One of my all-time favourite authors (going back to my teenage years) is P G Wodehouse. It isn’t just the humour or the mad-cap plotlines, or the inevitability that Jeeves will get Bertie out of the soup at the last minute, rescue his chum and in doing so, win the reward of ousting from Bertie’s wardrobe a rather too loud jacket/hat/pair of plus-fours. Yes, of course, the story threads come together in a beautiful way and the scrapes Bertie, Lord Emsworth and Co. get into are hilariously inventive, even seventy plus years after they were first put down on the page. But what never fails to charm me is the wit in Wodehouse’s way of throwing words together.
Here are a few examples:
- He groaned slightly and winced, like Prometheus watching his vulture drop in for lunch.
- It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.
- ‘Oh, Bertie,’ she said in a voice like beer trickling out of a jug…
- The fishy glitter in his eye became intensified. He looked like a halibut which had just been asked by another halibut to lend it a quid till next Wednesday.
- The Duke’s moustache was rising and falling like seaweed on an ebb-tide.
- “I’m not speaking to you. I wouldn’t speak to you if your shirt were on fire.”
- He was a vintage butler of obviously a very good year.
- “You’re a pig, Bertie!” “A pig maybe – but a shrewd, level-headed pig.”
- Aunt Agatha, who eats broken glass and wears barbed wire next to the skin.
- A conscience as tender as a sunburned neck.
- Hash looked like one who drained the four-ale of life and found a dead mouse at the bottom of the pewter.
A novel based on letters can be instantly engaging, especially when the writers start out as strangers and through writing, become friends. One of my favourites is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Anne Shaffer, which is one of the most heart-warming books ever. And then there is 84 Charring Cross Road by Helene Hanff, which isn’t a novel, but the actual correspondence between the author and the staff at a second-hand bookshop. You wouldn’t think that could be interesting, but thanks to the wonderful personality of the author, has become a classic, especially for book lovers.
Now we have Meet Me at the Museum, a novel in letters which begins when farmer’s wife, Tina Hopgood, writes to the museum housing The Tollund Man, in Denmark. She writes to the author of a book she discovered as a child and regrets in the fifty years since that she has never been able to make the pilgrimage to the museum to see The Tollund Man or meet the author, Professor Glob. Continue reading “Quick Review: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson”
Martha Grimes is an American author who writes a mystery series featuring Scotland Yard detective, Richard Jury. She’s quite an old hand at it, has done her research, and each novel in this series (to date she’s up to No. 24) is named after a different English pub, while many feature a different part of England. They are a wonderful mix of cosy crime (English country life, quaint characters, charming locations) and grim murder. The crimes are varied and can be quite chilling – I’m not sure I would ever read The Lamorna Wink a second time – while the plots are inventive.
Here’s what I particularly like about the series: Continue reading “Thursday’s Old Favourite: Martha Grimes’s Inspector Jury Novels”
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is one of the most beloved of classics, and has been filmed and televised again and again. In Longbourn, Jo Baker takes the reader downstairs among the meal preparations, the endless laundry, boot-polishing and bell-answering by the hard-working servants, much of it shown from the point of view of Sarah, a maid in the Bennett household.
The events of the original book seem like the tip of the iceberg as far as physical activity is concerned – Mrs Bennett’s anxious hanky-wringing, Mr Bennett’s library brooding, Jane and Elizabeth’s thoughtful chats and needlework, while gentlemen call and invitations are answered.
It all drives such an effort in keeping up appearances, the work of which falls to the small staff of Mr and Mrs Hill and two maids, one of whom, Polly, is just a child. Their working day seems to stretch forever, and the reader feels the pain of Sarah’s chilblains and her yearning to see something of the world. Continue reading “Book Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker”
Trollope’s latest novel begins where many stories end – with a proposal of marriage. Rose and Tyler have fallen in love in their sixties, and within a few short months recognise that in spite of previous marriages for both of them, they’ve never felt like this before. The problems begin when they tell their children they plan to marry.
