Tuesday, 29 March 2011

4 new books

Aren't I lucky?

I got an email out of the blue recently from a lady named Heather in the US, who had picked up some VMCs and thought of me - all four were ones that I didn't have! She very kindly posted them to me and they arrived extremely promptly (I hope my thank you card is as swift in its trip over the Atlantic!). I am particularly excited about reading Thank heaven fasting as I have greatly enjoyed the Delafield books that I have read, and this has been on my wishlist for a while. I did confess that I have struggled with Edith Wharton in the past, but Heather points out that this volume is short stories so may be more manageable. Here's hoping.

Thank you Heather!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

New edition of The fountain overflows

Hot on the heels of the rerelease of The Diary of a Provincial Lady in the VMC list is another rerelease of a title from their back catalogue, The fountain overflows by Rebecca West, the first of a trilogy of books, which is released at the end of march.

Like the Provincial Lady, I'd read this pre-blogging, so the post I wrote here is a little minimal.

But here's the synopsis from the press release that Virago sent me to whet your appetite. I'm looking forward to reading the new introduction by Amanda Craig, whose books I greatly admire.

"Rose Aubrey is one of a family of four children. Their father, Piers, is the disgraced son of an Irish landowning family, a violent, noble and quite unscrupulous leader of popular causes. His Scottish wife, Clare, is an artist, a tower of strength, fanatically devoted to a musical future for her daughters. This is the story of their life in south London, a life threatened by Piers's streak of tragic folly which keeps them on the verge of financial ruin and social disgrace . . ."

I rather like the pastel shades combined with silouettes chosen for the cover. I don't know if there are plans to do the rest of the trilogy, but hope they would be done to match.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

New York Mosaic (Bolton) 464

If you are interested in all things New York (like Booksnob perhaps...?), then this trilogy of novellas is likely to tickle your fancy. I was at first annoyed, because Virago have published many shorter novellas individually, but I had to read three novellas in order to cross only one more book off my list. And whilst I have been to New York, and could just about envisage the places described, the writing and plots didn't grip me enough to make it a VMC that I could rave about. Or even particularly enjoyed reading.

The three novellas in the volume are:
Do I wake or sleep The Christmas Tree Many mansions

Of the three, my favourite was the second - despite reading it in March, I enjoyed the seasonal story which had a sensitive treatment of the story of a gay man at a family Christmas dinner.

Apparently in her day, Bolton was compared to Virginia Woolf, but was forgotten until Virago issued this reprint. I hate to say it but it looks like she has been forgotten again.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Peking Picnic (Bridge)

Hot on the heels of really enjoying Illyrian Spring, I felt that I absolutely must read Ann Bridge's other VMC novel (although she wrote other non-VMC novels too), Peking Picnic. Especially since unlike Illyrian Spring, Peking Picnic has recently been brought back into print by Capachin Classics. Peking Picnic was Ann Bridge's first novel; as a debut novel it is impressive, compared to Illyrian Spring I found it rather less enjoyable, so if you are planning to read both, then I would start with Peking Picnic and then move on. I actually read this several weeks ago, but in the rush of enthusiasm I had when I recieved my Awesome Virago loot I wanted to get on with reviewing those books first.

Set in Peking (and there aren't too many VMCs with a Chinese setting), the book follows the story of Laura Leroy, married to an attache and part of the diplomatic scene there, although she secretly missed England. The book is constructed around a trip made by some of the people attached to the Foreign Legation to a temple in the countryside; the individuals vary in ages, nationalities and life experiences, but all find the trip life-changing in some way. Laura acts as the centre for this, providing advice and inspiration, but also finding herself changed.

Like Illyrian Spring, what I liked best I think about this book was the description of China and the country, as well as the character studies and insight into the lives of the individuals which are beautifully done. Rachel at Book Snob reached a similar conclusion in her review which you can see here.

This by the way is my THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTIETH VMC that I have blogged about (I haven't finished blogging about Elizabeth Taylor yet although I have read all of those), so I have just over 200 to go now (although the collection is of course ever expanding...)

Friday, 18 March 2011

One of ours (Cather)

After Thomas raved about Shadows on the rock by Willa Cather, I was keen to read it. But that title has not yet passed through my hands. However, on my VMC TBR pile was another Willa Cather, so I thought I would try to compensate for not being able to read a book which had piqued my fancy with another one by the same author. Quite a chunky tome, and a Pulitzer Prize-winner no less, One of ours proved to be an excellent novel that stretched out over several days (I am getting better these days at pacing myself through long books and not either feeling overwhelmed by them or rushing through them...) (it is 459pp long).

It's a compelling story about values in the American midwest at the start of the twentieth century. Claude, around whom the story centres, lives on the family farm, and basically follows the path that is mapped out for him - he goes to college, he comes home to work on the farm, he gets married, but he finds the Nebraskan farming community increasingly materialistic and wants to find his own meaning of life. Of course, world views suddenly change with the advent of the First World War - Claude enlists, leaves the farm and finds himself in France. Quite literally finds himself in France. To say anymore would be to introduce a large spoiler, so I won't, but do seek this one out.

