Wednesday 29 April 2009

Katherine Mansfield (part 1)

Short stories have to be good to drag me away from my beloved novels and Katherine Mansfield's short stories are very good indeed. This collection of selected stories includes some set in Europe and others set in Mansfield's native New Zealand. I particularly like the New Zealand stories and these include The Garden Party, Her First Ball, The Doll's House and Prelude.

In The Garden Party, Jose, Laura and Meg Sheridan are assisting their mother to prepare for a lavish party. Workmen arrive to set up a marquee, the gardener is preparing the lawn, the cook is taking deliveries of pastries and pots of pink canna lilies are arriving from the florist. Amidst the preparations a workman is thrown from his horse and killed in the lane outside their house. Laura feels it is no longer appropriate to hold the party but her mother and sisters insist on going ahead ...

Mansfield's style is to show and not tell and many of her stories have a dark or ominous twist which left this reader longing to know more.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Lady Chatterley's Lover

Library book club is coming up and the selection for this month is Lady Chatterley's Lover. Re-written three times before D H Lawrence died in 1930 and the subject of an obscenity trial the book was finally published in 1960. Although quite explicit there is not much that would shock any reader of contemporary fiction now but I can see how it caused a stir in its day!

Lady Constance Chatterley begins an affair with her invalid husband's gamekeeper, Mellors, and many passionate trysts take place in the grounds of Wragby Hall. There are some beautiful descriptions of an English woodland spring and I rather liked the acid wit of Clifford Chatterley, but ultimately all the characters in this novel are so selfish and unpleasant that I didn't care much what happened to any of them.

When I got home from work today my Persephone Biannually with matching floral bookmark was on the mat. How nice!

Friday 17 April 2009

Susan Coolidge

Both my daughters have been quite poorly this week. Last-minute appointments with the GP, several trips to the chemist and late-night phone calls to NHS Direct have meant abandoning my tbr list, but I have been reading to the girls amidst boxes of tissues, Strepsils, antihistamines, Olbas oil, Nurofen, and (sorry) a bowl waiting in case anybody was sick.

Although my daughters are not especially interested in classic children's books, preferring the social realism of Jean Ure and Jacqueline Wilson, they have really enjoyed Susan Coolidge's What Katy Did. I'd forgotten how funny it is. We particularly liked the extract from Dorry's journal.

March 25 - Forgit what did,

March 27 - Forgit what did.

March 29 - Played.

March 31- Forgit what did.

April 1 - Have dissided not to kepe a jurnal enny more.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Green hair and puffed sleeves

'Well', said Marilla sarcastically, 'if I'd decided it was worth while to dye my hair I'd have dyed it a decent colour at least. I wouldn't have dyed it green.'
You can almost smell the tang of the fir and spruce trees in the air of Prince Edward Island as you read Anne of Green Gables. I do like novels which give a strong sense of place and time. There were lots of regional expressions in this book which interested me. I didn't know that a Christmas where it doesn't snow is known as a 'green Christmas' or that there is a dress fabric called 'glory' and I loved the fact that at Anne's school they kept their milk cold by standing it in a stream all morning!

The juxtaposition of Anne's imaginative flights of fancy and Marilla's dour put-downs make this a delightful read. Some of Anne's escapades, such as putting liniment instead of vanilla into a sponge cake and accepting a dare from arch-rival Josie Pye to walk across the gable roof reminded me of Little Women and What Katy Did. I'd love to find a copy of The Blue Castle an adult novel by Montgomery which is now out of print.

Saturday 11 April 2009

Reading plans

Shall I just re-name this the Willa Cather blog and be done with it? I'm planning to re-read an old favourite The Professor's House over the Easter break. Bit of a fuzzy photo but I'm not faffing around with the camera any more - cuts into valuable reading time! I've almost finished Anne of Green Gables. Why did I leave it so long to discover the wonderful Lucy Maud Montgomery? I'm also thinking of reading some Katherine Mansfield short stories, too. It's many years since I've read Mansfield.

Have a lovely Easter break everyone and remember that reading is a sedentary activity so go easy on the chocolate eggs;-)

Tuesday 7 April 2009

More Olivia Manning

Somebody seems to be donating all their Olivia Manning Virago Modern Classics to my local second hand bookshop. Keep them coming please! After the completion of The Balkan Trilogy Manning wanted to write a contemporary novel which captured the spirit of the 1960's. The Play Room was published in 1969. The cover shows the painting Daisy Fairy by Peter Blake.

Fifteen-year old Laura is bullied at school, deeply insecure about the way she looks and worships her classmate, the beautiful Vicky. When Vicky's best friend Gilda goes abroad for the summer Laura becomes close to Vicky and the two of them spend Saturday nights at the local disco where they enjoy their power to attract local men until Vicky takes things too far.

I do like coming-of-age stories and Manning has drawn on her own adolescent experiences to create a convincing portrayal of teen angst. There are some disturbing sexual elements to this story but it is sometimes good to read outside of your comfort zone. I like this extract, where Laura goes shopping for clothes with her mother:

They went on a Thursday to a South Camperlea chain store where dresses of metallic brilliance hung on a line marked 'STRAIGHT FROM CARNABY STREET', Laura went behind a screen and came out wearing a shift made of polyvinylchloride treated to look like gold. It had trimmings of yellow, purple and pink, and it looked to Mrs Fletcher like a cruel joke played on youth.

Friday 3 April 2009

The Lorax and more Jane Austen

I am the Lorax who speaks for the trees which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please.

When my daughters were little they liked Dr Seuss books because of the brightly coloured illustrations and deceptively simple rhyme schemes. At 13 they are now old enough to appreciate the environmental message of The Lorax. Simply the best ever book about the effects of conspicuous consumption on the environment.

Caustic Cover Critic posted an unusual illustration of Pride and Prejudice by the artist Ruben Toledo here which I think is strangely beautiful and a nice antidote to all those chicklit covers they seem to be using to illustrate Austen now. I very much like the cover of Sanditon up on the excellent girlebooks who have been kind enough to publish my review. I'm going to treat myself to this book next month. Great review on Each Little World. I've also read a couple of interesting reviews of Persuasion recently. One of them here and I can't for the life of me remember where I read the other one even though I commented on it!