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drowninginbooks
Don’t panic, yes of course I’m reading, it’s just I feel as if I’m not reading fast enough, and not reading the right books. The right books? Don’t you ever have a little list of books in your head – that list of books that really should be up next – they are the books I mean. I suppose I feel I keep getting drawn to books that I have had on my bookcase a while, books that let’s face it are really not going anywhere. These are the books which take me away from what I feel duty bound to read; review copies, books from friends, books I have borrowed from the library and really shouldn’t just keep renewing. It seems I have a little book devil sitting on my shoulder, who jumps up and runs along my bookshelves squealing “read this next, read this next.” Sometimes spontaneity feels a bit naughty, but it shouldn’t be should it?

As a huge book lover, I think I sometimes put myself under a bit of pressure. I join reading events, I host my own reading events, I occasionally accept review copies, I want to keep this blog regularly updated, and read and comment on other blogs – phew, well there are only so many hours in a day, and I’ve not even mentioned reading yet. Don’t misunderstand me, I am still as enthusiastic as ever about my bookish activities, but I really need to learn not to put too much pressure on myself. I recently took the decision to cull a few review copies, having had them for months and not read, I feel terrible for accepting them in the first place, but on skimming over the first few pages, I find I really don’t want to read them. I could force myself, but do publishers and authors really want reviews of books I have read under sufferance? – Probably not. I’m not going to list titles, not sure that would be entirely fair. Is this a terrible thing to do? Incidently they are books from a large publisher, I am sure one review less will make no earthly difference to anyone.

Is it just me? Or do you all find it hard to keep all those bookish plates spinning? I think I might have blogged about many of these issues before, it certainly feels as if I’ve said all this before. Sorry if I’m repeating myself.

20141023_202041One recent problem that has reared its head is my reaction to some modern novels, I feel as if I am becoming less tolerant of modern fiction – maybe a certain kind of middle of the road modern fiction, I have found myself mildly disappointed in books that I was looking forward to. This is particularly worrying as I have several very new books – both review copies, and ones I have bought that I am really looking forward to; I can’t bear to think I may be disappointed in them too. I find that I retreat gratefully to the books I have faith in, the books of the 1930’s the 1950’s, they often come in dove grey and vintage dark green jackets, so often the voices of these books resonate most strongly with me.

 

Still I am going to read some of these over the next few weeks, fingers crossed they are as wonderful as I want them to be. I probably just need to recognise when I am not in a modern novel mood, and not try to read a modern novel. Bookish appetites need to be adhered to.

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Although I read more old books than new books, I do like to keep abreast of at least some of what’s new. So far this year, I have actually read about twenty eight books published in the last two years – out of a total of a hundred and six books read so far, with another handful published a few years before that, which is quite a lot of modern books for me I think.

Do you ever feel that you’re drowning in books, events, reviews, juggling time and commitments? How do you prioritise? – or do you read strictly by mood?

piercedheart

With thanks to the publishers for providing me with an ebook review copy via NetGalley.

Lynn Shepherd fans will already know that each of her novels have as their inspiration a classic work of literature. Murder at Mansfield Park fairly obviously Mansfield Park, Tom-All-Alone’s; Bleak House, A Treacherous Likeness, took as its inspiration Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the lives of those concerned with that infamous Swiss holiday . Now The Pierced Heart plays homage to Dracula, Bram Stoker’s classic gothic novel while also drawing on the real life story of a mysterious scientist.

As the novel opens in 1851, Charles Maddox; thief taker is on his way to Austria, to the remote castle of the mysterious Baron Von Reisenberg. Maddox’s simple seeming mission is to verify the antecedents of the Baron, following his offer of a large donation towards the upkeep of the Bodleian Library. The custodians not wishing to turn down a donation nevertheless need to be sure of where exactly it has come from. Maddox is saddened and depressed man, following the tragic death of his lover, and welcomes the chance to escape from London for a short time.