Of course, I am now interested in another Cather novel - Lucy Gayheart, which had a synopsis in the back of this volume, so I hope that both this and Shadows on the rock pass my way before too long.

This has been published three times; the copy that I acquired from Awesome books a little while ago is a creased original green edition at the top of this post which I think has a very stark and eye-catching cover picture which fits in with the WW1 theme.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Gooseboy (Barker)

A.L. Barker is good at writing particularly original novels. John Brown's body which I read last month was extremely complex, and The gooseboy is no less original.

It's a book about twins; the male twin Bysshe (pronounced to rhyme with "fish") is a film star (although he has had to adopt a better name for the stage!) and is contemplating a new part as a doctor. His sister, Dulcie meanwhile is trying to retrieve her husband Pike, who has deserted her and headed to Nice with an adolescent girl, near where Bysshe lives. The gooseboy of the title lives on the farm where Bysshe lives when he is not acting, looking after the farm geese; he is characterised by extreme beauty coupled with extreme scarring.

The story is far too complicated to go into in any more detail than that, but it is actually a fairly short book (149p.); somehow Barker manages to weave all of these different elements together to create a clever tale that is extremely well written.

It's a book that I wouldn't have chosen to read were it not for the VMC challenge - a bit too literary for me, but it is great that such literary work is also on the VMC list.

It's been published just once by Virago with a modern green cover. I got my copy from my Awesome books haul a month or so ago...

(By the way, this and the rest of A.L. Barker's oeuvre have recently been reissued by Faber Finds)

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Curious if true (Gaskell)

I rather enjoyed this tale of "short stories" from Mrs Gaskell, if partly because there were only 5 stories in the volume which meant that they were quite long and more like novellas than anything else. I've never actually read any Mrs Gaskell novels before, although I had come across the tale "The old nurse's story" which is in this collection, along with "The grey lady", "The poor Clare", "Lois the witch" and "Curious if true".

It's a reasonably recent VMC, just published once with a modern green cover edition and an introduction by Jenny Uglow.

PS: Has anyone read any novels by Mrs Gaskell? Are they also slightly chilling? And is there a good one to start with? I get the impression that she may be an author who I should discover, like having discovered Wilkie Collins last year.

Monday, 14 March 2011

A stricken field (Gellhorn) 206

Although I have another Martha Gellhorn book on my longer-term VMC TBR, I decided to pick up the one that arrived in my batch of books from Awesome books a few weeks ago - A stricken field. Unfortunately, not only did it take me a while to get through, it took me somewhat longer to get around to writing about it.

The book is based on Gellhorn's own experiences as a journalist during the Second World War in Prague. It starts with the Munich Pact and the subsequent issues, with the invasion of the Germans and the deportations to concentration camps. The story is told by a character Mary, who becomes involved with those suffering under Nazi rule and attempting to do her own bit to resist fascism.

I am often interested in reading wartime memoirs, particularly things like An interrupted life, or Christabel Bielenberg's The past is myself. But somehow, a novel influenced by personal experiences just didn't seem to draw me in. If it had been a memoir maybe I would have liked it somewhat more. Mary is certainly brave but I found myself wondering more and more about Gellhorn's experiences than in staying with the story.

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

Friday, 11 March 2011

The grain of truth (Bawden) 387

It was with a mix of sadness and happiness that I picked up The grain of truth by Nina Bawden. Bawden is one of the authors that I have enjoyed without exception on my VVV, and am happy that there were 14 of her novels on the list. I thought I had read all of them, but then I realised last month that I still had one to go, and managed to acquire a copy! So happiness that I got to read another Bawden, but sadness that this was definitely the last. I even spun it out over a couple of days rather than racing my way through as I sometimes do with a good book.

It's very typically Bawden, less about the plot than about the characters and their lives and a meshing together of domestic experiences and roles. A story told from several perspectives that need to be brought together in order to understand what is really the "truth". Emma, her husband Henry, and her best friend Holly all have different stories to tell, partly fuelled by their own individual deceits, and although the book centres around the trigger of the death of Henry's father (who Emma is convinced that she pushed down the stairs), it delves deep back into their pasts - how they got to know each other. All very interesting and intriguing!

Only published once by Virago in an italicised green edition.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

New edition of The diary of a provincial lady

I have just been sent a copy of the latest VMC which is coming out on the 31st March, and it is a new edition of The diary of a provincial lady! How lovely to see all the volumes of the provincial lady back in print together (Virago published the first book in its cloth bound 40 year anniversary edition a couple of years ago). I wrote about it quite early on in my blog here, and I have to confess that this is my third Virago copy of the title, since I bought two other copies a year or so ago (in bookaholic induced madness, which my blog-readers did understand)...

It is a pretty cover design. This is the FIFTH time that Virago have issued it. I wonder if that is a record for a VMC.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Phoenix Fled (Hosain)

Hot on the heels of reading Sunlight on a broken column, I acquired the other VMC by Hosain, Phoenix fled. This is a book of short stories, which were Hosain's first published work.

The stories are set in India and shed light on the class system and the role of the servant classes. And issues like arranged marriage. Reasonably enjoyable but not as memorable as the longer novel.

