Saturday 30 May 2009

Saturday morning reading

I picked up Rebecca West's Return of the Soldier this morning with the intention of reading just one chapter before loading the dishwasher, unloading the washing machine, hanging the washing out and popping to Sainsbury's. Of course, I got drawn into the story and West's luscious prose.

Two hours and several cups of tea later household chores were resumed.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Katherine Mansfield (part 3)

I've been reading David Mitchell's Black Swan Green for book group and it is an enjoyable read. Mitchell can certainly write, but the constant stream of media references and brand names carefully placed to remind us that this novel is set in 1982 is slightly irritating. Yes! I get it. The novel is set in 1982. No need to keep going on about butterscotch Angel Delight, Findus Crispy Pancakes and Simon Le Bon.

As a respite from commercial and media saturation I'm looking forward to reading Persephone's Katherine Mansfield's Journal which has just arrived. This entry made me smile:

Journal 1917. Living Alone. Even if I should, by some awful chance find a hair upon my bread and honey - at any rate it is my own hair.

Saturday 16 May 2009

White Boots (2)

I finished White Boots. An enjoyable read but I don't think it's quite as good as Ballet Shoes or my favourite, Party Shoes (Party Frock). There's a nice postscript by Noel Streatfeild's nephew, William Streatfeild, in this edition. He explains how his aunt told him she spent hours on her knees studying the tracings made by skaters in the ice to ensure accuracy in her books. I particularly liked Lalla's comforting Nana, a stock character in most Streatfeild books, Goldie, Lalla's clever tutor and Harriet's sweet little brother, Edward. This would be an ideal Christmas present for an aspiring skater.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

White Boots

I'm delighted that White Boots has been re-issued. I'm less than thrilled with the cover, though. The loopy white writing is nice but that shade of blue sets my teeth on edge and I'm not keen on the skating silhouette. Doesn't convey anything about the story.

I've not read White Boots before and the style is unmistakeably Streatfeild. She describes poor Harriet who has been very ill as feeling 'cotton-woolish and all-overish' and you know exactly what she means. Harriet's doctor advises skating lessons to build up the strength in her legs. Harriet's family cannot afford skates so her brother takes on a paper round to earn the two shillings necessary to hire them. Unfortunately these are hideous standard issue clumpy brown skates with a green circle of paint around the top to stop them from being stolen.

At the rink, Harriet meets Lalla, a girl of her own age who has an unlimited wardrobe, a Nanny, a Governess, a wealthy aunt fostering her skating career, private skating lessons and best of all, a pair of white boots! Lalla, although wealthy, is lonely and envies Harriet's large loving family. A close friendship develops between the two girls.

That's all I've read so far, I'll let you know how I get on. Reading Noel Streatfeild and L M Montgomery and Susan Coolidge lately has made me want to resurrect my shelved MA in Children's Literature and Culture but I'm not sure I can justify the expense.

Saturday 9 May 2009


Amy organises a cruise holiday to help her husband recover from major surgery. While sight-seeing in Istanbul, Amy is bored with the domes and minarets, fed up with the dust and heat and irritable because Nick lingers so long they are always late back to the coach. The final straw for Amy is when her sandal breaks forcing her to shuffle along behind everyone else for the rest of the day. Nick and Amy are befriended by a younger American woman who writes novels and loves all things English. While Nick finds her good company, Amy is not so keen and this causes a furious row ending in a passionate reconciliation. In the night Nick dies and Amy is left devastated. The American woman, Martha, takes control and flies Amy back to England. While Amy is coming to terms with the loss of her husband an unlikely friendship develops between the two women.

I think this is Taylor's finest novel. Although the theme of love and loss is sad, Amy's internal monologue is wickedly funny. Many things irritate or bore her. She doesn't pretend to enjoy babysitting for her spoilt five-year old granddaughter and goes to great lengths to avoid it. Although this doesn't make Amy a necessarily likeable character she is always true to herself which is immensely appealing.

Published in 1976, Blaming was Elizabeth Taylor's last novel and she knew it. There is a nice afterword by her daughter in this edition. Don't make the mistake I did and read it before the novel because it gives away a shocking event which happens towards the end.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Girl Guides Jumble Sale

Last week I was helping my daughters to run a stall at the annual Girl Guides Jumble Sale. Usually I insist on running the book stall but I was beaten to it this year. Guess what somebody donated to the book stall. Ten brand new Virago paperbacks still wrapped in polythene! Must've been part of some competition prize or promotion. Of course, I bought them and when I unwrapped them found I actually already owned seven of the titles so I just kept the three I hadn't got. I couldn't have wished for a better selection, Rebecca West, Elizabeth Taylor and Elizabeth Von Arnim.

I started Blaming at the weekend and I think this is the first time I've truly appreciated Taylor's gift for comedy. I'll post a review as soon as I can put it down.

Sunday 3 May 2009

Katherine Mansfield (part 2)

Has Katherine Mansfield gone out of fashion? I couldn't find her in Waterstones or W H Smith. Not on the literary shelves. Not on the 20th century fiction shelves. Nothing in the library. Unless it was all out on loan, which I doubt. I finally found this collection in an academic bookshop. When I first discovered Mansfield back in the 80's she was always well-stocked in bookshops and there were quite a lot of articles about her in the media, too. After all, this was a young woman whose writing was not only admired and fostered but envied by Virgina Woolf.

I've now finished reading this collection and I would recommend The Daughters of the Late Colonel a bleakly comic tale about two delightful sisters, Josephine and Constantia, who have been so oppressed and bullied by their late father they still feel the need to defer to him even after his funeral has taken place. I also liked Marriage a la Mode in which a man's wife is heavily influenced by her pretentious literary and artistic friends who lounge around his house, eat all his food and sneer at him for working for a living. The Woman at the Store is a great, if disturbing, tale set in New Zealand which reminded me a little of the contemporary stories of Annie Proulx.