“That night the nightmares return, and brutally. Charles wakes before dawn to the sound of his own voice crying and bed sheets sodden with sweat. He lurches up, wiping the tears from his face, and sits a moment breathing heavily. “

The Baron’s castle is a very forbidding place, where the Baron a reclusive scientist conducts research into sleepwalking. It isn’t long before Maddox discovers that there is a very dark side to the Baron, who has secrets he hadn’t wanted Maddox to discover, when Charles finds his way into a private chamber momentarily left unlocked, his difficulties with the Baron really begin. The locals are superstitious and Maddox comes to hear some of the tales told in whispers about the Baron, and of a local girl found dead beneath the high castle walls. These stories concern the legend of Nosferatu, the strigoi, the Undead, stories Charles Maddox treats with amused condescension. Maddox’s stay at the castle ends with Charles being mauled by a terrifying dog before being carted off to an asylum.

“I am becoming a thing of darkness. My eyes are too weak to bear even the dim glow that comes when he opens the door, and I recoil from it in pain, as I recoil from his touch. I can no longer even see his face, as the light streams in behind him and he seems monstrous, like a fiend of some half-forgotten myth…”

Interspersed with the story of Maddox’s ill-fated trip to Austria (and his eventual return to London) is Lucy’s story told in the form of her journal entries. Lucy is the daughter of an illusionist; the two have been living on the continent for much of Lucy’s life, making their living from a Phantasmagoria show. Now they are on their way back to England, for Lucy is suffering from a mysterious malady, for which her father wishes her only to recover. Lucy and her father return to Whitby, where Lucy’s mother is buried, and where Lucy makes her first real friend. One day, Lucy’s father brings a man to their home, who claims he can help Lucy finally recover from her strange illness. Lucy’s story is naturally caught up with that of the Baron, and events that take place in London a couple of months later. (Readers of the other books in the Maddox series will be left gaping at the end, desperate no doubt for the next instalment).

Back in London and meeting up again with his old friend Sam (now sergeant) Wheeler, Maddox finds himself drawn into the investigation for a brutal killer, a killer who is mutilating the bodies of young women in a very particular way. The investigation takes Maddox into the halls of the Great Exhibition, as the murders begin to look as if they may have a connection with Baron Von Reisenberg, who is now also in London.

The Pierced Heart is a must for fans of gothic stories, particularly Dracula, in this novel Lynn shepherd weaves together stories of gothic superstition and scientific discovery. As with her previous novels Lynn Shepherd has put her own spin on the classic novel that inspired it, with The Pierced Heart she has given a lovely, sharp little twist to the myth that surrounds Dracula and the gothic vampire tale. Perfect reading for these late October evenings, The Pierced Heart is an atmospheric page turner, that fans of those earlier Maddox novels will enjoy.

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Thetortoiseandthehare

The Tortoise and the Hare was Elizabeth Jenkin’s sixth novel, one which was described to me recently as a forgotten masterpiece. I have had a copy for a while so I absolutely had to read it right away. My only other experience of Elizabeth Jenkins was in the novel Harriet – published by Persephone books. Of her writing Hilary Mantel – in her introduction to this edition says:

“…she is like Jane Austen: formal, nuanced, acid. She surveys a room as if she were perched on the mantelpiece: an unruffled owl of Minerva, a recording angel”

The Tortoise and the Hare is a subtle, beautifully written novel of psychological depth and great insight. It is the story of a marriage – and its decline.

