So the lovely long work free, stress free days of August are over, and today has seen me back at work after a lovely six weeks off. Going back after such a long break is pretty painful and each year my reading suffers as I adjust to the old routine, of limited reading and blogging time. August was a great month for me reading wise, I read 14 books, and a novella and some short stories out of my huge Capote collection. Anyone paying attention may notice books on the list which haven’t popped up on my blog as yet; the first of those He Wants by Alison Moore I read for the lovely Shiny New Books so not reviewing here – I hugely recommend it, my review will be included in their October publication, the last three books on the list – I simply haven’t got around to reviewing yet.

August was All Virago/All August over on the Librarything Virago group, which saw many of us reading lots of Virago (and Persephone) books, I claim 7 for AV/AA. There was only one really big disappointment in my reading this month, and as quite enough has been said about The Lemon Grove already we’ll skirt around that, as everything else was pretty fantastic.

So here’s the list – minus the novella and short stories from A Capote Reader – which I am intending to read the rest of, at some point.

75 The Soldier’s Art (1966) Anthony Powell (F)
76 The Song of the Lark (1915) Willa Cather (F)
77 He Wants (2014) Alison Moore (F)
78 Tea at Four O’clock (1956) Janet McNeill (F)
79 Bricks and Mortar (1933) Helen Ashton (F)
80 Ruffian on the Stair (2001) Nina Bawden (F)
81 The Lemon Grove (2014) Helen Walsh (F)
82 The Willow Cabin (1949) Pamela Frankau (F)
83 Goodbye to Berlin (1939) Christopher Isherwood (F)
84 The Water Beetle (1962) Nancy Mitford (NF)
85 Instructions for a Heatwave (2013) Maggie O’Farrell (F)
86 Were That were young (1932) Irene Rathbone (F)
87 Pomfret Towers (1938) Angela Thirkell (F)
88 Summer Crossing (2005) Truman Capote (F)

My outstanding reads for August were:

tea at four o'clockthe willow cabinRuffian on the stairinstructions for a heatwave







1 Tea at Four O’clock – Janet McNeill – my first McNeill it won’t be my last and I have been alerted to a reprint of her being issued in October.
2 The Willow Cabin – Pamela Frankau – Maybe my favourite Virago ever – and that is quite a statement, I now want to track down more Frankau to read.
3 Ruffian on the Stair – Nina Bawden, Yes another Virago – an easy engrossing read, Bawden’s last novel published the year before she was horribly injured and her husband killed in the Potter’s Bar rail disaster.
4 Instructions on a Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell, a novel which recalled my childhood for me in a little fit of nostalgic reading, it has wonderful characterisation and is another lovely quickish and thoroughly engrossing read.








So on to September; and I don’t have any definite plans reading wise, except of course my next Anthony Powell read The Military Philosophers, coming up in the next week or two. I also need to tackle Gone Girl for my book group, a novel I’m nervous about, it’s not really my kind of thing I don’t think. There’s a chance I’ll be doing some more reading and reviewing for Shiny New Books too, if I do I may post a little teaser nearer the time.

20140830_174949I have also imposed a little book buying ban on myself – it probably won’t stick, they never do, but honestly I have been terrible over the summer. So bad in fact I can’t remember everything I bought – several are on my kindle, but most of them have simply been swallowed up by the bookcase. Pictured are just a few of the books I have bought this month.


What will you be reading during September, is there anything I really need to be looking out for?

instructions for a heatwave

“Strange weather brings out strange behaviour. As a Bunsen burner applied to a crucible will bring about an exchange of electrons, the division of some compounds and the unification of others, so a heatwave will act upon people. It lays them bare, it wears down their guard. They start behaving not unusually but unguardedly. They act not so much out of character but deep within it.”

The summer of 1976 has become legendary – I was about eight (I know big age giveaway)and I’m pretty sure it was the year that I got badly burnt on a Devon beach and had to be slathered with camomile lotion by my mum and aunt. I had only read two Maggie O’Farrell novels previously, but knowing that her most recent novel was set during that extraordinary summer of high temperatures, drought and water shortages I really wanted to read it in a sort of fit of nostalgia.

