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.

Friday 6 May 2011

Her (H.D.)

The next book I was inspired to remove from that teetering tower of VMCs was "Her" by H.D. Not really because I wanted to read it - in fact, I'd struggled through H.D.'s other VMC (Bid me to live) round about the turn of the year. I remembered when I opened it that I'd picked it up before, and put it down again.... But my friend Claire said that she'd been desperate to read "Her" since reading H.D. at university, and I thought that I could pass this onto her when I was done.

It's a very experimental book. So although the synopsis sounded interesting and like the sort of book that I might want to pick up - a book about a girl in her early twenties trying to work out what she wants to do with her life (gosh, typing that suddenly made me feel old as having just had my 27th birthday I am no longer in that category - good job I feel reasonably happy with where I am at the moment!). But somehow the writing, dare I describe it as post-modern (seems like a bit of a cop-out) was so disjointed and confusing that I never really grasped the story properly.

What a struggle! 4 people on have given it 5 stars so it must just be me. Here's hoping for something a bit more "me" in whatever I retrieve next....

Although I could only find an image of the original green cover, which is pictured above, it's actually been published in the green italicised format

Thursday 5 May 2011

The doll (Daphne Du Maurier)

I haven't yet read it, but today sees the publication of The doll and other stories by Daphne Du Maurier, some previously unpublished short stories by Du Maurier, mostly from earlier in her career. There's an interesting piece on the Virago blog today, including link to radio discussion of it, which is worth checking out.

I can't help wishing that it had been a manuscript of another of DDM's novels that had been found. Yes, it's great to have "new" DDM, but I'm just not a short story fan. I know there are plenty who disagree, and I agree with many of the excellent points made here in this piece on the Virago blog, but the short story medium is just not my favourite.

I do LOVE this cover though - very Du-Maurierish, and it fits in beautifully with the VMC editions of her books, most of which I own (I think I am just missing a couple of non fiction ones).

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Some everyday folk and Dawn (Franklin)

When I made a plea for inspiration as to which VMC to read next, another one that got mentioned several times was Some everyday folk and Dawn, and it reminded me that actually I had been very keen to read it, having loved the exhuberant and whimsical My brillaint career and My career goes bung over a year ago.

I enjoyed reading it but I'm afraid it didn't live up to the other two Franklin books that I had read; it was quite different. The books tells the story of a narrator who finds lodgings with Mrs Clay in Noonoon, Australia, 1904. Among the other people living with Mrs Clay, is her grandaughter Dawn. Dawn is a lively young girl determined to forge a career on the stage, but old Mrs Clay has other ideas and is determined to get Dawn to settle down and take a husband.

It was interesting reading this immediately after Thank heaven fasting, as it was a different take on a similar issue - should women focus on getting married or should they be allowed to (or encourage to) pursue their careers.

It was entertaining but it didn't for me contain the uniqueness that made My brilliant career or My career goes bung such wonderful books.

Unlike Franklin's two career books, which have had a couple of VMC editions, this one has only been published once in an original green edition. But I love the cover art which seems to evoke Australia at the early twentieth century when the book is set.

Monday 2 May 2011

Thank heaven fasting (E.M. Delafield)

Thank you everyone (especially those of you who de-lurked!) for the attempts to enthuse me about my VMC pile. Hearing people sound so excited about some of the titles did cheer me up a bit, and it reminded me that I did very much want to read both the Miles Franklin and the E.M. Delafield. So, I picked the E.M. Delafield as it was shorter: Thank heaven fasting.

It was a good read, although it raised lots of thoughts in my mind about the status of women and how lucky I am, living in the twentieth century about to be married...

The book opens with Monica, going with her mother to the dressmaker to get a gown to wear for her "Coming out". Monica is excited but also deeply concerned, for in her mind, "coming out" is deeply connected with the need for her to find a husband - her position in life will entirely depend on whether or not she succeeds (and girls encountered who are several seasons in and as yet un-engaged are pointed out with deep suspicion). We follow her as she attends her first dinner and ball, strongly influenced by her mother as to how she may or may not behave, and how she nearly brings shame upon herself by spending time with one man alone. As the book continues, tension rises as one wonders whether or not Monica will find a husband or whether mother will be left making excuses for her daughter's apparently inability to become engaged.

It made me sad that girls like Monica should not have had the chance either to pursue romance more informally or really to pursue success on a more personal level - through finding a career or fulfilment in doing some sort of charitable endeavour rather than through a man. I sensed that Delafield thought the same as although even Monica's mother, concerned with social status, is sympathetically drawn, she is pretty scathing towards the society that carries out these practices.

I felt lucky reading this that I had the chance to pursue both a university education, and a career, and, that never really expecting to get married, I met someone entirely without trying and am exactly three months away from my own wedding day.

Sadly, although Delafield wrote a number of novels, only two of the others (including Diary of a Provincial Lady) have made it onto the VMC list. I previously greatly enjoyed the non VMC War-workers, and also was gripped by the Persephone-published Consequences. I've sought out a friend who has quite a collection and will see if I can borrow some of the more obscure ones from him.

Unlike the Diary... this has only been published once by Virago with an original green cover.

Sunday 1 May 2011

Inspire me people...

As part of our imminent house move, I put all of my VMC TBRs in one place...I don't feel inspired to read any of them... Can anyone inspire me to take one from the stack?!