The Well-Beloved was Hardy’s last novel – serialised in 1892, and published in novel form in 1897. Following the furore that surrounded the publication of Jude the obscure in 1895, Hardy turned his back on novel writing, and devoted himself to his poetry for the remaining thirty years of his life. The Well-Beloved is a work that Hardy himself revised several times, in 1897 for the novel’s publication, and again in 1903 and 1912. The edition I read uses Hardy’s revised 1912 text.

Coincidently I recently read a novel called Winter’ – about Thomas Hardy and his second wife Florence at the very end of Hardy’s life. Exploring the idea that his character Tess, was Hardy’s own ideal – his Well-Beloved, a character based upon a young milkmaid whose daughter was to later play the part of Tess in a stage production. Winter was therefore great preparation for re-reading this novel. A novel often categorised as being one of Hardy’s Romance and Fantasies. The themes that Hardy explores in this novel are not unfamiliar ones for Hardy readers; conventional marriage, the search for an ideal and the effects of the passage of time.

wellbeloved2The Well-Beloved of the title – is an ideal, a spirit which the central character Jocelyn Pierston, believes comes to temporarily inhabit the physical form of subsequent women and girls. Structurally the novel is divided into three sections, charting Jocelyn’s romantic life at twenty, at forty and finally at sixty, the three stages of his romantic education with three generations of women. The story of a transient spirit transferring itself from woman to woman is of course is the story that Jocelyn Pierston tells himself and his artist friend Somers in order to excuse what is obviously his own flighty, inconsistent behaviour.

“She came nine times in the course of the two or three ensuing years. Four times she masqueraded as a brunette, twice as a pale-haired creature, and two or three times under a complexion neither light nor dark. Sometimes she was a tall, fine girl, but more often, I think, she preferred to slip into the skin of a lithe airy being, of no great stature. I grew so accustomed to these exits and entrances that I resigned myself to them quite passively, talked to her, kissed her, corresponded with her, ached for her, in each of her several guises.”

Jocelyn is a sculptor – from a small “island” community, in fact a peninsular described by Hardy as the Gibraltar of Wessex – where a few families exist mainly by working in the stone quarrying industry, marrying and intermarrying for generations. The community have their own traditions surrounding betrothal which involves couples sneaking off together to fully consummate their relationship – thus making marriage necessary. Jocelyn has moved away from his island home, making his life mainly in London, he comes back from time to time to visit.
When he is twenty Jocelyn’s ideal of the Well-Beloved inhabits the form of Avice Caro – a girl he has known since childhood. Having asked Avice to marry him, the couple decide not to go through the form of traditional betrothal; Jocelyn later abandons Avice to run off with another woman, the daughter of his father’s greatest business rival, in whom he again sees the spirit of The Well-Beloved. In later years Jocelyn finds his Well-Beloved in other places and in other women, it becomes a more fleeting ideal with the passage of time. At forty Jocelyn returns to his Wessex home briefly, where he meets Avice Caro’s daughter Ann Avice and in her immediately sees the Well-Beloved again. In his sixties it is her daughter, Avice the third to whom he becomes briefly engaged.

With the passage of time Jocelyn comes to believe that the original Avice was the woman he least appreciated – the hereditary link between these three women seem in part at least, what draws Jocelyn toward them. These three stages of Pierston’s romantic education concludes with Jocelyn changing his attitude somewhat in the search for his ideal – contenting himself with affection and companionship with one single woman.

The premise of this novel is an odd one I suppose, and yet Hardy makes it work, allowing him as it does to explores those old familiar themes. This was my third reading of The Well-Beloved – a likeable enough Hardy novel although not a favourite of mine – I do think it offers us an interesting perspective on Hardy’s own attitudes to love, marriage and the pursuit of the ideal.



It isn’t very often that I pre-order a brand new hardback, however I was already a fan of Kamila Shamsie’s writing and so when I heard that A God in Every Stone was due out in April, I had to make sure I got my copy as soon as I could. Of course the danger with a much anticipated new novel is, that it is so anticipated that it can only disappoint. Thankfully I was certainly not disappointed in this novel – I enjoyed it enormously, however I don’t think it has quite the emotional power of Burnt Shadows (2009) – which I was totally mesmerised by.