London July 1976: and an Irish family are thrown into crisis; that will see them face the truths and realities of the past, uncover secrets and face up to the challenges of their own lives. As the capital swelters in temperatures seldom seen in England, gardens wilt and slowly turn brown, Gretta Riordan bakes bread. Her husband Robert, newly retired from the bank, tells her he is going for his newspaper, as he does every morning, only this time Robert doesn’t return.

“Gretta sits herself down at the table. Robert has arranged everything she needs: a plate, a knife, a bowl with a spoon, a pat of butter, a jar of jam. It is in such small acts of kindness that people know they are loved.”

Hours later a confused Gretta is telephoning two of her three adult children with confused questions about the shed key that their father has gone off with. Unravelling the tale eventually, Michael and Monica are propelled to act, going as far as to call their younger sister Aoife in New York, with whom Monica has become seriously estranged.

Michael Francis and Monica are both in the midst of their own domestic crises however, while Aoife in New York is trying to keep her secret from ruining her dream job, and her relationship with draft dodger Gabe. It’s the start of the long school summer holidays, and teacher Michael Francis is free for the summer, the one shadow on the horizon his troubled relationship with his wife Claire. Monica is living in the Gloucestershire countryside with her second husband, struggling to be accepted by her step-daughters who visit each weekend. On the day that Robert Riordan disappears, Michael Francis is annoyed again by his wife disappearing with her Open University friends, and Monica has to have her step-daughters cat put to sleep (I mention that incident particularly because I know people who detest animal deaths in books). Following Gretta’s telephone call Michael Francis rushes round to his mother’s house, followed a few hours later by Monica, and Aoife is soon on an aeroplane home.

“The house is full of ghosts for Gretta. If she looks quickly into the garden, she is sure she can see the ribcage of the old wooden climbing frame that Michael Francis fell off and broke his front tooth. She could go downstairs now and see the pegs in the hall full of school satchels, gym bags, Michael Francis’s rugby kit. She could turn a corner and find her son lying on his stomach on the landing, reading a comic, or baby Aoife hauling herself up the stairs, determined to join her siblings, or Monica learning to make scrambled eggs for the first time.”

In trying to discover where on earth Robert might have gone, and why, the family come together, Michael, Monica and Aoife finding themselves back under their mother’s roof again, facing all the strangeness that that entails. Michael confides his worries about his marriage to his younger sister Aoife, and Aoife and Monica begin the slow painful journey to reconciliation. With all of this going on, no one considers that Gretta might have more idea why Robert has disappeared than they realise. The search for Robert takes the family to Ireland, and back into the past littered with secrets.

Maggie O’ Farrell’s writing is really very good, the voices of her characters resonate strongly, and she injects a lovely mixture of humour, pathos and understanding into this story of a very memorable family. In a sense there isn’t an enormous amount of plot in Intructions for a Heatwave, but really this doesn’t matter, in fact I’m not overly fond of very plot driven novels, the lives of these characters, their problems, secrets and vulnerabilities drive this lovely novel along very nicely. Maggie O’ Farrell is excellent at character, she weaves their stories together in such a way that the reader is completely involved with them and needs nothing more. I gulped this novel down in a little over twenty four hours and finished it with a great big fat smile on my face.

maggie o'farrell

goodbye berlin

Goodbye to Berlin was chosen by my book group to read during August, we meet later this evening to discuss it. My first Christopher Isherwood book, and I don’t know what I was expecting, but it surprised me for a number of reasons. Although the book is a novel, it reads more like a personal travelogue, the narrator sharing a name with the author. Obviously there is a large autobiographical element to the book which is based upon Isherwood’s travels in the Weimar republic of Germany during the 1930’s.

“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.