Evelyn and Imogen Gresham are a conventional upper middle class married couple, they live comfortably in the country with their eleven year old son, and Evelyn, a successful lawyer spends most of his week up in London. Imogen is quite a bit younger than her fifty two year old husband; she’s beautiful and gentle, quick to tears and her ignorance of country pursuits and her love of pretty things over valuable things have begun to irritate Evelyn. Within her marriage Imogen has become a pacifier, a keeper of the peace, deferring to Evelyn in everything. Evelyn has very definite expectations of his domestic life, comforts he feels are his due, at work everything runs to his exacting standards – he wants nothing less than that at home. Young Gavin, the Gresham’s son, soon off to prep school, is a pretty vile child; he has shown his mother on several occasions that he considers her to be pretty useless. He has the arrogant contempt of a male child, who has learned a lot of bad habits from its father; Imogen almost seems to accept her son’s view of her with very little resistance. Gavin’s friend Tim Leeper is the only person to fully appreciate Imogen; he is a sad little scrap, a sensitive child of a chaotic bohemian household, who spend little time ensuring the well-being of their offspring. Tim spends more and more time at the Gresham home, and even after Gavin goes off to school, Tim spends part of each day with Imogen.

“Imogen went into the house. From the end window of her bedroom she looked out on the drive, a yellow gravelled circus surrounded by evergreens. The gate was pushed back against a box hedge, and standing with one hand on it, Evelyn was talking to Blanche Silcox, a neighbour who lived behind the hanger. She was on the way to the post in the village, it seemed, for she held several envelopes in her leather-gauntleted hand. The tweed suit, expensive but of singular cut, increased the breadth of her middle-aged figure. She appeared kind and unassuming, which made it the more strange that her hats should be so very intimidating.”

The Gresham’s nearest neighbour is Blanche Silcox, a spinster of about fifty, very comfortably off, she understands the countryside and its sports, she does voluntary work, and is a pillar of the local community. Blanche is a tweedy, lumpish woman, viewed as elderly by the beautiful, graceful Imogen; Miss Silcox with her masculine voice, wears odd hats and gloves like gauntlets, she is certainly not an obvious threat. Between Evelyn and Blanche there has over time developed a close friendship, Blanche enjoys giving Evelyn lifts to and from the station, in her Rolls Royce – as Imogen doesn’t drive, they both appreciate the same things and Blanche proves to know exactly how to make Evelyn comfortable.

“Imogen,” he said with forced patience, “you have plenty of occupations of your own, and you don’t care to do the things that give a great deal of pleasure to me – when I have time to do them. You don’t want to fish or shoot and you can’t drive my car, which would be a help to me sometimes. Am I to understand that you object to my having the companionship of another woman who can do these things?”

One of Imogen’s closest friends is Paul Nugent is also a middle aged man married to a much younger woman, only his wife Primrose – quickly decided she had made a bad bargain, and shuns her husband, largely living her own life. Paul tentatively suggests to Imogen who has always had her beauty to rely upon, that she might not understand what it is that men fall in love with. It is some time before Imogen fully realises what it was her friend was trying to tell her. Imogen’s other friend, Cecil ( a woman) is certain that Evelyn has taken Blanche as his mistress, and with Cecil’s help, Imogen discovers that Blanche has a flat in London, not far from Evelyn’s chambers.

As Blanche comes to mean more and more to Evelyn, assisting Gavin with his riding lessons, hosting glamorous lunches for Evelyn in London and even making subtle changes in her own home that will please him, Imogen has to wake up to what is happening. However Imogen’s self-esteem has taken an almighty battering and she is no match for the newly energised sexually assured Blanche Silcox.

The Tortoise and the Hare – is a superbly written novel of 1950’s domestic disharmony, and female sensuality. Jenkins’ characters are brilliantly explored, and the erosion of Imogen’s self-belief is quite heart-breaking. Alongside Imogen’s childlike sensuality, and Blanche’s determined aggressive sexuality is Tim Leeper’s aunt; Zenobia and her siren like sensuality a woman who believes all men will fall in love with her.

Hilary Mantel compares Jenkins to Austen, and also to Sybille Bedford and Rebecca West, possibly, but this novel is certainly very Elizabeth Taylor, acutely observed, quietly devastating and absolutely brilliant.

ELIZABETHjENKINS

thebooker2014The Booker Prize has been a source of fascination to me for a number of years, and I have enjoyed reading some of the nominated books each year and speculating on who would win. I don’t know why the Booker above all other prizes fascinated me so much (I do also enjoy the buzz that surrounds the Women’s Prize), but something about it captured my imagination.

