Wednesday 31 March 2010

Winged horse (Frankau) 311

The winged horse was a kind gift from Heather who reads this blog and I wasted no time in getting around to reading it. I'd read Frankau's The willow cabin earlier in the year, without many expectations and had greatly enjoyed it, and was hoping for more of the same. Unfortunately, although it was quite a good read, it was not in my opinion as enjoyable as The willow cabin. In some ways this may reflect where Frankau was in her career; The willow cabin was written aged 19 and was her first published book; The winged horse was written in her late 40s, and was quite a different read - a more intricate plot line and more complex prose.

The story involves a number of characters, but it revolves around the newspaper tycoon JG Baron and his children and those that work for him. He is successful and those around him seem to lead a charmed life, but under the surface things are not quite so; Celia his eldest daughter is trapped in an unhappy marriage and then filing for divorce, another son is killed, another daughter struggles to live up to the perfection that her father believes she has.

Has anyone else read both The winged horse and The willow cabin? If so, how did you feel that they compare? Must read A wreath for the enemy which is her final VMC and see what I think of that.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Vera (Von Arnim)

A colleague was kind enough to lend me Vera, having read about my discovery of Von Arnim this year - she is also a fan, and purchased this book in part because the title character shares a name with another of our colleagues.

I was hugely excited given other reading themes at the moment to discover that the book opens in Cornwall; the setting of Cornwall is not especially well evoked but it got the book off to a good start. We meet Lucy, whose father has just died at the beginning of their holiday. A young lady, she is bereft and doesn't know what to do with herself. Walking in the countryside, she encounters Wemyss, a man who turns out also to have been recently bereaved, his wife having died a mere fortnight ago. They establish a friendship, supporting each other and quickly fall in love despite the age difference (he is forty five) and despite the disapproval of Lucy's Aunt who turns up to take care of Lucy.

At the risk of introducing a huge spoiler - and please look away - the pair get engaged and then married, and the book takes on elements of "former wife" intrigue - there are many similarities with Jane Eyre (And the first Mrs Rochester) and Rebecca (the first Mrs De Winter) in it. Vera, Wemyss's former wife who died under mysterious circumstances (which turns out to have been a suicide) haunts the rest of the book and the relationship between the two. It's very difficult watching the young Lucy be engulfed by the atmosphere in his house where Vera once lived. I'd like to tell you more but I really don't want to give anymore of it away, it is an intensely gripping story and although creepy, certainly one of the best Von Arnims and VMCs that I have read thus far. It is worth reading the introduction after the book (it is full of spoilers) because the book strongly parallels aspects of Von Arnim's own life, and it's possible that the novel evolves out of what Von Arnim thought might have happened to her if she had not acted differently.

It's been published four times. and unusually (I haven't come across this before) has two difference cover designs for the original green version. I have the first. 5*

Monday 29 March 2010

William (Young) 292

I have been reading a lot of EH Young this year, and was especially keen to read William after the introduction to Miss Mole suggested that it was the most popular of her work.

Unusually for a Virago Modern Classic, the title character* and principle character of the story is a man, William. The book tells the story of William, and his wife Kate, and their children, and Grandchildren. William and Kate live in the village of Upper Radstowe, a location for other EH Young books, and deals with their lives and relationships with their children, none of whom Kate really feels are hugely successful in their lives. William takes a more prosaic view of life and is actually the one who the children turn to when real problems occur; the blurb on Amazon says "William can love without judgement and Kate cannot", and it is this that drives the novel. It's difficult to say more about the book because it is more a book about family relationships than story, in some ways very similar to Nina Bawden. But I can see why it was popular and do most definitely recommend it.

I have to confess that I borrowed a copy of this book as I was so keen to read it, and it was a Jonathan Cape edition rather than a Virago. I'm very keen to get my own copy now. Unusually the two editions of the Virago edition both feature the same cover image, which I rather like as a depiction of a family home which is reminiscent of the themes in the book. 3.5*

*Can anyone think of any other VMCs with males as the title character?

Sunday 28 March 2010

Losing battles (Welty) 208

I'd not read any Eudora Welty before, so was excited when Fleur Fisher included Losing Battles in the wonderful stash of VMCs. Welty is from the South and it seems that her books draw on this experience to depict family life.