I found there to be a great subtlety to the writing, a strong sense of place and several very memorable characters. In this novel Isherwood explores, politics, sexuality and German society of the 1930’s, it’s an excellent depiction of a society on the brink of enormous upheaval. The novel, is told fairly episodically as it is presented in six overlapping stories, many of the characters disappearing and re-appearing at different times and in different places. The writing throughout is wonderfully evocative, with Isherwood revealing both a German landscape and society now lost.

“Berlin is a skeleton which aches in the cold: it is my own skeleton aching. I feel in my bones the sharp ache of the frost in the girders of the overhead railway, in the iron-work of balconies, in bridges, tramlines, lamp-standards, latrines. The iron throbs and shrinks, the stone and the bricks ache dully, the plaster is numb.”

As Goodbye to Berlin opens Christopher is living in lodgings in Berlin, his landlady the wonderfully memorable and rather lovable Fraulein Shroeder, a kindly, gossipy middle aged woman who calls Christopher Issyvoo –and treats her lodgers more as friends, even turning a blind eye to the non-payment of rent and prostitution. Isherwood’s fellow lodgers include, the aforementioned prostitute; Frl. Kost, Bobby who works at a cocktail bar, Frl Mayr who is a music hall performer and a commercial traveller. This opening story/chapter certainly has a very autobiographical feel, the stories of everyday life in a Berlin lodging house with its affairs and squabbles are very affectionately drawn.
In subsequent chapters of the book we meet a host of other characters; maybe the most memorable of all is the young English woman Sally Bowles. Sally is a cabaret performer, only about nineteen, she is both a little naive, and knowing, a little immoral, out for herself, affected and full of dreams. Wearing bright green nail polish, drinking cocktails at all hours, she puts something of a spell on Christopher. In the summer of 1931 Christopher travels to Ruegen Island where he meets awkward young Englishman Peter, and his lover Otto. Otto manipulates Peter to his own advantage, and for a while the two enjoy a lot of fun and silliness, but of course the fun doesn’t last. Otto vanishes with the contents of Peter’s wallet, seemingly without a backward glance. Later back in Berlin, when Christopher can no longer afford to live at Fraulein Shroeder’s he is quick to take Otto up on his offer to put him up at his family’s apartment. The Nowak household is poor and chaotic, giving Christopher a glimpse of a whole other section of society.

In contrast to the Nowaks are the Jewish Landauer family, their daughter Natalia is one of Isherwood’s students. The Landauers are wealthy and generous, and through them Christopher meets Natalia’s cousin Bernhard who invites Isherwood along to his garden parties and country house weekends. Here Isherwood witnesses the world that is soon to disappear; in Isherwood’s company the reader witnesses the contrasts and cynicisms at the heart of this society

‘Heart failure!’ The Austrian shifted uneasily in his chair: ‘You don’t say!’ ‘There’s a lot of heart failure,’ said the fat man, ‘in Germany these days.’ The Austrian nodded: ‘You can’t believe all you hear. That’s a fact.’ ‘If you ask me,’ said the fat man, ‘anyone’s heart’s liable to fail, if it gets a bullet inside it.’ The Austrian looked very uncomfortable: ‘Those Nazis . . .’ he began. ‘They mean business.’ The fat man seemed rather to enjoy making his friend’s flesh creep. ‘You mark my words: they’re going to clear the Jews right out of Germany.

In the final section of the novel, taking place in Berlin at the end of 1932 and 1933, the changes that have taken place under Hitler’s leadership are quickly apparent with an escalation in violence, arrests and new restrictions. Agitators and school boys come to the attention of police, with Isherwood himself witnessing the beating of a young man by the S.A, and there is a feeling of everything spiralling quickly and terrifyingly out of control. Inevitably in 1933 Isherwood leaves Berlin, as the title implies he is bidding farewell to a city that will never be the same again.

“To-day the sun is brilliantly shining; it is quite mild and warm. I go out for my last morning walk, without an overcoat or hat. The sun shines, and Hitler is master of this city.”

