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My second read for the 1930 club was an Agatha Christie that I am fairly sure I had never read before. A tip for those of you new to finding books for these club weeks – there is always an Agatha Christie for which ever year is chosen – and sometimes two. There were in fact two Christie’s published in 1930, the other one is Murder at the Vicarage, an old favourite that I have read a couple of times.

The Mysterious Mr Quin is a collection of stories, though it is presented almost like a novel in twelve chapters – each chapter is a different story in which Mr Quin will turn up eventually. It’s a thoroughly engaging and entertaining collection, in which the reader must suspend disbelief as coincidences abound. Christie really does flex her storytelling muscles nicely with these stories, taking us from English country houses to the South of France and Corsica. While many stories feature the unravelling of mysteries of the past, other stories concern matters in the present, several pieces having a supernatural quality.

There is something rather supernatural about our eponymous Mr Quin, Mr Harley Quin that is. He appears and disappears at will – and about whom there always seems to be an odd kaleidoscope of coloured light. To his friend Mr Satterthwaite; it would seem as if Mr Quin is always a harbinger of either death or love.

The collection opens with The Coming of Mr Quin, in which Mr Satterthwaite meets the enigmatic Mr Quin for the first time. It is New Year’s Eve, and Mr Satterthwaite is part of a country house party. As midnight approaches, he senses that there is drama in the air, perhaps even danger. There was a tragedy in the house several years before, and the occasion gives rise to talk about the man who had once owned the house and who was known to several of the people gathered there. Unexpectedly there is a knock at the door – and a stranger enters the fray. Mr Quin (his car broken down outside) is welcomed in and is drawn into the discussion about the tragedy – and what really did happen. Mr Quin doesn’t so much investigate the past – as help those who were there, to understand what happened – seeing things with a new perspective.

“The longer the time that has elapsed, the more things fall into proportion. One sees them in their true relationship to one another.”

This becomes a familiar storytelling device throughout this collection. Mr Quinn encourages Mr Satterthwaite and others to examine what they already know to unravel the truth of past mysteries. Mr Satterthwaite is an elderly man with an interest in people, he is fascinated by Mr Quin and with what his presence seems to draw out. In each story we see Mr Satterthwaite wondering about someone or something, and up pops Mr Quin, apparently out of nowhere – and when he appears Mr Satterthwaite knows his instinct about whatever has been bothering him is correct.

In subsequent stories, Mr Satterthwaite meets Mr Quin in all sort of places.  A country inn, with a storm is blowing up, has the landlord and his daughter reminiscing about a strange disappearance locally. He appears at society house parties where Mr Satterthwaite is present. Always there is something in the atmosphere, something between the other people present – or a story from the past that everyone is concerned with. A young wife is found dead with another man. A young man is convicted of a murder that Mr Satterthwaite can’t help but wonder about – and up pops Mr Quin to help him figure it out.

In Monte Carlo he meets a countess at the roulette table – someone Mr Satterthwaite senses is desperate. In another story Mr Satterthwaite meets a man planning to throw himself into the sea. As Mr Satterthwaite becomes drawn into the poor man’s life, he is not surprised to see Mr Quin is also present. In all these stories either death or love – and sometimes both play a part. After a night at the opera in Covent Garden, Mr Satterthwaite and Mr Quin come to the aid of a young woman over whom two men are scuffling. Later, it is Mr Satterthwaite’s quick thinking that is to save her.

Throughout these stories, Agatha Christie dispenses plenty of her own peculiar brand of wisdom.

“You say your life is your own. But can you dare to ignore the chance that you are taking part in a gigantic drama under the orders of a divine Producer? Your cue may not come till the end of the play–it may be totally unimportant, a mere walking-on part, but upon it may hang the issues of the play if you do not give the cue to another player. The whole edifice may crumple. You as you, may not matter to anyone in the world, but you as a person in a particular place may matter unimaginably.”

Mr Satterthwaite is another wonderful Christie character, in the tradition of Poirot and Marple. He is, we are told a rather elf like figure – something of a snob, he enjoys the company of the wealthy and titled, friendships he is quite proud of – but has little patience for the new breed of young person. He has a very discerning palate and spends part of each year in the South of France.  Despite the title, Mr Quin is not the main character, it is Mr Satterthwaite who is the main focus, the driving force behind the tales of tragedy, romance, and death.

The Mysterious Mr. Quin is a wonderfully entertaining collection, plenty of spine tingling content – I particularly love that device of delving into the past.

This was a fabulous read for the 1930 club, we can always rely on Dame Agatha to deliver a great weekend read.

Today is the start of the 1930club, hosted by Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon from Stuckinabook, a week which sees readers talking about, reviewing and of course reading books first published in 1930. There are two club weeks each year – and it’s always interesting to see what everyone reads.

My first read for the 1930 club was The Shutter of Snow, which I have had tbr for ages – and which I am fairly sure I have read before, many years ago. I had little memory of it, and now I have read it again, I can see why that would be. The Shutter of Snow is a beautifully rendered novel, but it is light on anything approaching a plot which I might have recalled – instead the reader is left with a feeling and a series of images. I enjoyed it enormously.