Set in England, Turkey and Peshawar in 1914/15 and 1930 A God in Every Stone tells a compelling story of love, friendship, war and betrayal and our place in history, showing us how so much that seems lost to us can never be forgotten.

“If a man is to die defending a field, let the field be his field, the land his land, the people his people.”

Vivian Rose Spencer is a young Englishwoman, the daughter of a man who regretting his lack of sons, allows her to be educated beyond what is usual for her peers. In July 1914 Vivian is in an ancient region of Turkey with a party of archaeologists, which include her father’s good friend Tahsin Bey, his nephew and a group of Germans. As Vivian discovers the temple of Zeus, and hears the ancient stories of Caria (a region of Turkey) and Caspatyrus (thought to be in or near Peshawar), she starts to fall in love with Tashin Bey despite the large difference in their ages. Tashin Bey is on the trail of an ancient metal circlet – The Circlet of Scylax, a quest that will become Vivian’s too in the years to come. When war comes Vivian undertakes to nurse the wounded in a hospital in London, not yet old enough to go out to the front. However soon Viv will turn twenty-three and her father will expect her to join the nurses at the front, as content to sacrifice his daughter to the horrors of war – as he would have been to send his sons to the trenches had he had any. As Vivian waits for news from Tahsin Bey – an intelligence officer pays her a visit; Vivian is torn, wanting so much to make her father proud.

“You can’t betray a man to his friends, only to his enemies, the man from the war office said. What you say will do no harm, and it may do our boys at the front a great deal of good. I can’t put it more simply than that.”

Taumatised by her nursing experiences Vivian flees to Peshawar following the trail that Tashin Bey started her on. On a train she briefly meets twenty year old Pathan Qayyum Gul, returning after losing an eye at Ypres. Qayyum’s allegiances to the British army have been shattered by his experiences, he returns a bitter changed man. In Peshawar Vivian meets young Najeeb, who (unknown to Viv) is Qayyum’s twelve year old brother, Viv starts teaching Najeeb – awakening in him, the love Tashin Bey awoke in her younger self for history and archaeology. The connection between these three will only be fully revealed fifteen years later on the Street of Storytellers during a violent skirmish between soldiers of the British army and Peshawari citizens.

Viv is rather reserved character – I felt she deliberately stands at a distance from the reader; it was hard to feel a connection with her as a character. She is a modern forward looking young woman, educated as a man would have been, and yet disapproving of her friend Mary’s suffragette activities. Viv is fighting her own battle, a battle of grief and guilt, continuing a quest started by the man she loved. I loved the characters of Qayyum and Najeeb. In the days following Qayyum’s return from the war, there is a distance between the brothers, although their love for one another is apparent. Fifteen years later, when Qayyum has found a new war to fight, this time against the British he once fought alongside, the brothers are again more united, although their differences remain.

Shamsie’s Peshawar of 1915 and 1930 – is a place of tradition, a city of burqas, letter writers and storytellers, a place where men look through women rather than at them. The sense of place – as with all Kamila Shamsie’s previous novels is really strong. I have to admit the ending may slightly let this novel down, it felt a bit weak , falling slightly flat for me. However over all I really liked this novel- a definite four star read – and one I would recommend. If you have never read Burnt Shadows however – you must – it is an extraordinary wonderful novel, and for me remains her best novel to date.


This week has seen the launch of an exciting online magazine Shiny New Books – which is brought to us by four fabulous book bloggers; Annabel, Victoria, Simon and Harriet who I am sure you all know already. This is a site which will be very damaging to our wishlists/tbrs – and I have found myself oohing and aahing over several of the reviews over there already. How they find the time and energy for such a project I have no idea – but I for one am very glad they do – I am already a fan.


Coming up this month on ebookclassics and cedar station is a read-a-long of the Classic novel Madam Bovary, which I read years ago, and I am looking forward to revisiting it. Maybe some of you will be joining us.

Despite a recent visit to London – where a good deal of book shopping happened, I haven’t been very good at not acquiring books. After the London trip – I had given myself a stern talking to about this – there is after all no room now on my to be read bookcase – I have long ago stopped pretending it’s a shelf. However in the last couple of weeks I have been – well terrible.

