Friday 30 December 2011

The Sheik (Hull) 411

It's been a while, for which apologies. Along with apologies for the fact that most of the last posts on this blog have started in this way. I was so tired in November and December and my brain was so full up with other things that I didn't manage to read anything terribly literary (highlight was a reread of the Little House books!), and certainly not attack my Virago TBR pile. I've still got a way to go with my challenge to read all of the VMCs so I will certainly need some discipline to both read and write about them.

But here I am with my latest VMC acquisiton. Over at the wonderful site Library Thing there are community groups, and theLinkre is one devoted to Virago Modern Classics. I'm sure I must have mentioned this before as several members have kindly sent me VMCs in the past. Each year, there is a Virago Secret Santa and this year I joined in for the first time. Julie was my santee, and I bought her two Virago Travellers as well as a Storm Jameson VMC. My secret santa was Mary, all the way from Tennesse, and she chose a book from my wishlist - The sheik - by Edith M Hull. It had been on my wishlist for so long that I can't remember quite why I added it but I am glad that I did as it was a most enjoyable read.

Described on the back cover as "one of the Virago's trio of turn of the century erotic best-sellers", it was certainly a bit of a racy read. But not perhaps in the way that one is used to with books these days - there is sex, but it is much more implicit than explicit, certainly in the details anyway.

It tells the story of Diana Mayo, a boyish girl who embarks on a tour of the desert. She has never had any sort of relationship before, never even been kissed, when she is kidnapped by a Sheik, who spotted her a few days previously and forces her into bed with him. She is appalled and holds the Sheik in great contempt, until perhaps inevitably she falls in love with him. Of course the Sheik has announced earlier on that he gets easily bored by women in love with him, and one of the reasons that he likes Diana so much is because she isn't in love with him. But once she's fallen in love with him, she can only hope that he will do the same.

What I found most interesting of all was finding out that Hull was a farmer's wife who had never been near a desert at all. I suppose it was a bit obvious as the settings were never terribly detailed but I was impressed that she imagined so much.

It's just been published once, with a modern green cover, although my copy was actually a print on demand issue of this. Thank you very much again to Mary for sending this to me.

Monday 21 November 2011

Virago Book Club

Virago have asked me to post a little message to promote their book club. It doesn't exclusively deal with Virago Modern Classics but it still sounds really interesting and any of you that find it easy to get to London might fancy popping along.

Naomi says:

"Virago hosts a live book club event every month during which we invite members of our Book Club to come into Little, Brown for some wine and/or cake and a chat with our featured author and their editor. This month, on 29th November, our book club will be discussing Polly Samson’s Perfect Lives with Polly and Lennie Goodings, her editor. Here is the link for the book club:

All members are able to attend the live event and get a 20% discount at Foyles on the book that is featured each month, as well as unlimited access to our Forum ( where they are free to discuss anything and everything book and/or Virago related!"

Monday 14 November 2011

Seventh heaven (Hoffman)

It's not often these days that I spot a VMC at the library which I haven't read, but I did last week - it was Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman. I was already aware of Hoffman as quite a prolific author of whom I've already read a couple of books; it turns out that Seventh Heaven is her only VMC. Written in 1990 it must be one of the most recent VMCs to be on the list.

Set in the late 1950s on Long Island, it tells the tale of a mother and son who move to a suburban community and are outcasts. It's a time when social mores are absolute, and a single mother, a divorcee, is considered scandalous. There is a veneer of perfection in the suburb, but it is obvious from early on that there will be cracks and it is only time before they are revealed. To some extent, the arrival of Rita and her son precipitate this.

Reading reviews of Alice Hoffman's work, it seems that she is famous for magical realism in her writing. I have to say that I didn't especially notice that in this book, but this is also one of her more realistic books. I just found the plot and the characters absorbing as she paints a very good picture of life in the suburb.

It's been published once by Virago, with a modern green cover.

Friday 11 November 2011

Aurora Floyd (Braddon); Now in November (Johnson)

It's been a while, and I actually have been reading VMCs since I last posted, just did not get around to posting about them :( So I am going to briefly mention two very different VMCs in this post.

The first is Aurora Floyd by M.E. Braddon. The author was actually recommended to me last year when I started to get into Wilkie Collins books and was interested in exploring other sensation literature. So when I saw that Braddon had two in the VMC series, I had to get hold of them. Of course sensation literature is particularly good to read in the Autumn as the nights draw in, and I did enjoy this book, even though it took a lot of concentration due to the densely written plot with a lot of pages and very small writing. Do pop over and read Simon Savidge's review of it here; he was disappointed by it after reading her other VMC novel, Lady Audley's secret, so I should certainly give that a go.

The second is Now in November which seems an appropriate title to write about since I have not posted since October, although I read it back then. I spotted this in the local Oxfam bookshop - it was not a VMC that I'd ever heard of and of course I picked it up. It turned out to be a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Josephine Johnson. This is her only VMC, although she did write a handful of other novels. Absolutely wonderful. It won the prize in 1935, and tells the story of a farming family deep in the Depression. Think Grapes of Wrath only somewhat more succinct and written by a female author. It is depressing, it is grim, but it is still an exceptional book that is very much worth reading.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Exciting news from Virago

Some of you may have spotted this article in The Bookseller. I got in touch with Virago to find out more and this is the response that Donna, the senior editor, kindly sent me.