This is a novel of the end of one kind of society and the start of something new and frightening, Nazism doesn’t raise its head as much as you might expect and yet it’ always there, and everyone will eventually be affected. I very much enjoyed my first experience of Christopher Isherwood, I’m sure I will read more by him in the future.


the water beetle

I have been a bit of a Nancy Mitford fan for a long time now. There was a time when I got a tiny bit obsessed by books by or about the Mitford sisters (though Nancy was always my favourite Mitford). Nancy was a famous wit, her sisters were often on the receiving end of her sharp tongue, and she injected a great deal of humour into her most famous novels, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. Those novels of course famously autobiographical, with Nancy disguising her own family in her bunch of hilariously eccentric and often endearing characters. As well as a number of novels, Nancy Mitford also wrote several non-fiction works mainly biographies of French historical figures but she also published two collections of essays.

While mooching around a second hand bookshop on a National Trust property in Devon, I came across The Water Beetle – a 1960’s volume of Mitford essays. As I had just finished a book that morning, I took the opportunity to read it right away.

This essay collection concerns a wide variety of subjects-including portrayals of historical figures, arctic explorers, and pieces inspired by Mitford’s own travels. For me the most engaging pieces were those that concerned Nancy herself. The opening essay – entitled Blor – was pure Mitford joy – anyone who has read Mitford biographies or letter collections will be familiar with that name. Blor was the Mitford nanny – and Nancy’s affectionate portrayal of her here brought back all those childhood stories from those wonderful biographies. The piece entitled Diary of a Visit to Russia 1954 – was fascinating too – and quite hilarious in a very typical Mitford way, saying so very much in this seemingly innocent recount:

(4th June 1954)
I asked to meet some soviet writers, but a message came from the Ministry of culture that the soviet writers had gone to the country, on the 28th May, to write. It seems they are picked up in buses, in alphabetical order (as it were Mauriac, Maurois, Mitford, Mithois) and carted off to a dacha, where they are obliged to show up 2000 words a day during the whole summer”

(from Diary of a Visit to Russia 1954)

I was surprised just how enthralling and poignant I found Mitford’ essay A Bad Time, about the men involved in Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. The recount of preparations, personalities and exploration are given a typical Mitford makeover – but for me made for great reading.

“Life during the first winter was very pleasant. Before turning in for good they had done several gruelling marches, laying stores in depots along the route of the Polar journey; they felt they needed and had earned a rest. Their only complaint was there were too many lectures; Scott insisted on at least three a week and they seem to have bored the others considerably – except for Ponting’s magic lantern slides of Japan. A gramophone and a pianola provided background music and there was a constant flow of witticisms which one assumes to have been unprintable until one learns that Dr Wilson would leave the company if a coarse word was spoken.”

(from A Bad time – 1962)

Among other things, included in this collection, are Mitford’s thoughts on reading, descriptions of French country life, tourists in Torcello and a memorable portrait of Augustus Hare who as a young boy had been teased and tortured by cruel relations, had ended up a writer of travel books, a snob and toady of a wealthy old woman. Overall this is a lovely little collection that will appeal to Mitford fans, a couple of the later pieces rather bored me if I am honest, but the collection is very definitely worth reading for three or four really superb pieces alone. This edition comes with some rather nice illustrations by Osbert Lancaster, which I really would have liked more of.

Nancy Mitford

the willow cabin

“Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love,
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills,
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out ‘Olivia!’ O, you should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth,
But you should pity me…”
(Twelfth Night – William Shakespeare)

I saw a madcap production of Twelfth Night just recently, and yet in the midst of the madcap nature of the production those beautiful words rang out, and reminded me of a book I had waiting. – Fleur in her world had sent me this lovely copy of The Willow Cabin last Christmas as part of the Librarything secret Santa Virago gift exchange.