First there were the review copies that arrived about 8 in the last 2 or 3 weeks– all of which I am very grateful for and can’t wait to read. Review copies, was something I had originally not intended to get into, it wasn’t something I had even thought about when I began blogging on WordPress, but the temptation has sometimes proved too much. I’ll be fine as long as keep lovely review copies to a sensible level.

mappand luciatrouble for Lucialuciasprogress







Then there were the kindle downloads – some of them I did have to pay for – although not much as they are all very old books, and the most recent kindle acquisition was from the blessed Project Guttenberg.

Downloaded for my continuing education into the world of Mapp and Lucia:
Trouble for Lucia – E F Benson
Mapp and Lucia – E F Benson
Lucia’s Progress – E F Benson
I just need to figure out which of those is the next book.

For the Great War Read I have bought:








All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
and free from Project Guttenberg
The War Workers – E M Delafield.

Two new hardbacks have been purchased from Waterstones online this week:
agodineverystoneA God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie – which I actually pre-ordered a while ago, it arrived on Saturday morning, and I began reading it Saturday evening.




wakeWake –the much talked about and reviewed novel by Anna Hope – which I have flirted with for ages and finally gave in.





phoenixfledFollowing my reading of Sunlight on a Broken column – I found a lovely reasonably priced copy of Attia Hosain’s short stories Phoenix Fled on Abebooks – so snapped it up.




drawnfrommemoryAnd from ebay I’ve ordered a copy of E H Shepherd’s autobiography, Drawn from Memory which I ordered after reading a wonderful review of it on The Captive Reader’s blog





So I haven’t been very well behaved really :) but I am really looking forward to all these books. Though I shudder very slightly when I glance at my living room bookcase – things are seriously out of control here.



One of the things I love about these Anthony Powell novels that I have set myself the task of reading – is the way in which characters appear, fade out and re-appear in Nick Jenkins life; like residents of a small village passing and out of different entrances of their local pub. I now feel as if I am getting into my stride with Anthony Powell – or at least starting to – I like his world, a world of London streets and complicated families teetering on the edges of the British establishment. Bizarrely perhaps; it puts me rather in mind of the world of writer and director Stephen Poliakoff – whose work I absolutely love. I feel as if Poliakoff must have read Anthony Powell – I have no evidence for this; and I am probably wrong .

At Lady Molly’s is the fourth novel in Powell’s epic twelve novel sequence, and events have moved on two or three years since the close of the previous novel. It is now early 1934 and Nick Jenkins is approaching thirty, no longer in a relationship with Jean Templer; he has also left the publisher of art books he previously worked for. Now working as a screen writer for a film studio, and in the company of colleague Chips Lovell, Jenkins encounters General Conyers and his wife, who Nick remembers from his boyhood. Through them and at the home of Lady Molly, we are introduced to a host of new characters as well as some we already know, primarily of course Widmerpool. Much of this novel concerns the engagement of Widmerpool to Mrs Conyers much younger sister Mildred, a flighty woman several years older than her fiancée already twice married and with two adolescent sons. Nick is often bemused by Widmerpool, slightly fascinated by the effect he has on others, he can’t help but remember that peculiar unpopular boy from school sometimes.

“He suddenly began to look wretched, much as I had seen him look as a schoolboy: lonely: awkward: unpopular: odd; no longer the self-confident businessman into which he had grown. His face now brought back the days when one used to watch him plodding off through the drizzle to undertake the long, solitary runs across the dismal fields beyond the sewage farms: runs which were to train him for teams in which he was never included.”

The large aristocratic Tolland family are right at the heart of this novel, the young, Lord Warminster – known simply as Erridge – an eccentric bearded figure is living in the Tolland family ancestral home. Close to Thrubworth Park – live Quiggin and Mona. The shine seems to have come off their relationship since the days when Quiggin snatched the former model from under her husband Peter Templer nose. Invited for the weekend to the Quiggin home, Jenkins finds himself at a dinner at Thrubworth Park where he meets two of Erridge’s sisters (he has four or five). Immediately Jenkins decides he will marry the youngest sister Isobel.