"I am pleased to say that in 2013 we will be starting a VMC YA list so that our books can reach a wider audience and we can include some great novels that we might not otherwise be able to publish. Our recent acquisition of some of Rumer Godden’s backlist has provided the opportunity to launch this venture, and alongside her adult novels such as Black Narcissus and Kingfishers Catch Fire, we shall also be publishing some of her books for younger readers – these will include her ballet-themed books, Thursday’s Children and Listen to the Nightingale in 2013, and The Dark Horse and An Episode of Sparrows the following year. She’s an incredible writer who writes as well for adults as for children, yet her books for younger readers are never patronising or overly simplified and can be read and enjoyed by an adult audience – so I hope you like them! "

I am particularly excited about this as I loved Rumer Godden's ballet books when I was little. Too bad that it's still a while before they will be landing in the bookshops!

Tuesday 18 October 2011

A woman of independent means (Hailey)

Wow! Sometimes during what at the moment feels like quite a struggle through the Virago Modern Classics list, a book pops up which I absolutely love, and want everyone else to read, and a book that I probably might not have come across were in not for that list. A woman of independent means by Elizabeth Hailey is this fantastic book.

Written in letters, it covers over 60 years of Bess's life, from early letters to her childhood sweetheart, whom she eventually marries, to the end of her life when most of her friends have died. The book is partly based on Hailey's grandmother - in fact the author says in the introduction that one of her grandmother's friends believed that it was HER letters - but also born out of 1970s feminism (the book was published in 1978). Hailey says in the introduction "I tried to imagine the letters [my grandmother] might have written from childhood to old age and in the process show how full of drama even a seemingly ordinary life could be".

Bess is quite simply an inspiring heroine. The independent means to which the title refers to is the legacy that Bess recieves which gives her considerable independence at a time in the early twentieth century when the majority of women were reliant on their husbands or their fathers for support. But Bess has plenty of independent spirit; she travels by herself, she deals with thhe death of her husband. The independence is perhaps most signified when she marries her second husband and what is effectively a pre=nuptial contract is drawn up.

The structure of the book is impressive; I can't quite conceieve how difficult it must be to come up with a plot, and then tell it not just through letters to one person but to a variety of correspondents.

Here is a quote which I love because it talks about marriage, something which is still very much on my mind at the moment:

""I am always amazed to hear people say the first weeks or months of marriage are the best and then, 'the honeymoon is over.' Of course I thought I loved you with all my heart when we were married, but it took marriage to teach me the outer limits of my anatomy, both physical and spiritual, and now I know that every moment we share further increases my capacity for love." (to her husband, Rob, in 1917)"

This book has just been published once by Virago with a modern cover.

Thursday 29 September 2011

The old man and me (Dundy)

I actually read this before I was struck down with mumps, so apologies for not remembering that much about it! I had been looking forward to reading this book for a while, since reading the Dud Avocado very early on in the VVV, but had been waiting for a second hand copy to turn up.

It tells the story of Honey Flood, an American girl, who comes to London to find her quasi stepfather - the man who married her stepmother after her father died, called Charles McKee. She sets out to seduce him in an attempt to get his month.

In some ways it was very similar to the Dud Avocado, I found myself a bit annoyed by the narrator. It's just been published once by Virago with a modern cover.

PS: I have now read/blogged 380 VMCs! This means I have 176 to go! Hope to make to to 400 by the end of the year...if only I could read 3 a week and then I'd be done in a year's time!!

Wednesday 28 September 2011

The Orlando Trilogy (Colegate)

First of all an apology; mumps got into the way of me getting on with my VMC TBR and getting through 4 books as planned last week. Should not make promises! But I am back, and with a lesser known VMC that I have found really rather readable and enjoyable!

As the title suggests, The Orlando trilogy, is comprised of 3 books, telling the story of Orlando and his family throughout the 1930s where they wield considerable power, and then their decline as we move towards the 1950s. The first book, Orlando King, is a retelling of the Oedipus story - Orlando is brought up on a remote island by a friend of his mothers, and eventually returns to England where he finds his biological father, and ends up marrying his stepmother after his father dies. In the second book, Orlando at the brazen threshold, the action shifts to Italy where Orlando has moved, and he is joined by his 17 year old daughter. He reads the diaries of the man who brought him up in an effort to understand where he came from. Finally Agatha tells the story of his daughter after Orlando has died, she moves back to England.

They are fascinating stories of society in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and I enjoyed the book far more than I was expecting to.

This is Colegate's only VMC, and it's just been published the once by Virago with a modern green cover. I rather like the angle at which the car is photographed and it certainly makes me think of the 1930s. Isabel Colegate I think is probably more famous for her novel The shooting party, a book that I have only heard of and not read, but something I would now like to read.