It’s not often I get book hangover – usually no matter how wonderful a book – or how terrible, I find myself able to move on fairly happily to the next book. The Willow Cabin may turn out to be one of my favourite Viragoes ever and I think affected my enjoyment quite adversely, of the two books I read just after it. I also find it particularly hard sometimes to write about a book I loved as much as I did The Willow Cabin – it’s almost as if I have a strange mixture of too much to say and not quite enough. I know I can’t adequately describe the true wonder of this novel, but Frankau’s characters, are beautifully explored, the women particularly, her London of the 1930’s and 40’s becoming fabulously real. The final section of the novel entitled Time Harvested, I found exceptionally poignant. Frankau builds a picture slowly of the lives of these people, as the final pieces of the puzzle are slotted together at the end of the novel, the lives of these people are revealed entirely and the reader only then understands these exceptionally drawn characters.

He came over to the chair, pulled her out of it and stood holding her hands. ‘If I were really grown-up now, I should say good-bye to you and walk out of your life. And yet I cannot bear to go. And Oh Caroline, I would give my soul to be twenty-two again, d’you see?’

The novel opens in 1936; Caroline Seward is a twenty-two year old actress whose talent shows great promise. Living in London with her mother and prosperous step-father; the-spoilers-of the-fun as she calls them – Caroline is ripe for escape. At an after show party Catherine meets Michael Knowle a surgeon in his late thirties, married, though estranged from his wife, and almost instantly Michael becomes the entire focus of her life. Caroline leaves home, moving to a small hotel, and embarks on a relationship with Michael – who is unable to get a divorce – that will last years. Caroline loves Michael completely; Michael is Caroline’s whole world. Deliberately allowing her career to take a back seat to her relationship, Caroline’s other friends and colleagues are frustrated at this throwing away of her talent, especially Dennis Brookfield who is a friend of Michael and his wife Mercedes and loves Caroline himself. Mercedes, living in France throws a shadow over Caroline’s happiness; Caroline silently calls her names, and is forever trying to understand the motivations of this woman she has never met. Mercedes as much of an obsession for Caroline at times as the man she loves.

In the years before the war, Caroline and Michael slip into an easy rhythm of life, Caroline residing in the hotel, living for the next brief meeting with Michael, half-heartedly taking a few small theatrical roles. The couple have to content themselves with carefully orchestrated midnight meetings at Michael’s London home, and the anonymity of foreign places, as Michael himself continues his brilliant work at the hospital. Their relationship appears almost legitimised on a trip to America, meeting with some friends of Michael and Mercedes Knowle – who instantly understand how matters stand between Michael and Caroline. Later Caroline meets Dorothy, Michael’s sister, who hadn’t got along with Mercedes, but who likes Caroline. However, always in the background is Mercedes, and then war comes. War brings the pain of separation, as Michael is stationed abroad, and Caroline in the A.T.S lives only to hear from him. War brings change and upheaval for many people, including Caroline.

“Now she saw that the look of Michael stopped short below the temples; the woman had large dark eyes, a short nose and a small chin. For a moment her expression did not change; the whole face seemed stony and vigilant. Then she smiled.”

In 1948 Caroline travels to America again, this time as a successful actress on tour with a play nearing the end of its long run. Still needing answers, Caroline decides to meet with Mercedes Knowle, the woman who had so obsessed her years earlier. At the home of Lee Adams – whom Caroline had met before the war with Michael, she finally encounters Mercedes, and discovers an unexpected bond with her, and begins to understand her own misinterpretations of the past.


Ruffian on the stair(This modern virago cover art is awful I think, and dreadfully misleading)

There are those books which it is really hard to convey just how good they are in a mere review, this is one such novel, which all goes to show, books should just be read to be appreciated. Ruffian on the Stair was Nina Bawden’s last novel published in 2001 four years before her book Dear Austen, the letter she wrote to her husband Austen Kark who was killed in the Potter’s Bar rail crash in 2002, when Nina Bawden was badly injured. If you are wondering about the title, as I was, this verse is quoted in the front of the novel.

“Madam Life’s a piece in bloom
Death goes digging everywhere
She’s the tenant of the room
He’s the ruffian on the stair
W.E Henley

Silas Mudd just days away from his one hundredth birthday, is something of a wily old sod, his deafness coming and going as it suits him. As the preparations for a special family lunch to celebrate, get underway Silas come to reflect on his long life. He remembers those who he has lost, his two wives, the aunt who brought him up following his mother’s tragic death, his father and his beloved sister. It is the tragedy of such longevity that everyone, one knew when young, and so many people one has loved, are already long gone, Bawden was only in her mid-seventies when she wrote this novel, and yet she seems to have understood the sadness and loneliness of such old age keenly.

Silas’s grown up children and step children are due to attend the lunch, but still have their own concerns to attend to in the midst of worries over gifts and seating plans. Silas’s son Will, many years younger than his two elder sisters, neither of whom live in London, is recovering from Pneumonia in hospital, while his wife Coral, an actress is preparing to play Gertrude in Brighton. On the way home from visiting her husband in hospital, Coral undergoes a frightening experience, that she later feels unable to talk about to anyone, and is constantly berating herself for – her secrecy leading Will to allow his imagination to run wild. Silas’s eldest daughter Hannah lives in Yorkshire with her husband Julius, and lots of sheep, her daughter one of the family not invited to the lunch. Hannah’s not sure at all how Silas would react to his thirty-something granddaughter being unmarried and pregnant anyway. However what bothers Hannah even more is just what is it that Silas’s step-daughter Clare is planning? Clare the daughter of Silas’s second wife Bella is a particular favourite of Silas’s much to the irritation of other family members. Alice, the sister that comes between Hannah and Will is a world famous science Professor, travelling from Australia for the lunch having been attending a conference, she’s due to stay with Will and Coral.

“Since Bella’s death, Silas has become a traveller in time. He sits with a book on his lap – he doesn’t want to be seen as an old man, dreaming – and allows his mind to run free. He sees- feels –his past life as a vast, echoing tunnel, or underground cave. He journeys through it and around it, mining the seam of his personal history; hidden or half-forgotten events barely glimpsed out of the corner of an eye, a brief flash of light in the darkness, other dwelt upon, constantly revisited, permanently lit. He can traverse a decade in a matter of seconds or linger for days on a single moment, in a particular room.”

While Silas’s children and step children worry over birthday celebrations and family politics, Silas spends most of his time, where he now feels most comfortable – the past. Re-living his childhood, and then his love affair with his first wife the socially superior Effie, their marriage and the years with their two daughters before the Second World War disrupted everything, and Effie’s late pre-menopausal baby Will came along – which would lead eventually to her early death. Silas remembers his joys, his disappointments and the secrets he kept.

Nina Bawden is brilliant at exploring the intricacies of family life, and in The Ruffian on the Stair, she also explores, the poignancies, and pitfalls of extreme old age, injecting a little humour – and an awful lot of sympathetic understanding along the way. This novel was a real surprise, I had expected to really like it, but hadn’t expected it turn out a five star read which kept me up till 1.30 to finish.

nina bawden


I am always just a little suspicious of a book with a lot of hype, although I find it easy to be swept up by it too. The Lemon Grove is a book I had seen an awful lot of talk about on book blogs and Twitter, mainly very positive talk too. So therefore I was quite pleased to win a copy of the hardback from Birmingham Waterstone’s, again via Twitter. Thinking it would make a great summer, pre-holiday read I settled down with it a couple of days before I headed off to South Devon. In the end I was very glad that I hadn’t spent longer than a day on it, I should really have learned by now – I know what I like, and this kind of book isn’t it.

A novel of sun, sea, illicit sex, and unpleasant people behaving quite dreadfully, The Lemon Grove while not badly written, does not have the kind of prose which excites me and the sense of place really should have been better. However I am sure it will hit the right note for a lot of readers looking for a summer sultry read.