“Would it be too explicit, too exaggerated, to say that I when I set eyes on Isobel Tolland I knew at once that I should marry her? Something like that is the truth; certainly nearer the truth than merely to record those vague, inchoate sentiments of interest of which I was so immediately conscious. It was as if I had known her for many years already; enjoyed happiness with her and suffered sadness. I was conscious of that, as of another life, nostalgically remembered.“

I found there to be less ambiguity in this novel than in the previous two – it is also slightly less comic. Although the evening Nick spends with Ted Jeavons, Lady Molly’s husband, at Dick Umfraville’s nightclub, where he is joined by particularly polished looked Peter Templer, and a (literally) jaundiced Widmerpool is brilliantly bizarre. This world we see through the eyes of Nick Jenkins of course, yet Jenkins himself remains remote, Jenkins is a nice young man, but I suspect he isn’t quite as fascinating as the people around him, or maybe that is just how he sees himself. Events in Europe are made just passing reference to, they don’t seem to loom too large in the lives of these characters, and as yet at least, we really don’t know how Jenkins himself feels about Hitler and his policies. Still I like Nick Jenkins, I find him a calm presence in a world of eccentrics – and I look forward to joining him at Cassanova’s Chinese Restaurant next month.


surfeit of lampreys

Now there is something about a nice bit of vintage murder that is ever so slightly comforting, now I can’t say I have ever understood why this should be so – but it does seem to be the case for many readers. I love Agatha Christie – I have loved her forever, and remain a staunch fan, however, I wonder if Ngaio Marsh wasn’t a rather better writer. I discovered Marsh much later than Christie, and those novels I have read have been consistently good. Chief Inspector Alleyn and his trusty Inspector Fox are a fabulous police duo – Alleyn Marsh’s gentleman detective; a staple of golden age crime fiction.

“In after years Roberta was to find a pleasant irony in the thought that she owed her friendship with the family to one of those financial crises. It must have been a really bad one because it was at about that time that Lady Charles Lamprey suddenly got rid of all her English servants and bought the washing machine that afterwards, on the afternoon it broke loose from its mooring, so nearly killed Nanny and Patch.”

deathofapeerA Surfeit of Lampreys (US title Death of a Peer) opens in Marsh’s native New Zealand. Young New Zealander Roberta Grey – has been heartily welcomed into the bosom of the Lamprey family – a large, chaotic and endlessly charming, aristocratic family from England who are forever on the edge of complete financial ruin. As a young girl, Roberta watches with alternating dismay and exasperation as the family overspend while in funds, making pathetically inadequate attempts to economise when in the middle of another crisis. During these happy days – Roberta is regaled with horror tales of Uncle G – Lord Charles Lamprey’s childless elder brother – who controls the family purse strings. When Robin, as she is often called, is about sixteen – the Lampreys return to England, taking much of the colour from Roberta Grey’s life.

Four years later and Roberta arrives in England to live with an aunt. Newly bereaved, she is however delighted for an excuse to stay with her beloved Lampreys while her aunt recovers from an illness. The Lampreys are now living very comfortably on the entire top floor of an apartment building – in two formally adjacent flats. The eldest Lamprey son Henry and his sister Frid (Lady Friede) meet Robin off the ship and duly inform her that they are in crisis again. When Roberta is happily installed in Pleasaunce Court Mansions, she learns that the formidable Uncle G – and his very peculiar wife Aunt V have been summoned by Lord Charles, whose latest financial crisis is so severe he intends to appeal to his brother to bail him out. Just before the arrival of the Marquis and Marchioness of Wutherwood – a bailiffs man – aka a bum (not a term I had ever heard before) arrives at the flat and is ensconced in the kitchen – apparently to wait in vain for his money, he is closely followed by Lord Charles’ impoverished, whispering Aunt Kit. So in the best tradition of golden age mysteries – the scene is set for a domestic set drama full of eccentrics and those harbouring ill will.