Monday 19 September 2011

Crewe Train (Macaulay)

I'm determined to make up for not reading any VMCs last week by reading my four newest acquisitions this week, which don't fit onto the VMC TBR shelf. First of the four is Crewe Train by Rose Macaulay. Macaulay was a fairly prolific novelist, most famous for her last novel, The towers of Trebizond, but only three of her books have made it into Virago Modern Classics, none of which I have yet read for the blog.

Set in the 1920s, Crewe Train tells the story of Denham Dobie (what an amazing name that is!), who lives with her unsociable father in Andorra. Her late mother's relatives visit, and take her back to London for a visit, putting her straight into the world which her father has sought to escape. It is difficult for her to join in with the socialising and dinner parties - it is definitely beyond her comfort zone. Eventually, she finds another serious person, Arnold, who she falls in love with and marries.

What I liked about this book was that it made me feel that my dislike of the glittering social worlds portrayed in Edith Wharton books which I always struggle to finish was perhaps justified. Certain sorts of people are just perhaps not as good at social situations as other people, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they won't settle down happily.

It's been published just once by Virago with a modern green cover - interestingly, it is numbered VMC 385, which is a duplicate with Where the apple ripens!

Monday 12 September 2011

New Shelves for my VMCs!

A little while ago, I showed you my VMCs, all sadly piled up and awaiting the construction of their special shelves. Finally this has been done! Don't they look smart?

And a close up so that you can peruse the titles a bit better (they're arranged alphabetically by author at the moment - my only hope of finding things!)

Friday 9 September 2011

The overlanders (Birtles)

I picked up The overlanders from the Virago TBR pile for something a bit different - I'm sure it's not the case, but it feels like I am overwhelmed with a pile of Victorian VMCs to read. It's an unusual book since it followed a film, which Birtles helped to write - the film certainly doesn't seem to be available anymore, but there is some information about it on IMDB here.

Set in the Australian outback during the Second World War, it tells the story of what happens as the Japanese start to try to take over areas of the country, and a trek made by one man, Dan McAlpine, with 15,000 cattle to Queensland, to make a place where food can be provided for the Australians. Dan is joined by the Parsons family - Ma, Pa, Mary and Helen who want to escape the bombing even though they have built up their home and business in the Northern territory. What amazing characters Mary and Helen proved to be - exactly the sort of young women that make Virago Modern Classics worth reading, strong, full of character. I loved the descriptions of the riding and the herding of cattle that they get involved with, but at the same time there is the sobering realisation that the people of Australia faced many of the same fears of bombs and war as people did in Europe.

It's Birtle's only novel and it has been published just the once by Virago with this original green cover.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Dear departed

What a very different VMC Dear departed was. Lyrical, and a wonderful evocation of a life growing up in France at the start of the twentieth century. I loved the way the translation made the words and sentences seem slightly unfamiliar, in the way that something that has not been written in original English often comes across. Yourcenar was a prolific writer and essayist, and her experience in writing certainly shone through this book. It's a mixture of memoirs and letters and momentos that give such insight into French history.

It's part of a trilogy - this part deals with her mother's side of the family, the other Virago, How many years, with her father's side, but Virago have not published the third ("A vision of the void"). This volume was published once, with a modern green cover.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

The harsh voice (Rebecca West)

It's been a bit of a while since I've posted - but do not fear, I am determined to continue my quest to read all of the Virago Modern Classics. My husband is building me shelves at the moment to house my collection in all their glory, and I can't wait to display them again after having them piled up in the spare room since we moved :(

I do have my VMC TBR handy, and so I picked off The harsh voice by Rebecca West, mainly because I am feeling guilty about this book as I accidentally bought it twice. I've passed on the extra copy to a friend who is more keen on Rebecca West than I am, but I still felt I should read it sooner rather than later, given that I had spent twice the amount of money on it!

The harsh voice is actually 4 novellas, mostly with some connection to America, described in the blurb as exploring "the lives and relationships of rich women and men who are ruled by "the harsh voice we hear when money talks, or hate"".

I found the first story, "Life Sentence" in the book distinctly disquieting. It opens with a couple who are about to be married, only the groom announces two days beforehand that he does not want to go through with it. His future wife talks him into it since he has said that he will go ahead if she desires; but the reader feels unsettled and knows that nothing good could possibly come of that situation, particularly given the title of the story. Their marriage seems to start off happily but it is definitely fated, and the woman's obsession with money leads quickly to its breakdown. It did not make happy reading on the 3rd week anniversary of my wedding day.

In another, "The salt of the earth", the character Alice has an opinion on how to change everyone (but herself) for the better, which leads her husband to relieve everyone by poisoning her nighttime drink.

The book was distinctly unsettling and certainly not a feel-good read. I suppose it is in the grain of all of the Rebecca West novels that I have read that they are not terribly happy.

You can find a fuller review of the book here, on the Pages Turned blog. And, I also found this review by Edith Wharton in 1935 - I thought that was fascinating, one VMC lady's take on another.

This book has just been published once as a VMC with an original green cover.