Losing Battles is the story of a 1930s family reunion; generations of the Vaugn/Renfro family gather together to celebrate Granny Vaugn's 90th birthday. During the two-days they are together, Welty builds up a picture of the family and their past. The book is essentially built around conversations between members of the family and the story is predominantly told through dialogue - for some reason I found this quite difficult to follow and in the event I wasn't completely wowed by this book; I think maybe it was just the wrong time for me to read the book as I have read many great reviews of it.

It doesn't put me off wanting to read more of Welty; I love the sound of the title "The optimist's daughter" and also "The robber bridegroom". Has anyone else read any Welty? What are your thoughts... 2.5*

It's actually been published twice by Virago, although I was only able to find a scan of the later green cover.

Friday 26 March 2010

Painted clay (Boake) 231

A very little known VMC, The painted clay, by a fairly unknown author, Capel Boake (in fact a pen name) came to my attention merely by being on ebay for £2.75 and having an intriguing title. Such risks sometimes pay off, and sometimes don't, but I'm happy to report that this was a good read, albeit slightly depressing.

Set in Melbourne at the beginning of the 20th century, Painted Clay is the story of Helen and her isolated existence. We meet her living with her father, not hugely happy, and uncertain as to the whereabouts of her mother. After he commits suicide, her life changes; she moves in with a neighbour and takes up employment in a shop. This she finds unfulfilling, but starts to study shorthand in her spare time. Eventually she is given work in an office, run by her uncle, her only living relative, before moving to an artist's community. Throughout the story, the theme of Helen's isolation seems to recur, along with the issue of where she belongs and what she wants to be doing; the absence of her mother hangs heavily over her, until she re-appears halfway into the book. I enjoyed following Helen's life and wondering what might happen to her but at the same time wished that she could find a more fulfilling existence.

Boake wrote three other novels, but achieved little literary success so it is good that this found its way into the VMC list. Just published the once with this rather striking cover image.

Lost booker!

A quick update to point out that a VMC, The birds on the trees, by Nina Bawden has made it onto the Lost Booker shortlist! I wrote about the prize here.

Do go and vote - wouldn't it be wonderful for a VMC to win!!

Thursday 25 March 2010

Three Miss Kings (Cambridge)

The three Miss Kings was a very kind surprise Christmas gift from a friend. It wasn't a title that I had heard of so I am very pleased that she sent it my way. One of the things I love about the Virago Modern Classics series is the scope of geography; whilst many of the books written are set in the UK by British writers, there are many set in the US, and I have written about a couple set in New Zealand, and also Australia. This book is an Australian one, and it's nice to have the chance to read something from an area that otherwise I probably might not.

The Miss Kings of the title are orphans, their father having died recently, and need to decide what to do next. The two youngest sisters, Patty and Eleanor, really aspire to European travel, but Elizabeth, the eldest, tries to be sensible and suggests that they should become accustomed to living on their own first, and they move to Melbourne, renting rooms and then later half of a house. In some ways, very Jane Austen-esque, the girls try to get involved in society there, and are introduced to a woman who attempts to match-make for them. There are a couple of exciting twists (such as the discovery of a legacy), and it is a fairly light and entertaining read.

Just published the once, I am sure this is a much overlooked VMC. Virago don't published any more of her titles but I understand from the introduction that Cambridge wrote many more books. 3*

Wednesday 24 March 2010

The diviners (Laurence) 323

Regular readers will know that I have "discovered" Laurence this year and have hugely enjoyed reading her books for this challenge. The diviners was the fourth and final one of her novels published as a VMC; she has also written a book of short stories (A bird in the trees) which fits into the Manawaka sequence but which hasn't been published as a VMC.

Like the other books in the sequence, it portrays a "strong woman" and her search for identity; now this is nothing new but Laurence, writing in the 1960s and 1970s, really pre-dates the woman's movement, but it is fitting that it should be included in the Virago Modern Classics series. The book is the story of Morag Gunn, now in her 40s, who looks back over her life through a series of flashbacks and memories - these are cleverly described through looking at photographs ( subtitled eachtime"Snapshot") and by more active thoughts (subtitled "Memory bank movie"). It's a very clever approach that combines present and past and enables the reader to be involved in the past as if it were the present.