Upon Lord Wutherwood’s arrival a bizarre charade is acted out by the older Lamprey siblings – it wouldn’t be a proper Ngaio Marsh without a nod to her theatrical leanings – before Lord Charles gets around to asking his dour brother for the money he needs. Soon after Lord Charles makes his request, his brother and sister in law make their departure – only they don’t get very far. As Lord Wutherwood is found slumped and horribly injured in the lift – the lift that is only ever used by the Lampreys – the servants naturally use the stairs. Within a few hours the Marquis’ injuries have proved fatal – and Lord Charles Lamprey succeeds to the title. Enter Alleyn and Fox – who start immediately to sift through the limited evidence, interviewing the various members of the household and their improbably named servants to establish everyone’s alibis. Alleyn is at his urbane best, a raised eyebrow at his suspects, a witty rejoinder with his colleagues – he charms more than he intimidates, yet Alleyn is as sharp as they come.

“She was glad that Henry had no more than one and elevenpence in his pockets and that, instead of borrowing her proffered ten shillings and taking a taxi, he suggested they should go roundabout by bus and tube to Pleasaunce Court. Splendid sang Roberta’s heart, to mount the swaying bus and go cruising down Park Lane, splendid to plunge into the entrance of the tube station, to smell the unexpected sweetness of air that was driven through the world of underground, to sink far below the streets and catch a roaring subterranean train. Splendid, she thought, to sit opposite Henry in the tube and to see his face, murkily lit but smiling at her.”

A Surfeit of Lampreys is a brilliantly executed mystery – I loved the domestic setting and the characters were brilliantly entertaining and ever so slightly bonkers. Ngaio Marsh is actually much more than a great mystery writer, she was a darn good novelist – she doesn’t stint on the detail – she takes her time to describe the London her characters pass through, there’s a clear sense of her characters past’s. I enjoyed spending time in Marsh’s pre-war London, and her truly dotty aristocratic household. This really has whetted my appetite for more Ngaio Marsh – as I do have several others tbr.


malverninmarch(A lovely early spring day on the Malvern hills with my local rambling group)

Goodness how time flies – March seems to just have whizzed by. Ten books read during March – a really lovely mix of things although I didn’t get around to any non-fiction this month. The month began with the third book in the Dance to the Music of Time sequence – I am so enjoying the sequence so far. I read another two novels this month by Willa Cather, ‘One of Ours’ and ‘Sapphira and the Slave girl’ – my intention of reading more by her this year so far going well – I think could end up a bit of a Cather addict. A couple of lovely shiny new books ‘The Collected Works of A.J Fikry’ and ‘Winter’ – a novel about Thomas Hardy served to remind me that there is some great new things out there too. The month ended with an unusual Persephone book – Patience by John Coates, which judging by the reviews I have seen elsewhere now, really seems to divide opinion. I really liked it, but it’s certainly not flawless. I am currently half way through – A Surfeit of Lampreys by Ngaio Marsh – and loving it – but couldn’t quite get it finished in time, so it will have to go in my April books read list instead.

Here’s the full list:
22 The Acceptance World (1955) Anthony Powell (F)
23 Dew on the Grass (1934) Eiluned Lewis (F)
24 Winter (2014) Christopher Nicholson (F)
25 One of Ours (1922) Willa Cather (F)
26 The Collected Works of A J Fikry (2014) Garbrielle Zevin (F)
27 Sunlight on a broken Column (1961) Attia Hosain (F)
28 Lucia in London (1927) E F Benson (F)
29 Sapphira and the Slave girl (1940) Willa Cather (F)
30 Once Upon a timepiece (2013) Starr Wood (F)
31 Patience (1953) John Coates (F)

My stand out reads for March were: Winter by Christopher Nicholson, The Collected Works of A.J Fikry and ‘Sapphira and the Slave Girl’







So on to what I will be reading in April. April might just be a really good month. I have two weeks holiday from school coming up for Easter – yippee! During April I will be reading another Anthony Powell book ‘At Lady Molly’s’ and my next Hardy re-read will be The Well Beloved – which I have already read twice – and remember as being a fairly odd but strangely compelling little novel. I also have some nice looking new books to get around to really soon. I really want to read something else for the Great War Theme read too, and there are a couple of books I had hoped to read this month that I just didn’t get around to. Several collections of short stories are calling to me from the shelves – I find I am enjoying them more and more these days. So I am hoping for more reading time in April what with that lovely long Easter holiday, with what I would like to get through I’m going to need it.