Rose has an elder daughter, busy mum and doctor, Laura, who at first supports her mother’s decision – it’s her life, after all. But twins, Nat and Emmy are appalled. Their reaction is emotional and soon legal advice and prenups are being talked about. Then there’s Mallory, Tyler’s American actress daughter, who is enjoying having her father around for once, but now it looks like he’s going to abandon her again, to live in England. No wonder she finds it difficult to answer his calls. Continue reading “Quick Review: An Unsuitable Match by Joanna Trollope”
For those of you who, like me, have been reading Anne Tyler since the dawn of time, Clock Dance reads very true to form. It is the story of Willa Drake, a classic Tyler heroine – you probably know what I mean. She’s warm-hearted and smart but doesn’t get the chance to shine because of the people around her taking centre stage. Perhaps she’s avoiding being anything like her actress mother whose tempestuous moods made life difficult during her childhood.
Then there’s her marriage to business-school success story Derek, which interrupts Willa finishing her degree. He’s the alpha male type, so Willa settles into raising her two sons, who she loves desperately. She would love grandchildren, but they seem more and more unlikely – besides she hardly ever sees her sons. Continue reading “Clock Dance by Anne Tyler”
If it was in any way possible to cross a novel by John Le Carré with one by Nancy Mitford, it might turn out a bit like this. MI5 and Me is an account of the author’s time working in the typing pool in the British secret service during the 1950s.
Bingham’s father (also the inspiration for Le Carré’s Smiley) was a distant man who didn’t talk about his work at home. When his daughter shows no talent for making anything of her life, he finds her a job at MI5 where he holds a senior position. At the time, the bureau is mostly concerned with communism, spying on what seem to be perfectly harmless people, breaking into their homes and planting bugs in their telephones. As well as creating endless paperwork – hence the typing pool. Continue reading “Quick Review: MI5 and Me – a memoir by Charlotte Bingham”
The Cazalet Chronicles is a kind of historical saga set in England around the years of World War Two. The great thing about it is that there is such a large cast of characters and multiple plot threads, that every time I read it there is more to discover. It follows the Cazalet family of three sons, Hugh, Edward and Rupert, and their families – particularly daughters Polly, Louise and Clary – who each take up a chunk of the narrative. There’s also the unmarried sister/aunt, Villy, as well as elderly parents which provide a link with the past. Howard published the Chronicles in the 1990s and they were massively successful, with a follow-up book, All Change, in 2013 about the same characters some years later.
What I really like about it: Continue reading “Thursday’s Old Favourite: The Cazalet Chronicles”
Is The Dark Lake Aussie Noir, Chick Noir or something else? How easy it is to fall into the trap of seeing every book you read in the terminology of a marketing team. With its unreliable narrator (Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock), the murder of a beautiful young teacher and a small town in mid-summer creating a suitably claustrophobic setting, it seems to tick all the boxes for Chick Noir (Girl on a Train, etc.).
However Gemma is also a pretty good cop, working out of police HQ, taking endless witness statements and arguing with her crusty, salt-of-the-earth boss, Jonesy. It’s just a pity that she’s having a clandestine affair with fellow DS Felix McKinnon while trying to keep the peace with Scott, her partner and the father of their son. This alone has Gemma on tenterhooks, while Christmas looms and the Australian heat makes everyone tetchy. Continue reading “Quick Review: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey”
I used to read Margaret Atwood avidly at one time. She is undoubtedly one of the world’s literary greats, and books like The Handmaid’s Tale, first published in 1987, have found a new readership with its dystopian themes that are oddly resonant today.
But of all her books, it is Lady Oracle that I seem to come back to time and again. It’s heroine, Joan Foster, is a romance writer with a bunch of secrets and a life that regularly gets out of control. When she receives a blackmail threat, Joan reacts true to form by running away. She does this by staging her own death and flees to Italy. The novel pieces together her unhappy childhood; her affair with a Polish count who inspires her to write gothic romances; her marriage to Arthur who seems to be the opposite in so many ways to Paul. Continue reading “Thursday’s Old Favourite: Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood”