Saturday, December 31, 2011

{weekend words}

Farewell 2011...

I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.
Volume 3: 1923-1927 (1985)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

{miscellaneous} summing up

Ah, the time of the year for summing up.

In no particular order, my top five ten twelve favourite books of 2011 are:

No Orchids for Miss Blandish - James Hadley Chase {REVIEW}
The Blue Castle - L. M. Montgomery {REVIEW}
The Turn of the Screw - Henry James {REVIEW}
How to Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran {REVIEW}
The Ghost Map - Steven Johnson {REVIEW}
The Debt to Pleasure - John Lanchester {REVIEW}
In a Lonely Place - Dorothy B. Hughes {REVIEW}
The Shuttle - Frances Hodgson Burnett 
The Eye of Love - Margery Sharp {REVIEW}

I read just over 170 books this year. I keep getting a different figure owing to not having enough fingers, toes and concentration (the cricket was on in the background), but, roughly, it breaks down into fiction of the respectable literary type (37), crime/mystery/stuff I should be slightly ashamed of but am not in the least (113), non-fiction (23). Two more stats: e-books (128 - !!!!), re-reads (25). 

At this time last year I was packing away my library as I thought I might be moving. As it turned out, I didn't move. I also didn't unpack. As a result, I have done rather less re-reading this year of old favourites (um, unless I bought them again - bad person, bad person).

The single biggest change to my reading habits this year was caused by buying a Kindle. This has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of physical books entering the home and requiring homes of their own. This is both excellent - since space is always an issue - but, I do confess, a little sad, as I LOVE BEING SURROUNDED BY BOOKS. Books are beautiful, tactile, comforting, dusty, furnish a room; my library is part of me. But, I also love being able to highlight bits of text (I don't write on real books); I love being able to search electronically for something I only half remember; I love that e-books are cheaper than tree-books (a big consideration for an Australian as books are ludicrously expensive here); I love getting them instantly; I love travelling without a case so full of books I can't fit in a giant box of macarons. I miss: sharing books; the smell of books; not being able to get everything I want electronically (but that's (a) just greedy and (b) kinder on my bank balance).

A couple of new discoveries this year have brought me much reading pleasure - Mary Stewart, Tess Gerritsen, Ira Levin, Alan Hollinghurst, Anne Zouroudi, Jo Nesbø. There were a couple of good sequels in favourite series - Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce, Carol K Carr's India Black. I don't go in much for 'challenges' but I really enjoyed International Anita Brookner Day (I reviewed Lewis Percy) and Paris in July (Zazie in the Metro and Chéri were highlights). I also had a HUGE binge on Patricia Wentworth, some of which were re-reads (favourite: The Case of William Smith).

2012? I want to: read more non-fiction (I feel as though I've read less than usual) and more noir and try to resist starting a new series as I cannot stop myself from reading ALL OF THE SERIES AND STUFFING UP MY READING PLANS. Yes, well, good luck.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

{weekend words}

Some depressing Christmas words from Thomas Hardy:
Christmas: 1924

'Peace upon earth!' was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas.
More on this "sour little epigram" at war poetry.

Monday, December 19, 2011


This will be my week:
not wholly bookish in content, 
but definitely bookish in perspective!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

{weekend words}

'Remember the chappie who fell into the drum?' asked Mr Gibson tenderly.
They had met for the first time at a Chelsea Arts Ball - Dolores dressed as a Spanish Dancer, Mr Gibson as a brown paper parcel.
'Of course I remember,' whispered Dolores.
'Remember those young devils who started to unwrap me?'
'It didn't matter. You'd pyjamas underneath...'
'I shall never forget how wonderful you looked, pulling me out of the cardboard...
'I couldn't bear to see you laughed at,' murmured Dolores. 'You were too big...' 

Margery Sharp (1957)

Thursday, December 15, 2011


This one probably won't go on anyone else's wishlist unless they are a local. Sorry...!

Chris Stephan and Dianne Mattsson (2011)
FarmgateSA: South Australia's Essential Guide to 
Buying Fresh Food Direct from the Producer

I am fortunate enough to live in South Australia. Our state can boast two of the best wine regions in Australia (and the world) - McLaren Vale, to the south, and the Barossa Valley, to the north of the city of Adelaide. We also have a fantastic food culture with many fine restaurants and - my favourite - farmers' markets. There is an urban farmers' market a mere five minutes from my home on a Sunday. When I saw this book (via lambs ears & honey), it went straight on the wishlist. I think everyone will get one for Christmas so they can go and explore the wonderful producers who sell straight from their farm gates to the general public.

Locals: you can buy it directly from the authors or at the newsagent.

Monday, December 12, 2011

{review} the blue castle

L. M. Montgomery The Blue Castle (1926)

Valancy wakened early, in the lifeless, hopeless hour just preceding dawn. She had not slept very well. One does not sleep well, sometimes, when one is twenty-nine on the morrow, and unmarried, in a community and connection where the unmarried are simply those who have failed to get a man. 
What can I say about this lovely, lovely book that hasn't already been said? I devoured it in almost one sitting, as though it was some light but luscious, slightly sickly choux pastry creation inhaled on the footpath outside a pâtisserie. Like a Ladurée violet religeuse.

This is one of those books that you pick up in the sure knowledge that everything is going to turn out alright for the likeable heroine and her hero, despite the very long odds:
"Oh, if I could only have a house of my own—ever so poor, so tiny—but my own! But then," she added bitterly, "there is no use in yowling for the moon when you can't even get a tallow candle." 
It's like a check-list of everything one wants in an L.M.Montgomery book: fab scenery, gruesome but dainty deaths from tuberculosis as punishment for moral infringement, a secret fortune, mistaken medical diagnoses, and, oh yes, Lurv with a capital L.

Valancy is that dreadful creature, a spinster with romantic longings, living under the thumb of a bullying mother and stern gossipy community.

People like prudish "Second Cousin Sarah Taylor, with her great, pale, expressionless eyes, who was noted for the variety of her pickle recipes and for nothing else. So afraid of saying something indiscreet that she never said anything worth listening to. So proper that she blushed when she saw the advertisement picture of a corset and had put a dress on her Venus de Milo statuette which made it look 'real tasty'."

The writing is so wickedly good, which carries what is really a roll-call of (delightfully grim) clichés. For example, the line, "After all their bright hopes at the funeral!", or "'Fun!' Mrs. Frederick uttered the word as if Valancy had said she was going to have a little tuberculosis."

"I don't know what it would be like not to be afraid of something". Valancy daydreams away her sorrows by living a secret life filled with romance in the 'Blue Castle' of her imagination. She is thoroughly annoyingly spineless: "Valancy never said what she thought". Her mother is thoroughly stereotypically an evil [step]mother.

And then something happens that I'm not going to tell you and Valancy is presented with an opportunity to live large. Will she take it?

Words to drop in conversation: lambrequin.

Rating: 10/10 for sheer, gorgeous escapist romance coupled with ingenious plot and lovely writing.

If you liked this... it's got to be Anne of the Island. I don't think I ever got over Gilbert's narrow escape from death. Montgomery writes a great near-fatal illness.

BTW: I read this on the Kindle via a not wholly typo-free $4 copy on Proof-reading, folks...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

{weekend words}

Loved the Oxford English Dictionary 'Word of the Day' from yesterday (9/12/11):


"A young woman of unexceptional appearance and talents, regarded as timid, dowdy, or mousy; (originally) such a person who can nevertheless achieve professional and personal success through determination."

Apparently it is "Chiefly U.S. (humorous)." 

Subscribe to WOTD here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

{review} grand hotel

I am away for a few days, staying - as it happens (she says, so casually but gleefully!) - in a grand hotel, so here is a little something from the archives:

Vicki Baum (1929) Grand Hotel:
Ideas of conventionality were elastic in the Grand Hotel.
I find Vicki Baum's books a bit hit and miss. Some have aged badly. Once in Vienna (1943), for example: total miss (tale of narcissistic overwrought suicidal lovesick junior opera divas who take far too long to meet their Maker). Grand Hotel, though: absolute hit. An astonishing read. Why has this gone out of print in English? Of course, I may be biased by my adoration of the film (Grand Hotel: 1932, starring Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and two Barrymores), but there is no doubt that Baum brilliantly captures the Weimar 'moment' of the late 1920s.

