up with respectability. I think this book is a really great read; it might seem tame by today's standards, but gives such a good insight into the mindset of the 1950s.

There is a sequel, not published by Virago, which I am now keen to seek out. As far as I can tell, Virago have only published this twice, and it was quite a late addition to their list. I own the more recent edition which is the second of the two shown below.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

This week's acquisitions

Sophie from Virago was kind enough to send me a little package of books on Tuesday, cheering up my first week of February. Memento Mori (Spark) is Virago's latest addition to their Modern Classics list and matches the other Muriel Sparks that they have been bringing out over the last year or so. Having enjoyed My Antonia so much, I asked if she had any spare books by Cather, and I was rewarded not only with a copy of O Pioneers, but Hermione Lee's biography of Cather. I've already had a flip through the biography and it looks hugely interesting.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Aleta Day (Beynon) 288

Although I didn't particularly enjoy Aleta Day by Francis Mary Beynon, I was interested in finding out more about the author. The book is the story of Aleta Day, a girl who develops socialist beliefs during her childhood, and pursues life as a radical journalist and suffragette. Beynon's only novel, it is apparently strongly autobiographical, and she sounds like quite a fascinating woman. Writing for the largest weekly paper in Canada in the 1910s (The grain grower's guide), she provided women on prairie farms with advice and support, and tried to pass on her beliefs in women's suffrage and equality. She later directed the suffragette movement in Saskatchwen. A staunch pacifist, she was very angry about the involvement in the First World War, and these views are obvious in Aleta Day (in fact she was sacked from the newspaper for trying to propogate this views).

Published just the once by Virago, with this green cover.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

The sheltered life (Glasgow) 61

According to the blurb inside the jacket, Ellen Glasgow is considered one of America's most eminent classic writers, along with Willa Cather and Edith Wharton. I was thus intrigued as to what I would make of The sheltered life, since I like Cather immensely, but am less enthusiastic about Wharton.

The book tells the story of a number of characters living in Queensborough, a small town in the American South around the turn of the last century, told from the perspective of 76-year old General Archbald and his granddaughter Jenny Blair. The book mainly deals with the changing circumstances due to the growth of industry in the run up to the First World War and describes how this impacts on the mores of religion and convention. Bits of the book amused me, such as the opening scene where Jenny is reading Little Women, and being paid 1c per page by her grandfather (a lucrative deal since the book is over 500pp long), but despite this promising opening I struggled to enjoy it.

Just published the once by Virago, the edition had a fascinating introduction by Glasgow which discussed how she went about writing and how she concieved The sheltered life.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Beth book (Grand)

Based partly on the life of the author, Sarah Grand, The Beth book is an autobiographical novel covering the life of Beth. Set in the Victorian times, the book gives a fantastic insight into the life of a middle-class Victorian girl, and all the frustrations thereof. The book opens in Ireland, but after her father dies, the family move to England to live with her mother's family. Beth eventually gets married, but the marriage is stifling. The book takes a turn towards the end when Beth leaves her husband and sets up as an author, living in a room of her own, and finally begins to achieve fulfilment outside the Victorian norms.

I found this book slightly twee at times, and very dated, but it was an interesting read. It's the only book by Sarah Grand published by Virago, and has only been published once with this cover.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The ghostly lover (Hardwick)

I enjoyed The ghostly lover by Hardwick slightly more than the last Hardwick that I read, but not very much more. This was her first book, and I suppose has some slightly autobiographical elements. Unfortunately I forgot to review it when I read it (oops!) and now can't really remember much of what it was about (another mark of a not terribly enjoyable book I guess), but I do rather like the cover image, which is very reminiscent of 1950s America, the period when the book is set, and will probably hold onto the book for that reason!

I did like the cover however, and will be hanging onto the book for this reason.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Happy foreigner (Bagnold) 247

I came across The happy foreigner through the advertisements at the back of Not so quiet, and immediately ordered it from the Amazon marketplace. I know I was indifferent about the other Bagnold VMC that I had read, The squire, but the subject matter of this book appealed to me (in some ways a follow on from Not so quiet's description of ambulance driving driving on the Western front during the First World War dealing with the experiences of those driving for the the French army). I couldn't resist putting it into my bag as soon as it arrived, and devoured it in my tea and lunch breaks at work.

Partly autobiographical, this book is based on Bagnold's own experiences as a driver for the French army. The book opens with a description of the difficult circumstances under which the drivers operated - long shifts, hand-started cars, frequent punctures, on top of food shortages, freezing cold dank huts in which to live, and perpetual rain and mud. Fanny, the principle character, endures these conditions, but lives on a day-to-day basis, with little thought beyond the next day and trying to get enough sleep. One day she encounters Julien, a French Captain, who takes her out on a date, and provides escapism from the daily grind. Inevitably, the limitations of their jobs make it almost impossible to pursue the relationship, and their attempts to see each other are the main driving force behind the plot of the book. However, Fanny manages to occupy herself, and in some ways it is a very affirming book because it doesn't assume that the woman is left in limbo whilst the man is away working - the woman is able to work herself.

This was Bagnold's first novel, and I enjoyed it very much. I will be interested to see what I make of The loved and the envied which is her third and other VMC novel. Just published the once with this cover.