This year was different however. First they changed the rules of writers eligible to win– and I couldn’t decide what I thought about that. Certainly I’m all for equality and opening things up to everyone – generally in life, but I felt like they had changed the Booker suddenly. I couldn’t explain why, but I didn’t like it. It’s like allowing American competitors to take part in the Commonwealth Games, the competition would fundamentally change. Then later when the long list was announced there was a lot of justifiable comment on social media about how few women were nominated, and the complicated submission rules. I think all the grumbling and controversy put me off the whole thing rather. Determined to take my usual interest (I don’t usually try to read the whole long or short list – but I generally read two or three) I downloaded to my kindle, The Blazing Word by Siri Hustvedt and We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – two of the American authors long listed. I didn’t get on with Hustvedt at all- giving up at 18% and have yet to try the Karen Joy Fowler, of which I have heard mixed reports. After that I rather grumpily ignored the whole thing.

thenarrowroad tothe deepnorthOn the night the winner was announced I was watching the new series of The Apprentice, and not really thinking about the imminent announcement. Usually I would have watched/listened live if the announcement was being broadcast, and joined in the excited speculation on Twitter. As it happens just minutes after the announcement was made, I glanced at my Twitter feed and saw the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize was Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Something about that poetic title piqued my interest. I looked the book up, and downloaded it to my kindle  minutes later. Last year I read the Booker winner over half term, and I may do that this year though I am juggling a few review copies that I really need and want to read soon.

So it seems I have got over my little tantrum, and I may after all complete my Booker project which I began quite a number of years ago. The challenge: merely to read everything that had ever won. I still have several of the unread Booker winners on my TBR bookcase, but I don’t think I have read any Booker winning novels since I laid aside the glorious The Luminaries last October.

As well as this year’s winner – I still have these nine to read: four of which I have had on my shelves for a long time.

1994 – James Kelman, How Late It Was, How Late
1986 – Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils
1980 – William Golding, Rites of Passage
1976 – David Storey, Saville
1974 – Nadine Gordimer, The Conservationist
1974 – Stanley Middleton, Holiday (joint winners)
1972 – John Berger, G
1970 – Bernice Rubens, The Elected Member
1969 – P H Newby, Something to Answer For20141019_102143

Maybe I’ll do it one day, but some of those titles rather intimidate me. And still I can’t explain what it is about the booker that has interested for so long; I haven’t even liked all the books. Considering how many ‘old books’ I read the Booker shouldn’t be something that I’m all that bothered about, but it seems I am after all, not entirely cured of my fascination of the Booker Prize.

enter a murderer

First published in 1935 Enter a Murderer was the second novel to feature Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn. Over the last few years I have read quite a number of Marsh’s Alleyn novels, but I don’t think it matters that I haven’t been reading them in the right order. This novel finds us in Ngaio Marsh’s beloved theatre – a world she was very much at home in and which played an important part in her life. Several of Nagio Marsh’s novels have a theatrical setting; a setting I do think suits a murder mystery beautifully. Although she was the author of something like thirty detective novels, the theatre was Ngaio Marsh’s first love. As both an actress and a producer, she was instrumental in reviving the New Zealand public interest in the theatre.

“His face reflected, horribly, the surprise on Surbonadier’s. He stood looking foolishly at the gun in his hand and then let it fall to the floor. He turned, bewildered, and peering at the audience as though asking a question. He looked at the stage exits as if he meditated an escape.”

Nephew of an unsavoury theatre owner, Jacob Saint, slimy Arthur Surbonadier is a good but not especially gifted actor, he has ambition however, ambition he wants his uncle to help him realise. Already trying to manipulate his fellow cast members to his own advantage, Surbonadier now turns his hand to blackmail as he attempts to secure for himself what he considers to be a better role.