The copy which I'm reading was translated by Basil Creighton (from Menschen im Hotel [People at a Hotel] - a much better descriptive title) and published in 1930 in London by Gregory Bles. It too suffers in places from the stifling emotional atmosphere familiar from Baum's other novels, but the story-line's relentless progress towards inescapable disaster is so compelling that this book is unputdownable.
"Will you be kind to me?" he asked softly. And as softly with her eyes cast down to the raspberry-coloured carpet, Flämmchen answered: "If it's not forced on me----."
In a cold March week in Berlin in 1929 the lives of a disparate group of painfully lonely people are changed forever during their residence in the 'Grand Hotel'. The action is contemporaneous with a pivotal moment in history, as we learn from the newspapers: "Scandals, panic on the Bourse, colossal fortunes lost"; and the shifting fortunes of the cold world outside are mirrored in the transitions underway with those inside the comfortable hotel.

Will the ageing ballerina Grusinskaya (the role stunning recreated by Greta Garbo) find peace?
The bed was turned down, and a pair of little bedroom slippers were by the bed. They were rather trodden down and shabby - the slippers of a woman who is accustomed to sleep by herself. Gaigern, as he stood by the door, felt a fleeting tenderness of pity at the sight of these little tokens of resignation on the part of a famous and beautiful woman.
It had come to this, she thought. She poured out a cup of tea and took a packet of veronal from the bedside table. She swallowed a tablet, drank some tea, and then took a second. She got up and began to walk rapidly to and fro across the room, four paces this way, four paces that. What is the use of it all? she thought. What is the use of living? What is there to wait for? ...With a rapid gesture she took the bottle of veronal and emptied them all into her tea...
Will the aristocratic thief Baron Gaigern make his fortune and be redeemed by love?
"He's the handsomest man I've ever seen in my life - this Baron," she added in Russian. Her voice as she said it sounded as cold as if she spoke of some object displayed for sale in a saleroom.
Whenever he passed through the Lounge it was as if a window of sunshine were opened in a cold room. He was a marvellous dancer, cool and yet passionate. There were always flowers in his room. He loved them and their scent. When he was alone he stroked and even licked their petals - like an animal. He was quick to follow girls in the street. Sometimes he would merely look at them with pleasure, sometimes he would speak to them, and sometimes he would go home with them or take them to a second-rate hotel. Next morning the Hall Porter would smile, when with a feline and innocent air he made his appearance in the elegant and more or less irreproachable Lounge of the Grand Hotel and asked for his key.
Will Dr Otternschlag, the hideously scarred drug-addicted doctor, the "living suicide", escape the demon that is his eternal loneliness?
No, nothing happens, nothing at all, he muttered. He had once possessed a little Persian cat, called Gurba. Ever since she forsook him for a common street tom he had been obliged to carry on his dialogues with himself.
Will Otto Kringelein, the deathly ill lowly factory book-keeper, have one good time before he dies?
It is not very nice to go to one's grave at forty-six without having lived at all and only been harassed and starved and bullied by Herr P. at the works and by the wife at home.
He sat on the edge of the bed and talked, not like an assistant book-keeper... but like a lover. His secretive, sensitive and timid soul crept out of its cocoon and spread its small new wings.
Will the miserly Herr Generaldirektor Preysing save his Saxonia Cotton Company but lose his soul?
He had never yet committed the least irregularity. Nevertheless, there must have been a bad spot in him somewhere, a minute nucleus of moral disease which was destined to get a hold on him and bring him low. Yes, there must, in spite of all, have been just the merest trace of some inflammation, some microscopic speck on the irreproachable purity of his moral waistcoat. . .
Will the falling angel Fraulein Flämmchen escape a fate worse than death?
"You must tell me, too, what salary you ask," he said in a flattering tone. This time it took Flämmchen even longer to reply. She had to draw up a comprehensive balance sheet. The renunciation of the incipient affair with the handsome Baron figured on it, also Preysing's ponderous fifty years, his fat and his heavy breathing. Then there were one or two little bills, requirements in the way of new underclothing, pretty shoes - the blue ones were nearly done. The small capital that would be necessary to launch her on a career in the films, in revue or elsewhere. Flämmchen made a clear and unsentimental survey of the chances the job offered her. "A thousand marks," she said. It sounded a princely amount, and she was under no illusions as to the sums that were nowadays laid at the feet of pretty girls. "Perhaps a little extra for clothes to travel in," she added... "You want me to look my best, naturally."
"You need no clothes for that. On the contrary," Preysing said with warmth.
The fish out of water, Kringelein - the poor provincial clerk in the unfamiliar rich world of the hotel and the nightlife of Berlin (yes, a bit for Isherwood fans here) - is the main focus of the narrative, much of which we see through his eyes: "...eyes in which was so much yearning expectation, wonder and curiosity. In them was hunger for life, and knowledge of death."