Friday 5 August 2011

Palladian (Elizabeth Taylor)

Virago are continuing with their reissues of the Elizabeth Taylor VMCs, and the next one is Palladian. I like this cover rather more than some of their other new ET editions. It's out today, 5th August.

Sometime soon, I must do an Elizabeth Taylor catch up, to compensate for having read them all before I started this blog!

Monday 25 July 2011

The children (Wharton)

I remembered whilst I was writing my review of Hudson River Bracketed the other day, that I had never blogged about a Wharton novel that I read pre-VVV - The children - so I thought it was time that it had a post of its own, for completeness sake. It's been quite a while since I read it, so I'll share the synopsis from

"A bestseller when it was first published in 1928, Edith Wharton's The Children is a comic, bittersweet novel about the misadventures of a bachelor and a band of precocious children. The seven Wheater children, stepbrothers and stepsisters grown weary of being shuttled from parent to parent "like bundles," are eager for their parents' latest reconciliation to last. A chance meeting between the children and the solitary forty-six-year-old Martin Boyne leads to a series of unforgettable encounters. Among the colorful cast of characters are the Wheater adults, who play out their own comedy of marital errors; the flamboyant Marchioness of Wrench; and the vivacious fifteen-year-old Judith Wheater, who captures Martin's heart. With deft humor and touching drama, Wharton portrays a world of intrigues and infidelities, skewering the manners and mores of Americans abroad. "

It's been published three times by Virago - original green, modern green, and a modern cover, which is the one that I picked up in Borders a few years ago. I actually love the picture which is on the front of the modern edition, as unusually, it sums up the content rather well.

Friday 22 July 2011

Sunflower (West)

As I've said before, I have a somewhat mixed relationship with stalwart Virago Modern Classic author Rebecca West. So I wasn't quite sure whether or not I would like Sunflower, especially as it seemed to be somewhat different to some of her other novels. It's described as an unfinished fragment, although it is just as long as any of her other books. Where it differs I think, is the extent to which it is autobiographical.

Sunflower, of the title, is an actress and mistress to Lord Essington ("Sunflower" is his private name for her); she leads a glamourous life, but really wants to settle down in domesticity, and this leads her to pursue a millionaire politician named Francis Pitt who she believes will help her to attain this.

Apparently, this is a portrait of Rebecca West's relationship with HG Wells (Essington) and her doomed obsessive love for the politician Beaverbrook. The afterword says that those who knew West would not have recognised her as Sunflower, but surely, in a novel like this you would want to describe yourself as you would like to be? I found the novel quite absorbing although I couldn't quite decide whether I sympathised with Sunflower or not, but I think I was fascinated by the idea that it was based on real life.

It's just been published once by Virago with the original green cover - I can't help feeling disappointed that Virago didn't use an appropriate Vincent Van Gogh for it.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Bodily Harm (Atwood) 125

I started out by looking at reviews on Amazon when I came to write this blog about Bodily Harm by Margaret Atwood. I have a mixed relationship with Atwood - I find some of her more futuristic writing quite inaccessible, and some of her books are compelling whilst others I have struggled to get into at all. The consensus on Amazon was that this was a disappointing Atwood novel; I disagree as it was one that I found quite gripping. Whilst, from the synopsis, on the back of the book, you might expect it to be a thriller, it is more of a book about a woman and her life, cleverly building up a picture of her life with flashbacks from the present.

The principal character, Rennie, is a journalist, who, takes an assignment to a Carribean island in an attempt to get away from her life. In the early part of the book we learn about how her relationship with her boyfriend Jake has broken down, and how she has suffered a masectomy. But whilst in the Carribean she becomes heavily involved in some political upheaval and an attempted coup to overthrow the government. I was less interested in this story than in learning about Rennie's life, although the dark ending made me wish for a more uplifting conclusion.

It seems to have been published as a VMC twice, once in the original green edition with the wonderful abstract picture on the front (I just love those colours!) and once in a modern version.

Friday 15 July 2011

Hudson river bracketed (Wharton)

Given my previous experiences with Wharton (with one exception, not very good), I'm not quite sure why I picked out Hudson River bracketed in the Oxfam bookshop. I suppose it was a combination of the immaculate original green edition, and the fact that because of this challenge, I will have to read it at some point.

It is one of Wharton's later novels, and the high society theme which characterises some of her most classic books (which is the thing I think I struggle with most), is less apparent. The book can essentially be summed up as "a portrait of a young man"; the main character is Vance Weston, who upon becoming ill, is sent off to convalesce with cousins who live by the Hudson river. While he is there, he meets Halo, a writer, who inspires in him a great love of literature, and the book follows his struggles to become a writer. He meets Halo later in life, and she introduces him to the literary circles of New York. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the first half of the book much more - although it does pose an interesting comparison between what Edith Wharton paints as the naieve Midwest and the glittering New York.

There's a sequel, which I also picked up at the same time - The gods arrive. I shall try to have a read of that in the next week, although I have to say that it is not a sequel I am especially looking forward to reading.

This one has been published twice, once in original green, and once in modern green.

Thursday 14 July 2011

New Virago hardbacks

They're not out til August, but I was so excited to open a box brought back from the sorting office by K last night and see these wonderful hardback Virago modern classics which Virago have so kindly sent me. You may recall that they brought out 6 hardbacked VMCs a couple of years ago, to mark the 30th anniversary of the imprint, I've managed to collect 5 of those 6, and so I was very happy to have these to add to my collection and to show off to you all!

The titles are:
The tortoise and the hare (Jenkins)
The dud avocado (Dundy)
The enchanted April (von Arnim) [I have read this but seem not to have blogged about it - must rectify that]
My cousin Rachel (Du Maurier)
Good behaviour (Molly Keane) [the only one that I haven't read - not a huge Molly Keane fan but will give it a go very soon, inspired by this!]

I do own copies of these already in paperback editions, but who could resist a second beautiful hardbacked version for their shelves? You can find information about the cover designers on the Virago website here.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Brother Jacob (Eliot)

Like yesterday's read, I have to confess again to picking up Brother Jacob from the TBR pile for its size - a mere 50pp + afterword, made it one of the slimmest VMCs that I've seen (with the possible exception of The yellow wallpaper). Having not particularly enjoyed Eliot's, The lifted veil, I have to say that I didn't anticipate this one very much, especially when the introduction told me that this novella was even more overlooked than that one.

It is the tale of David, who decides that he wants to become a confectioner, but upon taking up this trade he finds it much harder work than he had imagined, so he decides that he will emigrate to the West Indies. He doesn't have enough money, so tricks his brother, the rather simple Jacob, so that he can steal his mother's savings, and off he goes. The story then switches to another confectioners' shop, run by an Edward Freely. But who is he? The arrival of Jacob on the scene reveals everything...

I guess I might have better luck with Eliot's other more well-known novels, but of course they aren't VMCs!

It's just been published once by Virago, with an original green cover.

Monday 11 July 2011

A virtuous woman (Gibbons)

I have to confess that I picked this one out of the tbr because it was a) relatively slim and b) had reasonably large handwriting. But I was very happy to see that it was a book about marriage; marriage is something that is definitely on my mind at the moment, with a wedding in 21 days time.

The book starts however, with Ruby, the wife, dying in hospital at lung cancer, aged 45. Her husband is at home after her death, eating food that she had prepared out of the freezer. The end of marriage is something that absolutely terrifies me; as K is older than me I am quite likely to be the one left behind, and I just can't imagine it. From that chapter, we go back in time, with chapters narrated alternately by Ruby, and her second husband Jack, in order to piece together the story. Jack was responsible for rescuing Ruby after her first husband was killed, and she was left without any money or anywhere to live. Jack is 20 years her senior, but never married, not being particularly attractive or successful. It's an unlikely match, but the pair grow to love each other.

Gibbons has written some other VMCs, including Ellen Foster, and like that book, I found that this was an emotional read; it might not be very plot driven, but I liked the characters and the journey that I went on with them.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Civil to strangers (Pym)

I'm excited that another Pym novel has made it back into print - it looks like Virago may be bringing out the complete set of her novels, as I see from Amazon that Crampton Hodnet (such an underrated Pym novel) will be out in May 2012. I just love this colourful cover which has Barbara Pym written all over. It's out today, 7th July.

Tuesday 5 July 2011


Why yes, I may have popped into the Oxfam bookshop in Thame when I went to the cake shop to buy icing for my wedding cake. They had LOADS of green Viragos, including these which I didn't have. TWO Edith Whartons - not quite sure what I was thinking there, but they are beautiful, so maybe owning them in original green editions may encourage me - I hope so as they are mighty tomes. Ditto, Rebecca West, I am a little indifferent over, but I am excited by another Margaret Atwood. I've only read Death comes for the archbishop, and actually I can't remember what sort of edition I already own it in, owing to the disorganisation of my VMCs which are still waiting for shelves...

I must get back on track with the VVV so hope to write about some of these soon.

Friday 24 June 2011

The semi-attached couple and The semi-detached house (Eden)

I received this book as a "new house" present from Heather who reads this blog (and who has kindly sent me books before). Of course it is an exceptionally appropriate book since the house that we have purchased, and just moved into is a 1940s semi.

I couldn't resist starting with the second book in the volume, The semi-detached house. Of the two books, Semi-Detached was written second, but published first, and it was only when it met with success that the earlier book was brought into print. Set in the Regency period, and thus a somewhat older house than ours, it felt a little like reading Austen or maybe EH Young (although not somehow so good), being a book plotted mainly around social manners and social convention. It starts with Lady Chester moving into the semi-detached house, and being somewhat horrified that she has such adjacent neighbours, the Hopkinsons. It is not until the Hopkinsons offer hospitality to Lady Chester and her Aunt Sarah after a chimney fire in the kitchen that the two sides begin to get on, although they are not socially very well matched. Other neighbours, The Sampsons, are introduced, intent on social climbing, but somehow not as good as the Chester household. There is a lot of matchmaking and somehow everything seems to end happily.