A week into the run of Jacob Saint’s production of The Rat and the Beaver at the Unicorn theatre, journalist Nigel Bathgate invites his friend Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn to accompany him to an evening at the theatre, meeting some of the cast before the show. One particular scene in the play requires some careful choreography as a shot from the wings must be heard at the exact moment a gun is apparently fired into the chest of Surbonadier’s character onstage. While backstage, before the evening’s performance, Alleyn overhears discussion about the dummy bullets, he is also witness to Surbonadier’s unpleasant drunkenness and the atmosphere between him and his fellow cast members. Playing the part of the man who holds the gun is Felix Gardener, a friend of Nigel Bathgate’s and Surbonadier’s rival for the attentions of beautiful leading lady Stephanie Vaughan. So when the shot is fired onstage at the end of the play, and Surbonadier is found to be really dead, it is Nigel’s friend, actor Felix Gardener who is holding the smoking gun. Having moments earlier been sat in the audience, Alleyn is immediately propelled into investigation, with young Bathgate riding shotgun.

“The rest of the cast followed in turn. Barclay Crammer gave a good all-round performance of a heart-broken gentleman of the old school. Janet Emerald achieved the feat known to leading ladies as ‘running through the gamut of emotions.’ Asked to account for the striking discrepancies between her statement and those of Miss Max and the stage manager, she wept unfeignedly and said her heart was broken. The coroner stared at her coldly, and told her she was an unsatisfactory witness. Miss Deamer was youthfully sincere, and used a voice with an effective little broken gasp. Her evidence was supremely irrelevant. The stage manager and Miss Max were sensible and direct. Props looked and behaved so precisely like a murderer, that he left the box in a perfect gale of suspicion. Trixie Beadle struck the ‘I was an innocent girl’ note, but was obviously frightened and was treated gently.”

There certainly appears to be a number of people with a good motive for getting rid of the odious Surbonadier, among both cast and backstage hands. Alleyn has a complex case to investigate, in which he was also a witness, Alleyn is ably assisted as ever by the marvellous Inspector Fox (who we don’t see quite enough of in this one).

Ngaio Marsh is a very good novelist, her mysteries, on the whole are excellent, and this isn’t the first of her books set in the theatre I have read, Enter a Murderer is good too, but it isn’t her best. I found myself irritated by Nigel Bathgate, more so in this one than in other novels where he has trailed along after Alleyn. The denouement is satisfactorily difficult to work out, but for me it was the brilliantly portrayed theatrical setting which remains the star in this early Marsh novel.

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ladiesoflyndon

The Ladies of Lyndon was Margaret Kennedy’s first novel, coming a year before her best known work The Constant Nymph. In this novel Margaret Kennedy explores themes she would revisit later in The Constant Nymph; unsatisfactorily matched partners within a socially conventional marriage, fidelity and artistic temperaments.

The novel opens as charming, innocent Agatha Cocks prepares to marry Sir John Clewer, a man twelve years her senior – who has satisfactorily swept the eighteen year old Agatha off her feet. The two have spent very little time together alone, and their knowledge of one another is limited. Agatha’s mother, who approves of young girls marrying early, before they have had time to form their own independent opinions, is delighted, particularly as Agatha had a brief aborted romance with her cousin, Gerald two years earlier, and whom she hasn’t entirely put behind her.

“He wished that she would not look at him so sorrowfully. Too intolerably reminiscent, she was, of the woman he had lost. He must either fly from her or challenge her. If he held his ground an instant longer he must attempt some master word which would bring this ghost to life.”

In marrying John, Agatha will become Lady Clewer, and mistress of the great country house of Lyndon. She will also become part of a large and complex extended family, which includes John’s stepmother Lady Clewer, his brother James, stepsister Lois and half-sister Cynthia. Before meeting James, Agatha has been told how difficult to manage John’s brother is. Both Agatha and the reader is given to understand that James is dreadfully ugly, of limited intelligence and unpredictable behaviour, that the family have to manage him the best they can, and that Lady Clewer has been an angel at ministering to the needs of her poor unfortunate stepson. However it is soon apparent that though James may not be particularly good looking, there is nothing wrong with him barring a certain unconventional, eccentricity, and his sometimes unpredictable behaviour stems from his artistic temperament and the treatment he is subjected to by his family. (Today I suspect James may be seen as suffering from Asperger’s syndrome).

