Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The year before last (Boyle) 225

I have to admit to struggling somewhat - I have a whole stack of VMCs, probably around 30, but none of them are calling me. It feels like I have read a lot of duds recently, but scrolling down through the recent posts here I know that is not true. You can't get lost in Cape Town was vivid, Peking Picnic was another good Ann Bridge, if not quite as good as Illyrian Spring.

So my feeling when reading The year before last by Kay Boyle was, what if all of the VMCs I have left are like this? Not bad exactly, but just not books which captivate me. I will persevere anyway as I want to try to read as much of the piles as I can before I move house in less than 4 weeks time. It was my second Kay Boyle novel for VVV, although I don't remember much about Plagued by the nightingale - in fact, I just posted a teaser as I didn't really feel like writing about it.

Set on the French Riviera at the beginning of the twentieth century, it follows Hannah and Martin. The book starts with Hannah leaving her husband to join Martin, who is her editor, and it follows their love affair which is complicated by Martin's aunt, Eve, who is very possessive.

I just couldn't muster up much interest in either the plot or the characters I'm afraid.

Just published once in an original green edition which I own. I don't even like the cover art especially.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Shadows on the rock (Cather)

I am enjoying my Willa Cather subsection of my journey through the VMC list, and Shadows on the rock is my latest. It's really quite different from other Cather novels, and I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point for her work, but nonetheless I really enjoyed it. Whilst other Cather novels frequently involve strong women characters and/or a compelling plot, this one has neither, but is undeniably beautiful.

Set in Quebec, it tells of an apothecary, Euclid Auclair, and his daughter Cecile, who have come to the Canadian province from France after the death of Cecile's mother. Set in 1697 and 1698 the book describes life at that time, the development of Quebec as a place in its own right, and not just as an outpost of the French, although the French influence is certainly both seen and felt. Cecile is 12, and runs the household admirably. In the second half of the book the focus moves to the endurance of a long and hard winter, which is especially difficult as no boats can get through from France, isolating the pair, and the other residents from the relatives that they have left behind.

It's been published twice by Virago, once in an original green edition, which I own, and once

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

You can't get lost in Cape Town (Wicomb) 420

One of the great things about working in the reading rooms at the Bodleian is seeing the books which people are ordering up. 99.9% of the time the books don't interest me terribly, but occasionally someone is doing some research that involves the consultation of a Virago Modern Classic, and with the eye for a green spine that I have developed over the last couple of years, I usually spot it a mile off. About half of the time I spot a green spine, it is one that I haven't come across, and if so, I usually have a quick look at it, and quite often I am tempted into reading something that otherwise I might have taken a little while to come across. One of my recent spots was You can't get lost in Cape Town by Zoe Wicomb.

This is a stunning portrait of Frieda Shenton, a young South African. Given a rural upbringing, she moves to Cape Town, where she struggles somewhat to fit in. Yet when she returns home, she finds herself changed by the city life and no longer fits in there either. Gender, class, race issues are all addressed as obviously the apartheid has a bearing on the times. And at the end, she does return to her roots. Bits of the book were very hard to read, such as the abortion of a nearly full-term baby.

It's not written as a straight novel, rather as a series of interlinked short stories, and I wonder how much it loosely autobigraphical, since the last one ends with Frieda starting to forge a career as a writer (Wicomb wrote a number of short stories and essays on South African literature apparently).

The blurb on the back of this book also says "[this] is one of the first contemporary novels to join the Virago Modern Classics". It was written in 1987, so it is less contemporary now. I would love to find a list of VMCs with the dates of original publication on to see how many VMCs are "contemporary". And I guess it would just be interesting to see the spread of titles. Something for a rainy day, I guess.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Follow the blog by email!

I've just added a gadget that should let you follow this blog by email - you'll see it in the top right hand corner. I hope this means that more people can keep up with the blog more easily - but please do leave comments if you can!

Monday, 18 April 2011

I haven't yet read this one, and don't have a copy either yet but I covet it hugely. K and I have just bought a house, and it is a semi...

I didn't pick up a book all weekend; I hope that I am still going to find time to read! I would like to get rid of most of my VMC TBR before we move at the end of May...

Monday, 11 April 2011

All the dogs of my life (Von Arnim) 397

I apologise for the lack of Virago Venture posts over the last couple of weeks - if you follow my other blog (Cardigan Girl Verity) you'll have seen that I've been reading my way through the Orange longlist. I'm nearly done, and I have a stack of VMCs at home which I'm really looking forward to getting back into. But I snuck one, by one of my favourite VMC discoveries in over the weekend. It was an enjoyable break from the more recent fiction that I've been reading, even if it didn't quite hold up to the other books that I've enjoyed by Elizabeth Von Arnim.

Rather than a novel, this is Von Arnim's autobiography, or at least the nearest she ever got to writing one. It isn't a traditional autiobiography, because she uses as a framework an account of the fourteen dogs that she owned in her life to date - so it is more of a biography of her dogs than really a story of her life.

"I would like, to begin with, to say that though parents, husbands, children, lovers and friends are all very well, they are not dogs." Dogs were hugely important to Von Arnim as reliable companions.

I didn't think it really quite worked for me - perhaps because I am not a doggy person, but mainly because she kept saying as an aside "if this wasn't a book about dogs, then I'd tell you about...." which just annoyed me, and made me wish for a proper autobiography. Elizabeth and her German Garden and The solitary summer seem to give a much better sense of Von Arnim as a person.

I wonder if there is a biography of Von Arnim out there (and if not, perhaps Virago should commission one - I'm sure it would make fascinating reading!)

That's the last Elizabeth Von Arnim that I've got to read for this challenge, although the good (and bad I suppose really) thing is that she wrote a number of novels which never made it into the VMC list and I've still got a couple of those to read. I would love to see the rest of them published as VMCs if anyone from Virago is reading this!

This was published just the once by Virago, with this slightly unusual cover. It does have a green spine even if the front of it looks quite un-Virago like!