Morag Gunn, like Laurence's other female characters has a mixed life. Her parents died when she was very young, and she ended up in the prairie town of Manawaka living with a childless couple. We see her through her schooldays, growing up and coming of age, her on-off love affairs, and then her career as a writer and relationship with her daughter. Essentially a wonderful life-story book, I wonder if any of it reflects Laurence's life. I must find a biography of Laurence!

Definitely a classic.

It's been published twice by Virago; unfortunately my copy came from the library and wasn't a Virago, but I'd rather like a copy of the second later edition as it matches my copy of Stone Angel. 3.5*
(Overall I think that my favourite Laurence is probably Stone Angel or Jest of God, but all and any of them are worth reading)

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Miss Mole (Young)

I am definitely a big fan of EH Young, and have now hugely enjoyed four of the eight novels that she wrote, all of which have been published as Virago Modern Classics. In some ways she seems to be a bit of a more modern Jane Austen, or perhaps a slightly less acerbic Barbara Pym. Anyway, she is someone that I recommend, and a good book to start with might be Miss Mole which was apparently the best recieved of all of her books and which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Miss Mole is the tale of Hannah, a 40-year-old spinster who has ended up in service. We meet her telling her well-to-do Cousin Lilla that she is looking for employment; it transpires that she has upset her last employers. Lilla sets her up with employment in the Corder household; Rev. Corder is recently widowed and the house is in somewhat shambles; Ethel and Ruth, the daughters of the household are lost without their mother. Hannah simply carries out her duties, but wins over Ethel and Ruth and gradually sorts them out, but not without adding a spark of life to the family. It's a simple, almost Mary Poppins like story, but incredibly well told and quirky.

Published twice by Virago, I'm lucky enough to have a lovely clean copy of the original green edition whose picture seems to sum up the idiosyncratic image of Miss Mole. 4*

PS: Simon from Stuck in a book wrote an excellent review of this title in February here.

Monday 22 March 2010

Two days in Aragon (Keane) 193

Like other books by Keane, Two days in Aragon is centred on a house; Keane seems to use this as a vehicle for bringing her characters and plot together. The house belongs to an Anglo-Irish family and shows how they are influenced by the changes of the 1920s over the period of two days. I'm not a huge fan of Keane but I like her characterisations, particularly this description of one of the main characters:
"Grania was a fat little blonde with pretty bones under her flesh; rather a slut and inclined to wear party shoes with her old tweeds. She would be in her bath and forget to wash very much, but she was a great hand at curling up her blonde hair of which she was very vain"

This has been published twice by Virago; I picked up the second version for only 50p earlier this year. 2.5*

Sunday 21 March 2010

The simple truth (Hardwick) 262

Hurrah - you'll be happy to hear that my final experience of Hardwick was better than the previous two (here and here). Although, I'm not telling you to rush out and get hold of this one, it was a much better read than the other two.

There are effectively two stories in this novel set in a small town in Iowa; the story of Rudy Peck, a college student who goes on trial for murdering his girlfriend, and that of Joseph Parks and Anita Mitchell who follow the trial and attend the public gallery each day, out of what is really only morbid interest. Joseph and Anita become friends and each day take the proceedings to pieces, and believe that Rudy Peck is innocent. The novel is a playing out of this relationship as well as the trial of Peck. I suppose what hooked me into this novel was reading on to find out whether or not Rudy would be acquited, but I liked the way that Hardwick wrote about Joseph and Anita and their private lives.

Like the other VMC Hardwicks, this has just been published the once with the original green cover. I like the picture which is reminiscent of the story. So that's it for Hardwick for this challenge; she's written other novels but I have to say that I'm not hugely keen to seek them out.


Saturday 20 March 2010

New acquisition/I capture the castle 410

I'm still finding ways and means to acquire books despite having given up their purchase for Lent. The other week I joined "Bookhopper", a site where you can upload books which you no longer want, to see if anyone else wants them, and in return have a look at other people's unwanted books. About half of the books I uploaded were snapped up immediately, and I managed to get a VMC that I didn't have in return - I capture the castle. I'm surprised that I didn't have a copy of this book as it is one of my favourites , so I was very happy when that arrived.