It's now nearly three weeks since I read the other novel in the book, and I'm afraid I can't remember much about it! It's a story about a newly married couple, who didn't exactly marry for love. I just remember feeling glad that I will be marrying for love very soon!

This was a very early VMC (number 16 on the list), and was only published once in an original green edition, although the copy that I own is the black Dial Press version.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Dangerous calm (Elizabeth Taylor)

I was a little disappointed by Dangerous calm, the selected stories of Elizabeth Taylor. Not because of the quality of the stories, which, like her other short story volumes are excellent, but mainly because most of the stories had already been published in VMC editions of her other short stories. Whilst it did include 2 previously unpublished stories, I felt disappointed as I was looking forward to a completely new (to me) collection of her work.

It's been published once by Virago in a modern green cover; I picked up the earlier (non VMC) hardback edition which features this cover:

(I think the lack of a beautiful original green cover edition with pretty flowers on the front was another reason behind my disappointment if I'm honest)

Thursday 9 June 2011

They are tripled stacked here, and the eagled eyed among you will spot a non-VMC edition of a VMC which I fished out to reread and forgot about, but here is my complete collection of VMCs, which will go downstairs in our front room once the shelves are put in (the only way that I could get my collection of fiction to fit in the third bedroom...).

Friday 3 June 2011

Ethan Frome (Wharton)

Who'd have thought that I'd want to put "Wharton" and "wonderful" in the same blog post? I know the last Wharton book that I wrote about (her collected short stories, Roman Fever), were enjoyable, but Ethan Frome was a complete departure for me from the other Wharton books that I've read. And it's all about the setting I think. Set in a New England town, and featuring Ethan Frome, a farmer, it couldn't really be much further away from the busy world of the New York socialites. It's a slim volume, which is why I picked it up (I thought I might be able to handle a small dose of Wharton), but actually, I would have loved it to be a bit longer.

A rather wonderful love story about Ethan Frome, and his invalid (and rather demanding) wife Zeena. Their marriage was not a love-match, but one of convenience after she nursed his mother through her last illness, which she claims is the reason why she is so poorly now. Although, the reader surmises that perhaps a large part of her illness is caused by her imagination. Zeena's cousin Mattie is sent for to help around the house (although she isn't very helpful - quick to learn, but just as quick to forget how to do things). As the farm is so isolated, she occasionally goes into the town for an evening's entertainment, and Ethan always walks in (at the request of Zeena) to walk Mattie home again. Ethan falls in love with Mattie and seems to see her as representing the happiness that he doesn't have with Zeena. I don't want to say more without revealing spoilers, but I was gripped to the end to find out what would happen with the central characters.

I just thought that it was beautifully written, and I loved it. It was not what I was expecting frm an Edith Wharton at all. Let's hope that more of the remaining Whartons (I think I have 8 to go) are like this.

My copy is the italicised green edition above, and it's also been published with the same picture in the modern green edition, and with a different picture in an original green edition.

Thursday 26 May 2011

New Holtby editions

These beautiful new Holtby edition are out today - I'm so excited that Virago have brought Holtby back into print (I guess in the wake of the success of South Riding). I think these covers are wonderful.

You can read my blogs about these books here:
Anderby Wold
Poor Caroline
The Land of Green Ginger

South Riding has also been reprinted with a similar style cover but I don't have a copy of that yet. Here's hoping for Mandoa Mandoa and the short stories (as yet to cross my path) to complete the set. I'm guessing they don't own the rights to Crowded Street since it has been republished by Persephone (so frustrating for someone who would like to own the complete works in uniform editions!).

Tuesday 24 May 2011

The Microcosm (Duffy)

It wasn't until I'd finished reading The microcosm by Maureen Duffy, and was looking for cover pictures on librarything, that I realised I had read another VMC by her, the partly autobiographical, That's how it was. And suddenly, I liked the novel a whole lot more, because it fitted in with that piece of writing, rather than being a seemingly random look at working class life.

The Microcosm is a book about relationships between women, and how they are forced by the ways of society to conceal that they are lesbians. Sadie works in a factory, Stevie is a PE teacher (I liked her sections best, always being interested in schools).

Most of the book is written in streams of consciousness, in different styles for each of the characters. I found that a little difficult to get into, particularly the one that lacked any capitalisation or proper grammer. But I did think that the characters were vividly drawn, and as I had misremembered the book as being one of short stories, it was a better read than I was anticipating.

This book has only been published once by Virago, in an original green edition.

And there's more information about Maureen Duffy on her website here. I'm actually curious now to seek out her non VMC works.

Monday 23 May 2011

Joanna (Lisa St.Aubin De Teran) 429

What a fantastic read Joanna turned out to be - it was a Virago that I knew nothing about before reading (which was probably why I ordered it online), and it was the next book out of my box. It's nice to be surprised by a book.