For years Jenn and Greg have holidayed in the same villa in Mallorca, usually during the quieter periods of the year. This year they are spending two weeks in their beloved Villa Ana on the outskirts of Deia at the height of the season. The first week they spend on their own, their special time together, relaxing, exploring the places they love, eating at their favourite restaurants. However the second week they are due to be joined by Greg’s fifteen year old daughter Emma, Jenn’s stepdaughter, and her seventeen year old boyfriend Nathan. Jenn is not particularly thrilled at the idea of Emma and Nathan crashing in on their summer retreat, but she has no idea just how the equilibrium will be shattered by their arrival.

As soon as Nathan arrives Jenn finds herself attracted to the good looking boy who her step-daughter is so smitten with. The attraction proves mutual, and the two embark on an obsessional and dangerous liaison. Nathan is an overly confident, sexually assured young man, and is quick to recognise the attraction Jenn has and capitalise on it, while Jenn’s behaviour – as the older adult and Emma’s step-mother – is totally reprehensible and for me a little unbelievable. Here we have Jenn and her apparently happy marriage (ok so we see some small cracks as the novel progresses) who has brought up her husband’s daughter since she was a very young child, suddenly deciding to jump on some cocky seventeen year old as soon as she sees him with his top off. Really? Personally I have always found seventeen year olds to be a fairly unattractive species – I didn’t much fancy seventeen year old boys even when I was seventeen finding them rather spotty and dull. Jenn’s attraction quickly becomes obsessional, her behaviour stupid and reckless. Nathan does not come across like a seventeen year old, a twenty two year old perhaps but not like any seventeen year old boy I have ever met.

This of course does throw up some interesting discussion points that I am sure book groups all over the place will enjoy grappling with. The first question is one of power, who is it that holds the power here? Jenn is the adult – and a parent of one of the teenagers concerned, she could wreck everything for Nathan with one word, and yet she doesn’t, and Nathan seems to know she won’t. Nathan is very assured as I have said, and quite predatory for one so young, but Jenn is no preyed upon innocent, far from it. Although Nathan could be seen as just a boy by many of us, it is hard to think of him in terms of a victim. It’s an interesting point that a relationship between an older woman and a teenage boy is viewed rather differently to that of an older man and a young girl. Had Jenn, been a man and Nathan a seventeen year old girl, our attitude would almost certainly have been that the teenager was the victim of an abuse of trust at the very least.

The relationship between Emma and Jenn is interesting and quite well explored by Helen Walsh, one of the key points is the names they use for one another. There are times when Jenn thinks of Emma as her daughter, and other times she thinks or refers to her as her step-daughter, while the spiky, sulky rather spoiled Emma will sometimes call Jenn Mum, at other times she calls her Jenn. Jenn remembers happier times with Emma, times when she told her stories and played a counting game with her freckles, and yet the next moment she reeling in jealously as she sees her daughter with her arms around Nathan. Walsh paints a portrait of a family where things really are not as perfect as it might at first seem. Jenn and Greg’s relationship appears solid as the novel opens – but as the reader soon sees there are cracks in their relationship, Greg having trouble at work has not confided his problems to his wife but has spoken to his fifteen year old daughter. I thought Walsh’s depiction of Jenn’s changing attitude to her husband was quite good – although maybe a little obvious and unsubtle. The novel’s viewpoint is Jenn’s and before the arrival of Nathan, her husband is always Greg, after Nathan’s arrival he is frequently Gregory, a dull, staid sound name reflecting Jenn’s sudden embarrassment in him and irritation of what she previously found endearing. Still those are all discussion points for the book groups out there, I’m afraid I got to the point where I didn’t care anymore, mainly because I didn’t completely believe it. I have no problem involving myself with unlikeable characters, in fact I often love doing just that, but this lot I just wanted to shove off a cliff. The ending – don’t worry no spoilers – was quite clever, a nice little twist, which I was rather expecting, I just hadn’t worked out what direction it would take.

Overall, for me the writing was fairly mediocre and the unbelievable nature of the story stopped me caring very much, and all those interesting questions that it raises could have been done better with greater subtlety and more class. I do see why The Lemon Grove has done so well, but it feels like a book that will divide people, and since finishing it I have found one or two other readers who didn’t like it either.



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