“Too tired to think, she smoked several cigarettes and fell into a sort of chilly doze. Her childish mind, straying unhappily through the void like a lost bird, circled inevitably towards the thought of Lyndon. It was an ark, a shelter of comfort and solace. “

Three years after her marriage to John, Agatha finds she loves her home of Lyndon, but following the death of her baby becomes less and less able to settle into her role as a conventional aristocratic wife. John is simply the wrong husband for Agatha, he is not an unkind or unpleasant man, he is a little reserved, and like several minor characters we don’t get to know him all that well. Overall though it is the characters and their stories that are absolutely at the heart of this novel, I particularly liked James and Dolly as well as Agatha herself, who is portrayed with great sympathy. The two matriarchs Mrs Cocks and (the dowager) Lady Clewer are also brilliantly portrayed, their societal expectations, snobberies and competitiveness are wonderfully drawn.

Lyndon, with its beautiful, indolent mistress, is a favourite haunt of several society people, among them, the man Agatha’s sister-in-law Lois will marry, James, and even Agatha’s cousin, Gerald. Agatha and Gerald’s friendship is re-kindled, and they spend a lot of time together during Gerald’s visits. James meanwhile sets his sights on Dolly, a housemaid, the niece of the woman who had helped care for him, and with whom he had played when he was a child at Lyndon, he now can’t see why society should keep them apart.

James and Dolly marry and set up home in a cottage, with a studio for James in a small workshop, but with Agatha and John not having had any more children James remains John’s heir. Agatha flouts convention by making a friend of Dolly and under the influence of Gerald’s left wing principles enjoys visiting the couple in their simple, happy home. After the war, Agatha’s friendship with Gerald has become the subject of much family gossip and speculation, with a visit to Cynthia and her husband Sir Thomas’s home bringing everything to a head.

Margaret Kennedy skilfully brings the Edwardian aristocratic world to life with acute observation, some humour and superbly realistic dialogue. As a first novel; The Ladies of Lyndon is very impressive indeed.

Following Jane’s wonderful Margaret Kennedy reading week, I am definitely ripe for more, how lovely it is to discover a new author.

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booksdofurnisharoom

Books Do Furnish a Room, is the first book in the last movement of Anthony Powell’s twelve novel sequence, the tenth book overall. As we enter the dance’s winter movement; Nick Jenkins  is now a middle aged man. In this fabulously titled novel, Anthony Powell explores the literary world of the mid to late 1940’s.

One of the things I noticed about this novel is due perhaps to the time in which Powell was writing. The first novel, A Question of Upbringing was published in 1951, this novel published twenty years later. In those early novels, Powell sometimes masks some aspects of his characters behaviour in a slight fog of ambiguity. In this novel, although Anthony Powell’s superb style remains largely unchanged, there is a slightly more modern feel in how Anthony Powell refers to matters of a slightly unsavoury or sexual nature.

The novel opens very soon after the end of the war – the last novel ended with Nick Jenkins’ demobilisation. Nick at the age of forty, returns to his university library to do some research for a biography he is writing. Here he meets Sillery again; the manipulative old don who Jenkins and his friends all encountered as young men.

“To enter Sillery’s sitting room after twenty years was to drive a relatively deep fissure through variegated seams of Time. The faintly laundry-cupboard odour, as one came through the door, generated in turn the taste of the rock-buns dispensed at those tea parties, their gritty indeterminate flavour once more dehydrating the palate. The props round about designed for Sillery’s nightly performance remained almost entirely unaltered. Eroded loose-covers of immemorially springless armchairs still precariously endured; wide perforations frayed long since in the stretch of carpet before the door, only a trifle more hazardous to the unwary walker. As might be expected, the framed photographs of jaunty young men had appreciably increased, several of the new arrivals in uniform, one in a turban, two or three American.”

