I’ve now finished the ‘treat’ books which I bought courtesy of my mother, and I’m delighted to say there wasn’t a dud among them – I loved them all. Actually, when I say I’ve completed them, I’m lying, because I’ve got two Works in Progress where I opted for slow reads: Vere Hodgson’s wartime diaries, Few Oranges and No Eggs, and the Short Stories of Sylvia Townsend Warner. As a rule I’m a fairly fast reader (I want to know what happens, so I have to reach the end quickly, then I can go back and take my time with a re-read!). But Hodgson’s book is such a chunkster, and so packed with information and observations that it lends itself to a more leisurely approach, which gives me time to take everything in, and to think about what life must have been like, and to look things up, and find other books from the same period. And short stories, I’ve decided, should be read one (or possibly two) at a time, rather than racing through an entire book in one fell swoop, which means my brain gets overloaded, and I cannot appreciate the individual tales because they all get jumbled up together! I am sure I never used to have problems like that – it must be a side effect of old age and decrepitude!
First is Novel on Yellow Paper by poet Stevie Smith, which I’m reading at the moment, and enjoying immensely. It is one of the most extraordinary novels I’’ve ever come across, which will make writing about it quite a challenge, but I’m hoping to put up a post next week, however inadequate my thoughts may seem.
Next is another novel from another poet: Mr Petre, by Hilaire Belloc, who is known mainly for his Cautionary Tales (remember Matilda, who told such dreadful lies, it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes, or Henry King, whose chief defect was chewing little bits of string). I knew he wrote more serious poetry, but hadn’t realised he was a prolific author, who also produced novels, travel books, political essays and all sorts of other things. This particular book is a very shabby old Penguin (number 633, with a dancing bird on the front) and I have no idea what to expect. According to the blurb on the inside cover:
Mr Petre was undoubtedly a financial magnate at whose name the stock markets of the world wobbled. And the Englishman in American clothes, who had landed at Southampton from New York was undoubtedly Mr Petre. Indeed, it was the only thing about which he has no doubt, that his name was Petre. Otherwise his memory was a blank.
Anyway, we shall see what I make of it. If I hate it, I’ll give it to Oxfam!
And I have another Penguin, though this one was published a little later – it’s a 1979 edition of The Enchanted Places, by Christopher Milne, and I have every hope that it will prove to be as enchanting as the title, and as pleasurable to read as the stories about Pooh and Christopher Rob written by his father, AA Milne. I’ve read reviews by other bloggers who adored this, but cannot remember who they were - Simon T at Stuck in a Book perhaps, or Claire at The Captive Reader. So, since I cannot refer you to a sensible writer, I shall have to quote from the Blurb on the Back, which states:
With deftness and artistry Milne has drawn a memorable portrait of his father, and an evocative reconstruction of a happy childhood in London and Sussex. It is a story told with humour and modesty.
And, while mooching around in a charity shop in Barnstaple I unearthed another autobiography, by author Noel Streatfeild. A Vicarage Family looks to be a gentle, nostalgic stroll through her Edwardian childhood, and I’m curious to see how it influenced her writing. I’ve yet to read any of her adult fiction, but I’ve read and loved many of her children’s stories, and would like to know more about her.
Hunt the Slipper by Violet Trefusis sounds very different. She and Streatfeild were born a year apart, yet their lives and writing are worlds apart. All I know about Trefusis is that she was the daughter of Alice Keppel (the mistress of Edward VII) and that she was the lover of Vita Sackville-West – didn’t they actually elope together at some point? And I seem to remember reading that their affair and its aftermath inspired Virginia Woolf to write Orlando. Anyway, once again my lack of knowledge means I’ll have to fall back on the Book Blurb for information:
Nigel Benson is a 49-year-old sybarite, living in comfort with his sister Molly in their gracious country house near Bath, occasionally indulging in the odd love affair. One day he visits his neighbour Sir Anthony Crome where he meets Caroline, young, restless, fascinating – and Sir Anthony’s new wife. They meet again in Paris, fall passionately in love, and their exquisite game begins!
Serendipity must have been at work here, because the very next book I came across was The Edwardians, by Vita Sackville-West, which I spotted in the shop at our local tip, or Household Waste Recycling Centre as it is now known! I liked All Passion Spent, which focuses on an elderly woman at the end of her life, but here Sackvile-West’s central characters are much, much younger. I’ve done nothing but quote from Blurbs in this post, but until I’ve read the books I can’t say anything else! For what’s worth, this one tells us that:
Sebastian and Violet are siblings, and children of the English aristocracy. Handsome and moody, ay nineteen Sebastian is heir to the vast country estate, Chevron. A deep sense of tradition and love of the English countryside tie him to his inheritance, yet he loathes the glittering cold and extravagant society of which he is part. Viola, at sixteen, is more independent: an unfashionable beauty who scorns every part of her inheritance – most particularly that of womanhood.
Finally, I bought a copy of Things That Are, Encounters with Plants, Stars and Animals by Amy Leach, because I picked it up in Waterstones in Birmingham, just to look at it, and ended up sitting on the floor reading it. On the back says: “This is a book about the Universe which begins with swimming salmon and ends with the starry sky.” That’s a pretty good description really, because it’s a series of short essays reflecting on life, the universe and everything, with snippets about nature, history, science, myth, and a host of other things, and as the author ponders them she also thinks about Man and his place in all this. She reminded me of Kathleen Jamie, and I’m enjoying this slender volume very much indeed.
In addition to my ‘new’ books I’m still exploring short stories, and will be posting my thoughts on Sundays (well, most Sundays), and I’ve been looking at Vere Hodgson’s diaries from January to June 1941, and trying to discover a bit more about life on the Home Front. And I’m trawling through my gardening books to discover what I should be doing in the garden – if I can spare the time from reading! All this will probably take me into October, but it’s nice to have a list, even if I don’t stick to it!