Saturday 26 September 2009

Taylor and Howard

The hydrangea by the front door faded through innumerable shades of blue.

There are some similarities between Elizabeth Taylor's A Game of Hide and Seek and Elizabeth Jane Howard's Love All. Both feature upper middle-class families who live in a kind of genteel poverty, both have characters who are fond of reading Jane Austen and both examine the hopelessness of unrequited love.

In A Game of Hide and Seek, Harriet falls in love with Vesey one summer when she is just eighteen. She continues to love him when she goes to work in a department store, meets the wealthy but dull Charles, marries him and has a daughter. Flippant and overconfident, Vesey is seemingly uninterested in Harriet and his life spirals downward. He is expelled from Oxford and becomes a poverty stricken actor. He and Harriet meet again in middle age and try to re-ignite their relationship. I was less interested in the strange relationship between Vesey and Harriet than the minor characters in this novel - Harriet's wonderful mother who went to prison for women's rights and Julia, the mother of Charles, a former actress who retains her theatrical affectations well into old age.

The focus in Love All switches between different characters, but my favourites were Persephone Plover - known as Percy - who is abandoned by her parents and bought up by her Aunt Floy and her beloved black cat, Marvell. When Aunt Floy, who designs gardens, is commissioned to restore the gardens of a country house Persephone goes with her and takes on the organisation of an arts festival in the village. There she receives two proposals of marriage and accepts neither! At 450 pages this novel briefly flagged a little for me about half-way through and then I got interested again and read straight through to the end.

Sunday 20 September 2009

Elizabeth Jane Howard

Ah, lovely September sunshine. I decided to give Elizabeth Jane Howard a whirl as I've had some positive comments about her novels on my blog. Rather than commit to the four volume Cazalet series I thought I'd start with Love All. How can you not love a novel with a central character called Persephone Plover?! Her writing reminds me a little of Jilly Cooper - a large cast of upper-class characters and a pervading Englishness. I'll let you know how I get on.

Talking of Jilly Cooper, has anyone ever read her 'girl' series - Harriet, Emily, Octavia, Bella and Imogen? My sister and I loved them when we were younger.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Willa Sibert Cather

Willa Cather

In Haverford on the Platte the townspeople still talk of Lucy Gayheart. They do not talk of her a great deal, to be sure; life goes on and we live in the present.

The opening sentences of Lucy Gayheart hint of tragedy but you are lulled into a false sense of security by cheerful scenes of Lucy and her childhood sweetheart, Harry Gordon, skating on the frozen river Platte. Lucy is not satisfied with life in a small town and leaves to study and teach the piano in Chicago. There she falls in love with an older married man, a classical singer who sharpens her perceptions of art and beauty. Harry visits Lucy in Chicago and proposes to her. Refusing to marry Harry and unable to marry the singer Lucy returns to her home town and
tragedy strikes as she skates alone on the frozen river ...

This novel drew me in completely and I read on and on oblivious to time passing. Consequently I'm a little behind on housework and ironing this week! Willa Cather is a great, great writer.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Lucy Gayheart

Much as I admire Elizabeth Taylor's writing I can only spend so long in her world before longing to escape to the plains and prairies of America with a Willa Cather novel. I've been wanting to read Lucy Gayheart for a long time. There's nothing quite like starting a new novel is there?

I'm feeling all the L M Montgomery love and I particularly liked the anonymous comment from a lady who has a copy of the novel which belonged to her mother. That's what Vintage Reads is all about. Beloved books that are passed down through the generations.

Saturday 5 September 2009

Holiday reading

Aunt Alberta, to save her dinner, plunged into an account of how a dog had bitten her recently, Uncle James, to back her up, asked where the dog had bitten her.

"Just a little below the Catholic Church," said Aunt Alberta.

At that point Valancy laughed. Nobody else laughed. What was there to laugh at?

"Is that a vital part?" asked Valancy?

The Blue Castle is funny, irreverent, romantic and more than a little far-fetched. I loved it. It's difficult to review without spoilers, so no peeking if you're planning to read it!


Valancy is 29, unmarried, and treated as a joke and a failure by her extended family. After suffering pain in her chest she visits her doctor who tells her she has one year to live. She decides to make the most of her final year and rejects her family, leaves home to nurse a sick school-friend and proposes to the local bad boy, Barney Snaith. Marriage to Barney brings her happiness - her own 'blue castle' - until she starts to wonder about the diagnosis from her doctor ...


Lucy Maud Montgomery did not set The Blue Castle on Prince Edward Island. It is set in Muskoka in Ontario, Canada, where Montgomery spent a holiday which inspired the novel.

I also read Elizabeth Taylor's A Game of Hide and Seek in Brighton last week. It is a beautifully written novel and I couldn't put it down, but I think Blaming is still my favourite. This Virago Modern Classics edition has an introduction by the novelist, Elizabeth Jane Howard. Anybody read her?