Yes, this is a sad book but it is a wonderful book too. Baum captures the sights, sounds and even scents (she's particularly good on the smell of things) of the transitory inhabitants of that microcosm, the Grand Hotel, and the ephemeral world outside in a Berlin where, too, no one seems to have belonged since the end of the war.
These two had come together from the ends of the world to meet for a few hours in the hotel bed of Room No. 68 where so many had slept before them...
For readers with an eye to history, this book is even more rewarding. As the Baron says, "Nowadays being in Germany is like being in clothes you've grown out of."

Rating: 8/10

If you liked this... instead of the obvious (Isherwood) try something with a feel for European journeys of the era: Ethel Lina White's The Wheel Spins (1936: made into the 1938 Hitchcock film The Lady Vanishes) or Graham Greene's Stamboul Train (1932: also filmed in 1934 as Orient Express). 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

{weekend words}

Not only am I currently spending a long, long weekend interstate in lovely Melbourne, but I am lucky enough to be staying at The Windsor, a wonderful old hotel in the Grand Hotel tradition. Kerry Greenwood captured the Windsor so beautifully in her first Phryne Fisher mystery, Cocaine Blues (1989), set in  Melbourne in the 1920s.

'Where we goin' first?' yelled Bert. Phryne screamed back over the noise of the labouring engine, 'First to the Queen Victoria Hospital, then to the Windsor Hotel, and we aren't in a particular hurry.'
'You staying at the Windsor, Miss?' asked Bert, removing his pendant cigarette and flinging it through the rattling window of the taxi. 'Toffy, are you? The time will come when the working man rises against his oppressors, and breaks the chains of Capital, and. . .'
'. . . then there won't be any more Windsor,' finished Phryne. Bert looked injured. He released the steering wheel and turned his head to remonstrate with the young capitalist.
'No miss, you don't understand,' he began, averting death with a swift twiddle of the wheel that skidded them to safety around a van. 'When the revolution comes, we'll all be staying at the Windsor.'
'It sounds like an excellent idea,' agreed Phryne.

As this publishes, I shall be having Afternoon Tea.

Monday, November 28, 2011

{review} fowler & bryant & may and edwards & scarlett

Christopher Fowler Full Dark House (2004)
Martin Edwards The Coffin Trail (2004)

I recently mentioned second and third novels in a series, but there can be no greater delight than discovering that all important first novel which hooks you into continuing the journey onwards. I've recently read two 'firsts', both published in 2004, which I am sure are going to lead me to seconds, thirds... elevenths...

Full Dark House is No 1 in the 'Bryant and May' series by Christopher Fowler. Bryant and May have been partners in Scotland Yard's Peculiar Crimes Unit since the 1940s. Now in their 80s they are still operational, called in to investigate crimes that other, 'normal' police units cannot handle.