Patience is described by Persephone books as being “a sophisticated and delightful novel” it is also a gentle little comedy. I’m not sure I would use the word sophisticated myself – but I do think there is a surprising sharpness to this novel which lies submerged beneath the gentle humour.

patience2Patience Gathorne-Galley is a perfect dutiful 1950’s wife, except for the fact she has only managed to produced three adorable little blonde haired girls, rather than the preferred son her husband so longs for. It is hard for women today to conceive of a time when women went from their parents’ home to their husband’s home, wholly naïve and almost totally unprepared.

For some women, maybe many women this was still the case as recently as the 1950’s. Patience, an attractive twenty eight year old, has been married to a man in his forties for seven years as the novel opens, a marriage which was practically arranged for her by her mother. Her knowledge and understanding of sex – extends only to her dutiful, Catholic submission to her husband, which she uses to plan the meals for the following day. Patience is a Catholic, her husband is not. Patience is true to her faith, she believes in Sin and hell and damnation, but in the way an unquestioning child might – there is no fervour, no religious zeal. Her brother Lionel – a truly horrid man – has enough religious zeal for both of them, he worries about Sin, sees it in everyone, he appears unconcerned that his own wife has chosen to retire permanently to a cloistered religious retreat, and no wonder! Patience and Lionel’s sister, Helen, is divorced, now married to an Anglican solicitor. Lionel refers to Helen’s second husband as her paramour. Dear Patience – and she is a dear although I may have wanted to shake her slightly once or twice – divides her world into those she loves – and the rest of the people who she likes. Patience loves her sister, Helen, her darling babies Star, Sue and Sal, while her husband Edward it seems fits into the other group.


When Lionel almost gleefully tells Patience of the terrible Sin he has uncovered; that he has seen her husband coming out of a hotel with another woman, her reaction is surprising. Patience is puzzled why any woman would want to go to bed with Edward when she didn’t have to. Patience begins to hope that Edward’s mystery woman might take over that side of things for her – and leave her to peacefully adoring her babies. However almost immediately, at a dinner party given by her sister and brother-in-law Patience meets Philip, and falls madly in love, and in lust. Patience’s sexual awakening after seven years of marriage and three children is hilariously unlikely – and yet the novel is so engaging and Patience herself so sweet that despite much tutting and head shaking and more than a wry smile or two – I couldn’t help but thoroughly enjoy it.

“She understood in a sort of flash of revelation almost everything Lionel had ever told her. It really was different getting into bed with someone who wasn’t your husband. And no wonder Lionel was so anxious no one should begin, because once having begun, and knowing how lovely it was, one would find it very difficult to stop.”

I wasn’t sure I quite believed the speed with which Patience fell for Philip the concert pianist, good and sweet though he undoubtedly is. Within about three days Patience has slept with Philip several times and is considering whether she too can divorce her husband and live in Sin with another man. However things take a surprising turn when Patience goes through her husband’s desk looking for evidence of his affair. Patience shows a staggering naivety in English marriage law, and what the state consider lawfully married as opposed to what the Church consider lawfully married.

Under gentle instruction by her sister and Solicitor brother-in-law, Patience turns the tables on dear bottom patting Edward, allowing him to make all the mistakes she needs him to, in order to end their marriage legally. Patience learns that she possesses an extraordinary power, that she had previously been unaware of, sex. All this is deliciously wicked, and it is no wonder the novel was banned in Ireland.

There is a slightly selfish naivety about Patience brought about by her childlike inability to recognise her responsibility to others. She mostly only considers herself and her babies, she loves Philip but there seems only little understanding for the enormity of the upheaval to his life.

This novel certainly satirises dutiful, Catholic marriage, and the fact that this novel was written by a man was a constant surprise to me. There were moments when the cynic in me wondered whether the character of a dutiful innocent young wife was merely a male fantasy of what one was – but in the end decided that was rather unfair. John Coates writing is deceptively sharp, with a surprisingly cynical twist right at the end which I rather appreciated. The tone of the novel is a deceptively simple one; Patience’s voice is perfectly delightful, childlike whimsy. Despite its few flaws I really thoroughly enjoyed this surprising little novel and I would really like to read more by this writer, I think he must have had more to say about the society in which he lived.

john coates


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