The novel is a tryptich of tales - the Joanna of the title, her mother Kitty, and her grandmother Florence, and their stories are all brought together at the end. Joanna spends most of her childhood attending convent schools and dealing with her mother who considers her to be an abomination (which is why she is sent away so often); unsurprisingly she rebels which seems to turn her mother even further against her. Finally, in what can only be described as a psychotic episode, her mother attacks her and she leaves home. Trying to find her place in the world is difficult, it is the war, and she becomes a nurse, marries, but her husband is called up and the relationship quickly breaks down. As we then follow the livesof Kitty and Florence, Joanna's story begins to make a bit more sense, but it is not until the very final chapter, when we return to Joanna, visiting her mother in an asylum that it all begins to make sense.

An absolutely gripping family drama.

It has quite an un-Virago like cover - almost a cross between a "green" edition, and a modern edition. The spine is green (except on my copy which is so badly faded that it is blue), but it has a little picture at the top of it.

*Edit* Interesting comment from Jane:

I could be wrong, but I think what happened with the cover was this - the book was a Virago original in the 1980s and became a VMC later, keeping the same cover. Does that make sense?

Thursday 19 May 2011

Liana (Gellhorn)

The method of choosing the next VMC by which one comes out of the box of TBR first seems to be working (we are in the midst of moving house and everything is packed, but it a fairly organised fashion so I can sort of find things if not choose things), as I really enjoyed reading Liana by Martha Gellhorn, a book which is wonderfully reflected by the wistful looking girl on the cover of the Virago edition.

Liana, a young mixed-race girl is taken as a mistress and then married, by Marc, a wealthy Frenchman on a French Carribean island in 1940 (we are told that the island is cut off from the world by the war, but this doesn't seem particularly important). Marc renames her "Julie" and tries to make her into an appropriate wife, getting her to speak French, and finding a teacher so that she can learn to read a book. In some ways Marc seems very benevolent, but the more one learns about him, the more unpleasantly he comes across - the marriage comes with a contract that Liana's family can't visit her, he retains another mistress who he spends at least 3 evenings with a week. Liana's teacher Pierre provides a welcome escape, taking her on picnics and spending time with her for who she is.

It was really quite a different read to Gellhorn's other VMC, A stricken field. Of the two, I enjoyed, and would be more likely to recommend this one.

This has been published just once by Virago with an original green cover.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Lantana Lane (Dark) 212

Today I picked up Lantana Lane by Eleanor Dark, which was another of the four books that I was kidnly sent by Heather. I read The little company, Dark's only other VMC (although she wrote 10 novels) a little while ago and wrote about it here, but this one was quite different (the type was of a much more readable size for a start).

Almost anecdotal and a series of vignettes rather than a novel, this book introduces us to the members of the farming community at Lantana Lane. (Lantana by the way is an uncontrollable tropical weed that plagues the farmers).

It's difficult to write more about it; I loved the descriptions of the characters, such as Gwinny Bell:

"And when you see her working down in the pines, or pedding out her vast quantity of garments on the line, or striding along the Lane to visit one of the neighbours, you seem to hear Wagnerian music, and lo! - the scene dissolves. Fade out the serviceable working clothes , or the best frock of gay, floral rayon; fade out the felt slippers, or the patent leather shoes; fade out the battered, weekday hat, or the Sunday straw with its purple flowers, and its little pink veil. Fade in accomplished draperies which reveal the limbs they should be covering, and shining breastplates which proclaim the curves they guard; fade in gold sandals laced about the ankles; fade in a horned helmet over blond, wind-driven fair."

The characters just seemed to absolutely spring off the pages in this book.

It's just been published once with an original green cover. Do look out for it!

Tuesday 17 May 2011

A garden of earthly delights (Oates)

I read my first Joyce Carol Oates, a little while ago (Expensive People) which was fascinating, not least because of its untypical (for a VMC) male teenager narrator. Shortly afterwards, Rachel at Booksnob reviewed a non VMC Oates book, and we got into a discussion about whether or not Oates was a "bleak" writer. Having only read the one novel by her, I ordered another from the library, A garden of earthly delights, which pleased me by arriving in a nice green edition.

It's one of Oates' early books and thus I'm not sure whether it is typical of the rest of her work. This book is a saga of the life of a woman named Clara, told through three novellas, each named after a man who was significant in her life: Carleton, her father, Lowry, her lover and Swan, her son. And yes, it is pretty bleak. Clara is born to migrant workers in the midst of the depression; we see her as she grows up, and then as she falls in love with Lowry, falling pregnant. But she ends up marrying another man, and the remainder of the book deals with her relationship with her husband and her sons.

This one has just been published once by Virago with a green spine but otherwise "modern" cover. One more Oates features on the VMC list - Solstice - and I shall certainly be intrigued to give it a go. And I found this page about Oates on the internet whilst writing this post which has some interesting articles.

Monday 16 May 2011

Wreath of Roses (Taylor)

Another VMC re-issue, out today - Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor. This features an introduction by the masterful Helen Dunmore. Although I have to say that I'm underwhelmed by the covers that Virago have reissued Elizabeth Taylor in, I am very happy that she has been brought back into print as I hope that it will enable her to find a whole cohort more of readers (see the previous edition's cover below - far more appealing!). Thanks to Virago for sending me a copy.

I've still not blogged about Elizabeth Taylor, as I read most of her books before this blog - if anyone fancies doing a guest review, then let me know!