'How many other files have you got tucked away?'
'You'd be surprised. That business with the tontine and the Bengal tiger, all documented. The runic curses that brought London to a standstill. The corpse covered in butterflies. I've got all our best cases, and a register of every useful fringe group in the capital.'
'You should upgrade your database. You've still got members of the Camden Town Coven listed as reliable contacts. And do I need to mention the Leicester Square Vampire?'
'Anyone can make a mistake,' said Bryant.
I took a while to warm to this one as I was suspicious that it might suddenly submerge me in the supernatural. Also it jumped about a bit between past and present. It didn't like interruptions or lack of concentration and I kept tangling myself up by forgetting who belonged where. Perhaps I was meant to? I thought some of the witticisms somewhat forced (and the 'Bryant & May'/matches thing sort of irked). But, really, I was a goner from the first paragraph's ginger tom cat:
It really was a hell of a blast. The explosion occurred at daybreak on the second Tuesday morning of September, its shock waves rippling through the beer-stained streets of Mornington Crescent. It detonated car alarms, hurled house bricks across the street, blew a chimney stack forty feet into the sky, ruptured the eardrums of several tramps, denuded over two dozen pigeons, catapulted a surprised ginger tom through the window of a kebab shop and fired several roofing tiles into the forehead of the Pope, who was featuring on a poster for condoms opposite the tube station.
In this, Bryant & May's first outing, we travel from a modern day explosion back to their first case, in the early years of the Second World War, when death rained from the heavens courtesy of the Luftwaffe. Death is also stalking the artistic troupe trying to stage a risque version of 'Orpheus in the Underworld', with suspiciously mythological deaths cutting appropriate victims down before the coppers' eyes. Who, or what, is stalking the Palace Theatre?

Bryant is the termagant of the pair - bad-tempered, useless with the ladies; prone to major attacks of over-thinking and very, very receptive to the kookiest explanations. He combines intuitiveness with extreme clumsiness: "He had misplaced his regular pipe. May would spend the next sixty years locating lost objects for his partner." May is the better-looking ladies' man, active, interested in the modern world and resistant to his partner's liking for introducing fortune-tellers to their cases. I thought that this book packed in a hell of an amount, along with many, many teasers for what is to come. The scenes from WW2 were marvellously done as was the marking of contrasts with modern London.

Rating: liked a lot, didn't love, but want to read more, 7/10.

My second first (oh dear, this could get confusing) is No 1 in the 'Hannah Scarlett' (The Lake District Mysteries) series by Martin Edwards, The Coffin Trail.

This is old school crime. A lovely Lake District setting, plenty of juicy characters with mysteries in their pasts, a likeable cop and an interesting amateur from an academic background. For about half the book anyone could have done it, then the pool of suspects begins to narrow... I want to find out what happens to Hannah Scarlett and her team and I want to read another cosy and thoroughly English mystery like The Coffin Trail. BTW, these books are criminally cheap for the Kindle. I think this one was a lousy AUD$7 for some well-written, neatly plotted, high quality entertainment. Incredible.

Rating: just what I felt like, 8/10. 

If you liked this... Martin Edwards maintains a very interesting blog featuring lots of 'lost' crime books.

Monday, November 21, 2011

{review} the greengage summer

I am rather tied up this week, so this review of Rumer Godden's The Greengage Summer comes from the archives (June 2010).

Rumer Godden's (1958) The Greengage Summer is a book to which I return every couple of years. Each re-reading offers further rewards and I suspect that I enjoy it more each time, appreciating the excellent writing that enables it to function on both a teen and an adult level. 