Published just once with an original green cover.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Another time, another place (Kesson)

Although my colleague, to whom I lent the last Kesson novel that I wrote about, handed it back saying that it was a bit bleak and grim for her, I was quite looking forward to my next Kesson read. Particularly as Another time, another place, is a mere 94pp novella.

And it was less bleak that Glitter of Mica. A very rural, country novel, it did put me in mind of Mary Webb, but without her bleakness.

Set in 1944, it tells the story of a "young woman", who is referred to by this name throughout (although she is called Janie); this was an interesting technique as it made her seem very anonymous whereas all of the other characters were referred to by their names. Living in a remote Scottish village, and married to a man who works on a farm, she finds herself looking after three Italian prisoners of war from a group who have been billeted on the community. The novella tells the story of the community's interest and involvement with the prisoners of war; the young woman in particular finds them intriguing.

It is a very simple tale but beautifully told.

One more Kesson VMC to go - The white bird passes - and judging by the synopsis I read at the back of this volume, it is one that shall also interest me, and I hope I come across it sooner rather than later.

This one has just been published once, in an italicised green edition.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Bread and butter stories (Norton)

Mary Norton is probably far more familiar to most people as the author behind The borrowers series, or a book that I absolutely adored as a child - Bedknob and broomsticks. But she also wrote stories for magazines - her daughter in the introduction says that these were written to provide the "bread and butter" for the family, hence the name of this volume!

And what good stories they are. I am still wary of short stories but these hit the spot over a couple of busy days where my teabreaks were mainly spent trying to sort out some other things! If you enjoy any of the short story volumes published by Persephone books then I think these will appeal too - subjects range widely from cruise ships to new hats to visually impaired women on trains, all wonderfully executed.

It's been published twice by Virago - once with a green spine (as my copy above) and one more modern edition. Do look out for these.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

A favourite of the gods (Bedford)

A favourite of the Gods is my latest Virago read, again from my Awesome books loot last month. (Having such a good selection to choose from is definitely inspiring me to get through them!). I had read the other Sybille Bedford, A compass error earlier in my project, and looking again at my review (the book had not stayed with me very much) I think that this is the prequel as it involves the same characters, only earlier on - I may now revisit that to see how it fits with this one.

The book starts with a lady called Constanza boarding a train from the Italian Riviera with her young daughter Flavia; they are on the way to England. But suddenly Constanza realises that she has lost her ruby ring and the journey is disrupted - in fact they never complete the journey, although it is not clear why.

The book then goes to an earlier time, and tells the story of Anna, Constanza's mother, an American heiress, who had married an Italian man. The story was interesting but so much dramatic tension had been built up at the start of the book that I struggled to get into it as I was desperate to return to Flavia and Constanza, which I did not get to do until the last third of the book.

It's been published twice by Virago, in original green and italicised green, both time with the same picture. My book is the more recent version.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Expensive people (Oates)

From one over-typical Virago, to something completely different - a story narrated by a male teenager. Expensive people caught my eye on the TBR as the Cardigan Girl household is currently undergoing some financial sorting out, and although Joyce Carol Oates is an author who is quite well known, she is not one that I had heard of.

The book got off to an excellent start "I was a child murderer" - who would not want to read on (even if you don't like murder stories, I think with that sort of introduction you would be intrigued to find out what happens next). Told by Richard, we learn about his wealthy but disaffected childhood and find out what takes him to a position where he ends up being able to make such a statement.

The book reminded me a lot of A catcher in the Rye - the level of disaffection and the very immediate first person narrative, although Richard is far more screwed up than Holden Caulfield ever was.

It felt like an interesting choice for a Virago, particularly given how I felt after my last read. Obviously it is included because Joyce Carol Oates is an eminent female writing, but this one is so far from the run of the mill VMCs. I'm not complaining though - it made for a nice change!

It's been published twice, once with a modern green cover (which I have - part of my Awesome Books loot) and once with a modern cover (below)

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The fly on the wheel (Thurston)

Another day, another Virago modern classic - this time The fly on the wheel by Katherine Cecil Thurston. And a book that I found very typical of original green Viragos; I'm not sure how to explain it but sometimes one feels that books are particularly original green Virago-ish and this was one of them.

Set in the late 19th century (Victorian - check), in the village of Waterford (village - check), the blurb describes it as a "vivid portrait of social behaviour" (social behaviour them - check) "among the Catholic middle classes" (religious element - check). It centres around the character of Isabel Costello (even the name of the heroine felt particularly VMCish) who has become engaged (marital relationship - check) to Frank, a young doctor. But his brother Stephen intervenes (the path of love is never smooth - check) as Frank lacks money and Isabel has none bestowed on her either.

Things got a little more interesting and untypical when Isabel and Stephen who is married with children fall in love, but I couldn't help feel that Thurston was almost writing to a formula, or that Virago republished this book because it fitted in with her formula.
Maybe I am being a little unfair to this book...I enjoyed it, but somehow it felt like so many of the books that I have already read for this challenge.

Thurston, the author, only wrote two novels, dying early (promising career cut short - check) and this is her only VMC.

It's just been published once, in the original green cover version, which I own.