I won't write much about it here because there are any number of reviews on Amazon and blogs and librarythings, and it is difficult to do justice to such a lovely book not having read it especially recently. But I will just mention its opening lines which are perhaps my favourite of all opening lines..."I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" - what a wonderful picture that conjures up, and how could one not want to read on from that beginning??

It's actually been published 3 times by Virago, most recently with a film tie in edition - I highly recommend the film which is a lovely adaption starring Ramola Garai, Rose Byrne, Tara Fitzgerald and Bill Nighy). My copy is the rather lovely middle one. Definitely a 5* VMC.

Friday 19 March 2010

What's it like out? 317 ; Nobody's business 334 (Gilliatt)

It's difficult to know how to write about short story collections - but I have now read both of Penelope Gilliatt's, so I need to post about them for completeness sake. She was a film critic, and wrote short stories which have been brought together in these two collections. I quite enjoyed dipping and out of these - they tend to deal mainly with relationships - but I didn't find them especially compelling or memorable.

Both published just the once with original green covers.

Thursday 18 March 2010

No more than human (Laverty) 210

I read and hugely enjoyed Never no more just before embarking on the VVV challenge, and didn't actually realise there was a sequel, until the lovely Victoria at Virago happened on a spare copy of No more than human and passed it my way.

Following on from Never No More, No more than human is a coming of age novel that reveals what happened to Delia after her Gran dies. Delia remains a fantastic heroine and is hugely entertaining in what she gets up to. The book opens with her departure to become a governess in Spain, which promises a whole host of adventures. There is no huge plotline as such, rather the book is an account of her moves through various jobs, pensions, and love affairs, all the while falling in and out of trouble. She starts out as a governess, but her employer is absolutely horrified by her appearance, Delia having made a special effort on her arrival in Spain - but a coat which her relatives thought was still wearable is tatty and too small, her hair washed on the boat has dried oddly, and the lipstick she was given is of an orange shade that definitely does not suit her! From this start Delia constantly falls into scrapes earning her employer's disapproval, and resigns several times, only to have to return because a friend advises her that it is silly to leave without finding another position (and because her employer needs her more than she lets on to look after her children). Eventually she moves on to another governess position, only to have to leave that after 7 months after getting a little too friendly with a man at a ball which she attends. Realising that she will be unable to get another position in Madrid, she moves on to live in a pension and teach as a private governess. This is hard at first as she doesn't have many pupils but it gives her the freedom that she craves. From this she rejects a job which turns out to be as a position of an escort, and ends up doing office work. And she gets engaged to a Spaniard. The book ends in both a surprising, but also not altogether unexpected way, but I won't give anymore away here because I really do want you to get a copy of this!

As before, Laverty writes particularly well about food, and there were lots of lovely descriptive passages of Spanish cooking. My favourite line related to when Delia had few pupils, and although the food at the pension was good, she could not afford to have very many meals. As someone who is suffering from being rather too thin at the moment following a long illness, this line rather tickled me:
"After four months in Mrs Hansen's pension, I had hipbones that would have cut cabbage"

It's just been published once by Virago, although my copy was a print on demand of the original printed in 2004. Sadly there aren't any other Laverty novels in the VMC list, but I might look out for some more by her, and I see she has written some cookbooks which must be absolutely fascinating! 4*

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Daughter of earth (Smedley)

This wonderful autobiographical novel, telling us about the experiences of Agnes Smedley through the character of Marie Rogers. The book is split into a number of distinct parts. At first, she lives on a farm with her family, until they up sticks and follow her father as he takes jobs on the railroads and as coal hauler. At one point her mother runs a boarding house, and from an early age Marie also goes out to work, although she has excellent educational abilities. marie then becomes a school teacher, but only for a while as her mother dies and she returns home to look after the rest of the family. She is keen to continue studying however, and leaves to try to make money to get an education by working as a salesperson. She marries Knut, another scholar, but after a traumatic abortion which she insists on in order to pursue her educaiton, they get divorced. WW2 arrives and Marie becomes involved in socialist circles, but finds it difficult to really become involved due to her status as a woman and she takes up the cause of the people working for Indian emancipation. As a result, she is unfairly imprisoned. After the war ends, she is released and works as a journalist and eventually remarries, but this marriage also fails to work out and the book ends with her leaving for Denmark to live with a friend there.