It is a coming-of-age story: the Grey family (mother, Joss 16, Cecil 13, Hester 10, 'Willmouse' 7 and Vicky 4 - "Three years separated each of us children - Father's expeditions usually lasted three years") go on holiday to Vieux-Moutiers in the French Marne region in the late 1950s. Things do not go to plan: their mother is hospitalised, the eldest sister Joss becomes ill, and the younger children roam unsupervised about the hotel and its environs. They are unwelcome guests at the hotel, confined to the worst rooms and the dreaded lavatory "à la turque", but their behind-the-scenes status lets them observe that things are not what they seem at the Hotel Les Oeillets. This sense of wrongness is, on one level, overt, as the hotel specialises in entertaining char-à-bancs of visitors on pilgrimage to the battlefields of northern France, for whom the staff put on lunch and a macabre show:
The bullet-holes were real, but when the staircase was painted they were not closed up but picked out again; the stain in the cupboard was made freshly every now and then by Paul with blood from the kitchen; and one day... he beckoned me out into the garden and showed me what he had in its hand, the skull. It was gruesome, with its eye-sockets and long cheekbones... He had to shut Rita and Rex in the kennel or they would have dug it up at once; he buried it under the urn in the middle of the flowerbed and with it put a piece of raw liver. 'Le pourboire,' he said and laughed again.
The story is narrated by the thirteen year old girl Cecil, and Godden's characterisation of her naïveté yet concomitant loss of innocence is astonishingly good. It really is a remarkably candid book, with its references to menstruation, sexual awakening, homosexuality, illegitimacy, rape and murder - all seen from the teenager's point of view. Consider the characterisation of the hotel-boy Paul ("found in the American camp when it was broken up"):
One day Paul said, "J'avais une p'tite soeur."
"A little sister?" By then Hester was beginning to understand.
"Une mulâtre," said Paul carelessly, and, seeing we did not understand that either, he said "Une négresse," and showed half on his finger.
"Negro? But you are not mulat... what you called it," we said, puzzled, and asked, "Where is she, your sister?"
Paul shrugged.
"Don't you know?"
He shook his head. "Elle a disparu."
"Morte?" I asked sympathetically.
"Perdue," said Paul, "Pssts," and he made as if to throw something away.
"But you don't lose sisters." Paul's silence said clearly that you did. We felt dizzy.
The children are attracted by a mysterious Englishman, Eliot, who lives in the hotel and Eliot's shady enterprises are increasingly endangered by his contact with the idealistic English children and, in particular, by his infatuation with the ripe (yes, just like the greengages) Joss:
She [Joss] would not undress with me any more, and I was glad because my pinkness was still distressingly straight up and down while she had a waist now, slim and so supple I could not help watching it, and curves that tapered to long slim legs, while her breasts had swelled. I knew how soft these were and that they were tender, for once, out of curiosity, I touched them and she had jumped and sworn at me... "Is Joss beautiful?" I asked with a pang. "Just now," said Mother, "just now".
Eliot's decides to use the motherless children's presence to make his own residence in the hotel seem more innocent. Cecil overhears him explaining to his mistress, Mademoiselle Zizi, the patronne of the hotel, who dislikes his interest in them:
...there was the sound of a kiss; but Eliot said something else, something odd and . . . not pleasant, I thought, "Those children can be useful."
"How useful?"
"Stop people talking."
"Let them talk," said Mademoiselle Zizi.
"Don't be silly, Zizi. This is a little town and you have to live in it. The children will give me a reason for being here. After all, now I'm their guardian. They can be camouflage."
The book is filled with fascinating cross-currents: the ageing Mlle Zizi burning with jealousy over Eliot's infatuation with the young Joss; Mlle Zizi's protectress Mme Corbet loathing Eliot's attentions to Mlle Zizi ("Parce qu'elle en tient pour Mademoiselle Zizi" - "A lady loves a lady?") and writing "the figures into our account as if the pen could poison the paper"; the absent botanist father versus the vibrant neo-father Eliot ("He had a carnation in his buttonhole, a dark-red one, and it seemed to symbolise Eliot for us... Father brought flowers into the house but they were dried, pressed brown, the life gone out of them; with Eliot the flower was alive"); or the only boy in the family, 'Willmouse', crafting couture doll's clothes: at the Gare de l'Est, "Willmouse disappeared. 'Il est parti voir les locos,' said the attendant, but there was a new Vogue on a kiosk and he had gone to look at that."