Thursday 12 May 2011

New Vita Sackville-West editions

Aren't these really rather lovely? I was sent copies of the latest Virago Modern Classics re-releases at the end of April and they're out in the UK today!

I am a big fan of Vita Sackville-West (or as one of my friends refers to her - Ryvita Snackville-West!), who I only discovered as part of my VMC journey, and am really happy that there will be such attractive editions of her works available in the shops as this will hopefully encourage more people to read them.

All Passion Spent
is introduced by Joanna Lumley and The Edwardians is introduced by the historian Juliet Nicholson. Having loved both of these books, I am looking forward to reading the introductions and maybe rereading them, particularly as this summer I will finally get to visit both Knole and Sissinghurst on the August Bank Holiday (as part of a trip to do a sea swim at Margate).

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Dessa Rose (Williams) 447

I didn't know anything at all about Dessa Rose, which I think was why I probably ordered it from Awesome books a few months ago - it was on the VMC list and I had never heard of it. I wondered if it was an undiscovered gem or something which just didn't get talked about because it is not very interesting. I think the book falls into the first category, although I didn't find it very easy to read. I've since seen a number of reviews which compared this book to some of Toni Morrison's works, such as Beloved, and I would agree with that - I mention it here because I know that a number of readers of this blog are fans of hers.

The novel is apparently inspired by two real events as the author's note explains:

A pregnant black woman helped to lead an uprising on a coffle (a group of slaves chained together and herded, usually to market) in 1829 in Kentucky. Caught and convicted, she was sentenced to death; her hanging, however, was delayed until after the birth of her baby. In North Carolina in 1830, a white woman living on an isolated farm was reported to have given sanctuary to runaway slaves. I read of the first incident in Angela Davis' seminal essay, "Reflections on the Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves" (The Black Scholar, December 1971). In Tracking Davis to her source in Herbert Aptheker's American Negro Slave Revolts (New York, 1947), I discovered the second incident. How sad, I thought then, that these two women never met.

And this novel brings them together. It opens with Dessa, the pregnant slave who is waiting for her baby to be born so that she can be hung. I found one scene where she and other slaves join in singing negro spirituals together intensely moving; the very real sorrow at being trapped into this situation. In the second part of the book Dessa escapes, with the help of some other slaves, to Miss Rufel's plantation. Miss Rufel is a white woman, who harbours escaped slaves, but not wholly out of kindness. She has been left by her husband, and most of her slaves left too; she can only stay on the plantation with the help of slaves, and they stay because they have relative freedom.

It's a fascinating read, although the way it is told is not straightforward, mainly because Williams goes very far to try and subvert the usual way in which slaves, black people, white people, women are usually depicted.

It's just been published once by Virago in a green-spine only form/modern green edition.

Monday 9 May 2011

Roman fever (Wharton)

I picked up Roman Fever because I could not in my tired and exhausted state (do not ever try to move house, plan a wedding and train for a 10km swim all in one month) face ploughing through a whole book; at least while I have not had great experiences with Edith Wharton thus far, this was only short stories. Indeed, it was a gift from a kind lady Heather, and she said that at least being short stories it would be over quicker. In fact, I have to say that whilst it wasn't a book that I would rave about, it was definitely the most enjoyable Wharton that I've read so far, and the short stories were fairly chunky ones (20-30pp in comparison to the 4-6pp in Collette that I read last week) and actually captured my attention somewhat (no mean feat at the moment).

The title story is so clever, and its difficult to explain how without giving the point away. Roman fever is an ailment, a little like pneumonia, caught by lovers when they have been out too late at night, meeting at the coliseum. The story is set around two women, friends and rivals, who are visiting Rome with their daughters, and reminiscing about old times. Someone on librarything has described it as "the perfect short story with a twist" and I would certainly echo that.

Another story is Xingu, which is a funny satire about a women's book club. The ladies are hosting a Lunch with a famous author in attendance, but deeply regret having to invite Mrs. Roby, a lady who actually asked another member for her opinion of a book at a previous meeting! There is then a hilarious scene where Mrs Roby, at the lunch, introduces an invented topic of conversation "Xingu" which no-one is prepared to admit their ignorance on.

Maybe I liked these more than I usually like Wharton's work because although "society" is still important, somehow it is less of a focus than it is in her novels? Not sure.

It's just been published once by Virago, in an original green edition. Apologies for the blurry photo, but needed to grab one from librarything for convenience and this was the only one there! Thank you to Heather for sending me this and convincing me to try it.

The other woman (Colette)

I know that I wrote last week about my struggles with short stories, but The other woman by Colette is a very slim volume, and it is years since I read any books by Colette (I greatly enjoyed her Claudine books when I was still at school).

The stories in the book are very feminine and generally focussed around love and set in Paris. Whilst I didn't particularly get into the volume due to the stories being so short (generally around 4p), it did remind me that I enjoyed Colette in the past. I must seek out some more of her work - can anyone recommend any novels (in English please!) apart from the Claudine books that I should read?

It's the only Colette published as a VMC, and it's only been published once with an italicized green edition.