The poverty of Marie's childhood is absolutely heartbreaking; there is a scene where she attends the birthday party of a rich white girl from her school. Marie pleads with her mother to be allowed to take a couple of bananas as a birthday present; her mother reluctantly agrees to this extravagance. But when Marie arrives she finds the other children giving books, toys, silver - such things that she has never seen before. Marie enjoys the tea, but none of the children ask her to be their partner in the games and she is forced to leave early, pretending illness, as she is so embarassed.

An absolutely engrossing read, I found myself fascinated by Smedley. 4*

Published twice by Virago, although using the same picture, I have a copy of the earlier edition.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Miss Herbert : suburban wife (Stead)

Although I had enjoyed the first two Christina Stead's that I read (For love alone and The Salzburg Tales), having not enjoyed Letty Fox so much, I didn't have as high hopes as I might have done for Miss Herbert. I'm glad to say that these were misplaced as I thought this novel was wonderful.

The heroine is Eleanor Herbert, later Eleanor Brent, and we meet her engaged to be married, but restless. She goes off on a cruise, breaks the engagement, makes another one, and breaks that too before returning home to be engaged once more to her first fiance. An intriguing start! Eleanor and Robert do not get married immediately, and Eleanor leaves for London to pursue a life on the literary fringes, running a correspondence class and living a very bohemian existence in lodging houses. As years pass, the engagement weakens and is eventually broken off. Eleanor has more suitors, but eventually meets another man whom she will eventually marry. We then see Eleanor married to Henry, enjoying running a household and trying to implement household economy; they have children and get an au pair. But somehow conventional life is too difficult for Eleanor and the marriage eventually breaks down and she returns to the literary life trying to support her children. It was definitely a read that I didn't have any idea where it was going, and the first part too was incongruous with the title.

I wish that my copy was the original green one, as I think that the hat of the woman on the front is absolutely fantastic! But I have the later green edition and think that there is a certain mischievousness about the woman on the front of that version which encapsulates Eleanor entirely. 4*

Monday 15 March 2010

Richer, the poorer (West) 430

Having loved The Wedding by Dorothy West, I was keen to read more of her work, and when I spotted this anthology of her essays and short stories on ebay, it didn't take much to get me to buy it! The first half comprises short stories, based on similar situations to that of The wedding - i.e. the themes of African and American life, originally published in magazines. The second half of the book was the part that I found most interesting, being some autobiographical skethces which enabled me to build up a picture of West and understand a bit more about how she came to be a writer, for example insisting on a lock on her door age 8 so that she could write in peace. Apparently West is best known for her short stories, but I am keen to read her other novel, The living is easy now as I do prefer sustained narratives.

It's just been published the once by Virago.


Sunday 14 March 2010

Women against men (Jameson)

I picked Women against men up in Oxfam, intrigued by the title. I hadn't read any Storm Jameson before so that was another good reason.

The book turned out to be three novellas.

The first one, Delicate Monster, was my favourite. It told the story of two women who had been friends since childhood who were both writers; the narrator had had little success with her work and forced to work first at a university and then as a publisher's reader, her friend was a bestselling author. It seemed that they only maintained their friendship for the purpose of despising each other, which wasn't a terribly nice premise, but it was interesting witnessing the women growing up, and from what I read in the introduction, it sounded like it had been quite influenced by Jameson's life as an academic. Their relationship suddenly broke down when the narrator's friend has an affair with her husband.

The second is called A single heart about a woman cheating on her husband as a result of boredom with her marriage.

In the third, A day off, we witness a woman who has lived off men all her life, suddenly wondering what she will do now that she is facing middle age and is alone.

Overall my feeling of Women against men was that it was not a feminist book as I thought the title implied - rahter it seemed that Jameson didn't really like women very much. I'll be interested to see if this conclusion is bourne out by Jameson's other novels, in particular Company Parade which I've heard quite a bit about.

It's just been published the once by Virago.