One of the best-drawn relationships - also the most significant - and one constantly reassessed throughout the novel, is that between the narrator Cecil and the hotel boy Paul who bond, after coming to blows, over a Gauloise and the lees of the day's wine bottles. Paul is a lost boy, old beyond his years, dirty, overworked, amoral and violent:
I did not know about Paul in those days, but even then, in my carelessness and ignorance, I was worried by his face. We had come to see the battlefields and, though we did not know it, this face was a part of them.
Paul provides Cecil with an education of a sort:
He could not know that when he told me small prickles seemed to be breaking out all over me and the back of my knees felt hot. I had to persist. "You mean . . . you made love? When you were fourteen?"
But it is an education which Cecil herself sees as "a stain spreading through my bones": "I had become as stretched and as sensitive as an Indian with his ear to the ground, or as an insect's feeler or the needle in a compass to these doings". But how different is it to the education that her mother has decided to give her "abominably selfish" children?
"I shall take you to the battle-fields of France... So that you can see what other people have given," said Mother, "given for your sakes; and what other people will do in sacrifice. Perhaps that will make you ashamed and make you think... You need to learn . . . what I cannot teach you," said Mother, her voice quivering.
Of course, everything falls steadily apart as the children try to figure out the puzzle that is Eliot and his shadowy ventures:
"Were you ever a sailor? Joss asked...
"Probably," said Eliot.
"Don't you know?" asked Hester incredulous.
"I know I was a soldier," said Eliot. "Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, richman, poorman . . ."
Will Eliot ("I didn't ask to be a hero") redeem himself as the good Englishman?
Joss put her hand on Eliot's knee. "Eliot, what has made you so unhappy?"
He looked down at her hand and I shall always remember his answer. "What has made you so unhappy?" Joss asked, and he answered, "Being perfectly happy for two days."
For so many of the adult characters in this book it is too late for redemption or salvation. The narrative's growing 'feel' of wrongness moves relentlessly towards the brutal denouement that ends the children's stay in this lush Eden. As Joss says, "We never came back."

The awakening of the two older children from their childish selfishness and dependency to an acceptance of adult responsibility - and the realisation that the adults they admire do not necessarily share their uncompromising black-and-white moral outlook ("'Must you be so appallingly honest?' He said it so harshly that we stared.") - is deftly handled:
On and off, all that hot French August, we made ourselves ill from eating the greengages. Joss and I felt guilty; we were still at the age when we thought being greedy was a childish fault, and this gave our guilt a tinge of hopelessness because, up to then, we had believed that as we grew older our faults would disappear, and none of them did.
Obviously, I highly recommend this book and I plan to read as many more of Godden's books as I can (especially since many are being reprinted by Pan Macmillan).

Rating: 10/10

If you liked this... try Mabel Esther Allan's It Happened in Arles (1964; sadly out of print {REVIEW}).

BTW, the image at the top is of the wonderful cover of my 1959 copy (London: The Reprint Society).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

{weekend words}

Ashenden sighed, for the water was no longer quite so hot; he could not reach the tap with his hand nor could he turn it with his toes (as every properly regulated tap should turn) and if he got up enough to add more hot water he might just as well get out altogether. On the other hand he could not pull out the plug with his foot in order to empty the bath and so force himself to get out, nor could he find in himself the will-power to step out of it like a man. He had often heard people tell him that he possessed character and he reflected that people judge hastily in the affairs of life because they judge on insufficient evidence: they had never seen him in a hot, but diminishingly hot, bath.
W. Somerset Maugham (1928)
Ashenden, or The British Agent

I reviewed this back in July 2010.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

{READ IN 2018}

  • 30.
  • 29.
  • 28.
  • 27.
  • 26. The Grave's a Fine & Private Place - Alan Bradley
  • 25. This is What Happened - Mick Herron
  • 24. London Rules - Mick Herron
  • 23. The Third Eye - Ethel Lina White
  • 22. Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed - Alan Bradley
  • 21. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
  • 20. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
  • 19. Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley
  • 18. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
  • 17. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
  • 16. The Long Arm of the Law - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 15. Nobody Walks - Mick Herron
  • 14. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith
  • 13. Portrait of a Murderer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 12. Murder is a Waiting Game - Anthony Gilbert
  • 11. Tenant for the Tomb - Anthony Gilbert
  • 10. Death Wears a Mask - Anthony Gilbert
  • 9. Night Encounter - Anthony Gilbert
  • 8. The Visitor - Anthony Gilbert
  • 7. The Looking Glass Murder - Anthony Gilbert
  • 6. The Voice - Anthony Gilbert
  • 5. The Fingerprint - Anthony Gilbert
  • 4. Ring for a Noose - Anthony Gilbert
  • 3. No Dust in the Attic - Anthony Gilbert
  • 2. Uncertain Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 1. She Shall Died - Anthony Gilbert

