Saturday, 6 June 2009

Virago Modern Classics

First published in 1918 The Return of the Soldier demonstrates Rebecca West's gift for writing. Chris Baldry, charming, handsome and wealthy, returns from the war with amnesia caused by shell-shock. He has forgotten about his beautiful, spoilt wife Kitty, and devoted young cousin, Jenny. Instead his memory resides 15 years ago with his first love, Margery Allington, a woman now grown shabby, tired and poverty-stricken. Told from the perspective of Jenny, this is a brilliant short novel. If you are new to Rebecca West I also recommend The Fountain Overflows. After reading it this novel will haunt you for days - in a good way!

I wasn't sure whether I liked Elizabeth Von Arnim's Elizabeth and her German Garden at first. It seemed a lot like a gardening manual and I'd been hoping for a novel. However, as it progressed I started to enjoy it. A little like Diary of a Provincial Lady without quite the same wit and warmth.


Anonymous said...

I read The Enchanted April recently but it didn't quite live up to its wonderful beginning when they see their Italian castle advertised in The Times. But I love old Viragos ... found an Elizabeth Taylor in the Oxfam shop today, one of those lovely old art covers, too, what a shame they've dropped them! And I now have an Oxfam loyalty card! (Buy six books and they'll sink you a well in the garden ...)

Vintage Reading said...

Hi, I have to say I don't feel like rushing out for Von Arnim's other novels after reading this. However, I have seen a film of Enchanted April which was very good. I wish I could find some vintage Taylor. I've only got the re-issues.

Paperback Reader said...

I really enjoyed The Enchanted April but I haven't read any other Von Arnim.

I have to say that I struggled to read the first fifty pages of The Fountain Overflows and surrendered; I was disappointed not to love it but the parents annoyed me.

Mad Housewife said...

I love Rebecca West. The Fountain Overflows is the first of a trilogy. I haven't read The Return of the Soldier and will have to find it (somewhere in the house!). I've got The Judge - found at a charity sale - and haven't gotten around to it.

I enjoy Elizabeth Von Arnim, but her books are wildly uneven. Last summer I read The Caravaners and loved it: about a German couple who go on a caravan trip in England with acquaintances in unspeakable weather. The wife blooms and begins to speak her mind, but the husband is furious at the uncomfortable weather and alienates everyone. It's really very funny.

As for Elizabeth and Her German Garden, I agree with you that it's not great (I had my von Arnim period last summer and read this online). It was so popular in its time that I expected more. But I found Elizabeth a bit snobbish.

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

I read The Fountain Overflows years ago and loved it at the time. The Return of the Soldier is so well-known that I'm not sure if I actually read it or just imagine I have. That should not be the case, but sometimes even good books get forgotten and fall into the bottomless pit of titles read and released from memory.

I've always wanted to read Eliz and her German Garden but now I'm not so sure. Though, as a serious gardener, perhaps I'd find her tips useful!

Vintage Reading said...

It's good to "meet" so many Rebecca West fans. Yes I have read the Fountain Overflows trilogy, I loved This Real Night but I think Cousin Rosamund shows that West was writing against failing health.

I think the Von Arnim would particularly interest you as a gardener Linda and it is admirable that she creates a garden from a wilderness. I'm not sure that this book is a good novel, though.

Anonymous said...

And she has some of Jane Austen's acerbic wit. I love von Arnim.