Saturday 13 March 2010

Saturday life (Radclyffe Hall)

Radclyffe Hall's Well of loneliness is a classic, and one which I found to be an interesting read, so I was keen to read more of her VMCs. A Saturday life seemed like a good title; I have worked every other Saturday for the last 2.5 years, so in a sense my Saturday life has been a working one for a while, but I am about to give this up and regain a proper Saturday life! Today is my first Saturday of freedom, so in preparation I thought I'd read this.

In someways similar to the Well of loneliness - the theme of an isolated, confused creative female trying to make her way in life, A Saturday life was a much lighter read. I was hooked from the beginning when I met the heroine Sidonia (such an unusual name!) as a child; in the first pages, her mother interuppted from the book that she is writing to come and attend to her eight-year-old daughter who refuses to stop dancing naked in the dining room! Her mother decides dance lessons are the answer, but Sidonia is not encouraged to come back after telling the other children that she prefers dancing without her clothes on. The story follows Sidonia as she grows up - she takes up sculpture, singing, and then goes to Florence.

In some ways I found the ending of the story disappointing; after such an unconventional growing up and early adulthood, Sidonia gets married and the last pages of the book see her giving birth to a child. It suggests that she has finally settled down which would be a tragedy given the creativity that she has displayed. On the other hand, given the rest of the book, one wonders how long it will last, and if so how her husband and son will cope once the bliss and sensibility of new motherhood wears off.

I have the Unlit Lamp and Adam's Breed to read to complete my Radclyffe Hall VMCs. This one was just published the once by Virago with an original green cover.


Friday 12 March 2010

84 Charing Cross Road (Hanff) 487

I read 84 Charing Cross Road as a teenager, and have revisited it recently by watching the wonderful film adaption starring Antony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft and Judi Dench. This is the perfect bibliophile's book - it is Helene's story of her correspondence with a British bookseller as she tries to procure obscure literary books that she is interested in that are unavailable in New York where she lives.

My Mum is a big fan of Helene Hanff, and I read a lot of her books as a child. I am currently trying to track down the sequel to this novel, The duchess of Bloomsbury street, which tells the tale of Helene visiting London for the first time. Such a shame that her other books have not been published by Virago.

It was published by Virago as one of their 30th anniversary hardbacks. It may well have been published in a paperback edition, but I can't track down a picture. Anyone know?


Thursday 11 March 2010

O Pioneers (Cather)

It was a cold morning today, and so I thought that reading about prairie life in Cather's O Pioneers would be appropriate. At least I got to snuggle up warm on a sofa, rather than dealing with the hardships of farm life in Nebraska.

O Pioneers is the story of Alexandra; coming from a family of Swedish immigrants, we encounter her first as a teenager, as her father is about to die. Cather often writes about "strong women" and Alexandra is no exception - after her father's death she takes on the family farm and supports the family. Unlike her brothers (two older, one younger), she is the only family member to really understand the land and know how to make it profitable. The book follows through her experiences on the land, thus also revealing the story of the farmers who work unceasingly to try and create a livelihood. But this work serves to alienate Alexandra from her older brothers, who want to escape and make different lives for themselves, and it also leaves her exhausted and without any time for herself.

It's not necessarily a hugely feel good novel - there are many many deaths - from a variety of causes - but it does build towards a happier ending and one feels that there is reward in living so close to and working with nature and trying to overcome hardship. It is ultimately very life affirming.

This is Cather's second novel, but she had already developed a hugely impressive style of writing that evokes the prairie and which many other authors could never hope to achieve at any stage in their careers. I am so pleased that I have been prompted to read Cather by this challenge, and encourage you to do so if you haven't already. There are many more Cather titles to choose from and for me to read and write about!

It's been published three times, and my copy is the most recent one which Sophie from Virago kindly sent to me.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Pat Barker catch-up, 414, 415, 417

Virago have published three books by Pat Barker as modern classics. She may be more familiar to readers as the writer of the impressive Regeneration trilogy, the final book of which (The ghost road) won the Booker prize. These three titles are essentially portraits of working class life, from a female perspective, and are all fascinating reads. It's been a while since I've read them, so I will have to content myself with showing you their covers, and reminding myself that I would like to pick them up again one day. They've each been published twice, in a newer green edition, and a non green edition.