{READ IN 2017}

  • 134. Third Crime Lucky - Anthony Gilbert
  • 133. Death Takes a Wife - Anthony Gilbert
  • 132. Death Against the Clock - Anthony Gilbert
  • 131. Give Death a Name - Anthony Gilbert
  • 130. Riddle of a Lady - Anthony Gilbert
  • 129. And Death Came Too - Anthony Gilbert
  • 128. Snake in the Grass - Anthony Gilbert
  • 127. Footsteps Behind Me - Anthony Gilbert
  • 126. Miss Pinnegar Disappears - Anthony Gilbert
  • 125. Lady-Killer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 124. A Nice Cup of Tea - Anthony Gilbert
  • 123. Die in the Dark - Anthony Gilbert
  • 122. Death in the Wrong Room - Anthony Gilbert
  • 121. The Spinster's Secret - Anthony Gilbert
  • 120. Lift up the Lid - Anthony Gilbert
  • 119. Don't Open the Door - Anthony Gilbert
  • 118. The Black Stage - Anthony Gilbert
  • 117. A Spy for Mr Crook - Anthony Gilbert
  • 116. The Scarlet Button - Anthony Gilbert
  • 115. He Came by Night - Anthony Gilbert
  • 114. Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Anthony Gilbert
  • 113. Death in the Blackout - Anthony Gilbert
  • 112. The Woman in Red - Anthony Gilbert
  • 111. The Vanishing Corpse - Anthony Gilbert
  • 110. London Crimes - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 109. The Midnight Line - Anthony Gilbert
  • 108. The Clock in the Hatbox - Anthony Gilbert
  • 107. Dear Dead Woman - Anthony Gilbert
  • 106. The Bell of Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 105. Treason in my Breast - Anthony Gilbert
  • 104. Murder has no Tongue - Anthony Gilbert
  • 103. The Man who Wasn't There - Anthony Gilbert
  • 102. Murder by Experts - Anthony Gilbert
  • 101. The Perfect Murder Case - Christopher Bush
  • 100. The Plumley Inheritance - Christopher Bush
  • 99. Spy - Bernard Newman
  • 98. Cargo of Eagles - Margery Allingham & Philip Youngman Carter
  • 97. The Mind Readers - Margery Allingham
  • 96. The China Governess - Margery Allingham
  • 95. Hide My Eyes - Margery Allingham
  • 94. The Beckoning Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 93. The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
  • 92. More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham
  • 91. Coroner's Pidgin - Margery Allingham
  • 90. Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham
  • 89. The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham
  • 88. The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
  • 87. Dancers in Mourning - Margery Allingham
  • 86. Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
  • 85. Death of a Ghost - Margery Allingham
  • 84. Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
  • 83. Police at the Funeral - Margery Allingham
  • 82. Look to the Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 81. Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
  • 80. The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham
  • 79. The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham
  • 78. Murder Underground - Mavis Doriel Hay
  • 77. No Man's Land - David Baldacci
  • 76. The Escape - David Baldacci
  • 75. The Forgotten - David Baldacci
  • 74. Zero Day - David Baldacci
  • JULY
  • 73. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth
  • 72. The Case is Closed - Patricia Wentworth
  • 71. The Watersplash - Patricia Wentworth
  • 70. Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth
  • 69. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth
  • 68. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth
  • 67. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth
  • 66. Mistress - Amanda Quick
  • 65. The Black Widow - Daniel Silva
  • 64. The Narrow - Michael Connelly
  • 63. The Poet - Michael Connelly
  • 62. The Visitor - Lee Child
  • 61. No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories - Lee Child
  • JUNE
  • 60. The Queen's Accomplice - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 59. Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 58. The PM's Secret Agent - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 57. His Majesty's Hope - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 56. Princess Elizabeth's Spy - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 55. Mr Churchill's Secretary - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 54. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
  • 52. Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • 51. Hit List - Lawrence Block
  • 50. Six Were Present - E. R. Punshon
  • 49. Triple Quest - E. R. Punshon
  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
  • 47. Brought to Light - E. R. Punshon
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore
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