Sillery is now nearing eighty and has a new secretary, Ada Leintwardine who has been tasked with writing up Sillery’s diaries. Ada however has her own literary ambitions. Quiggin, a former writer, has now set up his own publishing house with Howard Craggs. The rather fabulous title of this book, is taken from the character of Bagshaw, nicknamed ‘books do furnish a room Bagshaw’ sometimes merely referred to as ‘books’. Bagshaw is to be the editor of Fission a new literary magazine to be brought out by publishers Craggs and Quiggin.

Jenkins brother in law Erridge dies suddenly and at Erridge’s funeral – to which Widmerpool and his unlikely wife arrive late in company of Lady Craggs; who turns out to be none other than Gypsy Jones – Quiggin offers Nick a position at the magazine. Pamela Widmerpool causes some disturbance by apparently becoming unwell, which causes a fair bit of speculation. At the party to launch the new magazine, Jenkins meets the writer X Trapnel, the Widmerpools are also in attendance, and Trapnel obviously dislikes Widmerpool although is immediately taken with Pamela.

Trapnel wanted, among other things, to be a writer, a dandy, a lover, a comrade, an eccentric, a sage, a virtuoso, a good chap, a man of honour, a hard case, a spendthrift, an opportunist, a raisonneur; to be very rich, to be very poor, to possess a thousand mistresses, to win the heart of one love to whom he was ever faithful, to be on the best of terms with all men, to avenge savagely the lightest affront, to live to a hundred full of years and honour, to die young and unknown but recognized the following day as the most neglected genius of the age.”

Trapnel, a wonderful Powell creation, has been writing a novel for two years, frequently reviews books for Fission, and it is during this period that Jenkins is drawn into his world. Ada, Sillery’s secretary is involved with the magazine too, and Widmerpool is one of the investors, as ever the world in which Jenkins moves is one in which old friends and lovers are never far away.

Widmerpool’s relationship with Pamela remains every bit as unlikely as it seemed at the end of the last novel when the two became unexpectedly engaged. Widmerpool seems to have a determination to keep hold of Pamela, no matter what she does, and she certainly gives him cause to regret his marriage, this determination of Widmerpool’s is quite unnerving. I think the older Widmerpool gets the more repellent he becomes. Widmerpool is now an M.P – as is another of Jenkins’ brothers-in law- Roddy Cutts married to Susan Tolland. At a lunch with Roddy at the House of Commons, Nick and Roddy run into Widmerpool, and return with him to the flat he shares with Pamela. Here the break down in the Widmerpool marriage becomes all too apparent as someone comes to the door with a message that Pamela has left her husband for Trapnel. Pamela is portrayed by Powell as flighty certainly – her behaviour is often exasperating, but also rather oddly (and perhaps typically for the times) as frigid. I’m not sure what if anything this says about Powell’s attitude to promiscuous women, maybe nothing; however it seems a shame that Pamela can’t simply be a bit of a tart, without also having ‘sexual issues’.

Widmerpool initially reacts oddly, pretending unconcern and that Pamela’s eccentricity in wandering off from time to time is well known, that she will soon be back, it is a performance that those who really know the couple don’t believe for a minute. Pamela’s relationship with Trapnel is no more convincing than her relationship with her husband. However Widmerpool’s confidence that she will return to him is borne out by the end of the novel. Trapnel is soon also abandoned by Pamela, but not before she takes her anger out on his precious manuscript – (reason enough for the reader to loathe her).

As the novel ends, Nick travels to his old school to enrol his own son, and here meets his old house-master Le Bas – who is even older than Sillery, and seeing out his retirement in the school library.

So only two of these left, goodness how time flies.

anthonypowell

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