Union Street
Blow your house down

Liza's England/Century's Daughter

Tuesday 9 March 2010

The age of innocence (Wharton) 298

Owing to the generosity of Fleur Fisher, I was able to spend a recent morning off escaping into the world of the New York aristocracy. Although it took a while to draw me in, I ended up enjoying The age of innocence by Edith Wharton, and even while I was struggling to be gripped by it, I could see that it was indeed a worthy winner of the Pulitzer prize.

It's a tale of society, and how the conventions and beliefs of society can oppress those who are too naieve to manipulate it. Unusually for a Virago Modern Classic, the principle character, Newland, is a man, Newland Archer. We meet him awaiting his marriage to May. Into his world comes May's cousin Ellen, on the run from her unhappy marriage. She shuns convention but finds herself often rejected by the society which May seems to represent. Newland feels sorry for her, and ends up being intoxicated by her difference and the potential for life outside an otherwise stifled existence. This book is a story of society, but also a love story, and I was desperate to see how it would be resolved.

I liked this novel for its well written prose, but also for introducing me to a social mileu with which I was not familiar; I have read many books of similar period, describing a similar society, set in England but not in New York.

This book has been unsurprisingly been published many times by a range of different publishers, but there are three Virago editions. Mine is the earliest green edition. I love the flowers on the second cover, although I think that the third, most recent one, best sums up the book for me. 3*

Monday 8 March 2010

The friendly young ladies (Renault) 147

I read The friendly young ladies, the only Mary Renault published as a Virago Modern Classic, at the beginning of last year, shortly before I embarked on this challenge. But I remember greatly enjoying it.

The story of Elsie, a young Cornish girl who is stifled by living in a small village with her parents, it relates what happens, when on the advice of a man who she has fallen in love with, she runs away to London to live with her sister. Her sister's life bears a huge contrast to Elsie's convention existence - Leo lives on a houseboat with another woman and writes Westerns for a living. The book reveals what happens when Elsie encounters this bohemian lifestyle and how it changes her and in turn she changes Leo. Apparently Renault wrote this in part as a response to Radclyffe Hall's The well of loneliness which is a much more intense and depressing book about lesbianism, and I think she succeeded in showing a different side to it.

The edition I had from the library was the most recent one, which I feel really evokes the charming, holiday-like nature of the book. Do check this one out! 3.5*

Sunday 7 March 2010

Louisa May Alcott 337, 338

I was surprised to discover from my master list that two of Louisa May Alcott's books have been published as Virago modern classics - Eight cousins and Rose in bloom. Two absolutely lovely books which I remember reading at school. But unfortunately I haven't been able to track down pictures of their covers. If anyone can oblige, do let me know and then I'll be able to share them with you...


And with some help - here they are! I'm impressed to see that they are original green covers :) I'd love to spot these in a second hand shop one day but suspect they are quite rare.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Lost Booker giveaway result

I offered a Lost Booker giveaway a couple of weekends ago, and have finally got around to drawing the result!

I asked you to tell me which VMC you think would be most deserving of the Booker Prize - completely subjective, but it gave some interesting results!

Here are your nominations:

Loitering with intent (Spark)
Alias Grace (Atwood)
Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier)
The well of loneliness (Hall)
The enchanted April (Von Arnim)
Who was changed and who was dead (Comyns)
Vera (Von arnim)
The rector's daughter (Mayor) (two nominations!)

However, there can only be one winner, and the result of the random draw was Jeanette from Cottage Garden. Email me your details Jeanette (verityDOTormeATgmailDOTcom) and I'll get the two books out to you.

This week's acquisitions

It might be lent, but I have still acquired some books due to the generosity of a publisher and one of the readers of my blog. Sophie from Virago kindly sent me the new Barbara Pym, Less than angels, which is coming out at the start of April - I read this last year, but look forward to having the opportunity to peruse this new edition which has an introduction by Salley Vickers. The Winged Horse was kindly sent to me by Heather who reads this blog and spotted it in a second-hand book-shop and posted it all the way from the US! Thank you Heather!

Don't the collection of Barbara Pyms look pretty on my shelves?