Emily Holmes Coleman was born in 1899, The Shutter of Snow, her only novel, is heavily autobiographical, recalling a period in the 1920s when the author was hospitalised for psychosis following the birth of her son. Two months of her life spent in what would then have been termed an ‘insane asylum’ would have been horrific, yet she turned her experiences into a beautiful, haunting piece of writing. Coleman writes in a kind of stream of consciousness style, sometimes our narrator talks about herself in the first person, though mainly in the third person. Our view of everything is through her eyes. The novel is not as grim however as might be expected, Coleman’s story is both humorous and poignant.

After the birth of her child Marthe Gail spends two months in an insane asylum. Sometimes she thinks her child must be dead – most of the time she thinks she is God, or Jesus Christ. The beginning of the novel is a deliberate confusion of images and experiences – mirroring Marthe’s confusion and distress. As the novel moves on the narration becomes a little clearer – Marthe has more of an understanding of what is going on around her and has developed relationships with the people around her. Marthe leads us through a frightening world where things don’t always make sense, she can hear voices around her and there’s a red light in the hallway at night-time.

There are recurring motifs throughout the book, death or corpses is one, snow and the cold another. The title referring to both the time of year and what is happening to Marthe’s mind.  Outside the hospital it is winter, snow is laying on the ground that Marthe sees from the window – it appears to be a focus for her, as she isn’t certain how much time has passed.  

“The window was closed and the bars went up and down on the outside. She could hear the wind sliding the snow off the roof. An avalanche of snow gathered and fell and buried the sun beneath. There were six bars to the back of her bed.”

Marthe takes us through the daily routines and the strange practices of a psychiatric hospital in the 1920s.There are the other patients, many of whom are suffering their own delusions, and then there are the nurses and doctors, who are treating her. There’s a strong feeling of being trapped, of not having any control, a feeling of frustration.

“She stared at the shining room white with sunlight. Can’t I stay here a little while? I’m sorry, said Dr Halloway, but this room is busy all the time. We had an operation for appendicitis here this morning and we’re expecting a delivery tonight.

She was wheeled back, past the man, past the billiard table, down the dark hall, past the piano and into the Day Room. Can’t I stay in the Day Room? She begged, just to look at that flower pot? I will be good, O I will be good.”

Among the various patients there is a lot of talk about the different wards of the hospital. Marthe is keen to make it upstairs, from where it is believed release is more likely. Some patients have been in the hospital for years – or so they say, and believe, we never find out if the length of their stays is part of their delusions. Upstairs there are new people to meet, a new place to sleep in. There are friendships and squabbles among the patients, Coleman portrays beautifully the odd and so temporary relationships that develop between the women in the hospital.

“There was trouble with Mrs Glope. Mrs Glope took her toothpaste, her slippers and her towel. Where are my things? she cried and looked and looked. She would find them with Mrs Glope. Why do you take my things? I don’t take them my dear, you left them in here. The nurses said she must watch her property. If you cannot take care of your things you should be in East Hall, they said.”

Marthe’s husband Christopher visits her, and her relief at seeing him is palpable, though sometimes she feels angry with him. He clearly supports her, while worrying a little about the future. Marthe is so proud of him, proud that he visits her. He brings her a lock of her child’s hair, the child she can’t remember yet. Eventually the talk turns to her release – and the novel ends with Marthe’s release.

The Shutter of Snow is an extraordinary portrait of a time and a place many would have wanted to walk away from and forget. There is a poetic beauty to this novel, it’s suffused with images that linger in the mind and I found that I really, really liked Marthe and the way she looked at things. For even while in the grip of a psychosis Marthe is capable of an astute understanding of those around her.

I’m now reading something quite different – still for the 1930 club, The Mysterious Mr Quinn by Agatha Christie – which I don’t think I had read before.

There is always great comfort in returning to the familiar voice of a favourite author. Nina Bawden is a writer I have come to love as an adult – she was the author of one of my favourite children’s books too; Carrie’s War. Despite being remembered by many as primarily a children’s writer, she did in fact write more books for adults. I snapped up this copy of Anna Apparent when I was book shopping in London recently with Karen and Jacqui. The opening returns us to that world of Carrie’s War – a station platform thronged with people leaving the city – children being evacuated, it’s a typically good Bawden opening, she has a way of grabbing her reader’s attention immediately.

“One autumn evening in 1940, when she was four years old, Annie-May Gates passed within a yard of her future husband, her future mother-in-law, and neither of them noticed her.”  

In this novel Bawden considers the question of nature versus nurture and the effects of childhood trauma. Who exactly is Anna? The carefully nurtured daughter of an adoptive mother, the younger second wife of Giles, casual lover to Daniel? While she is all of these things in time, she is also an individual. Anna’s view of herself is disrupted in the wake of a tragedy. This much we learn in a very brief prologue. We are all products of our upbringing and environments, and to understand Anna, Bawden first takes us back to her childhood, and introduces us to the people who surround her.

At the beginning of the war, Crystal Golightly is in her late thirties, saying goodbye to her eighteen year old son. Crystal is leaving London to live with her mother in the country, her son will soon be joining his unit. Crystal is a rather smug, self-satisfied woman, beautiful and self-regarding the war upsets the rhythm of her life, her husband Basil in London, her son overseas, being back in her difficult mother’s home is less than satisfying.

Little Annie-May, who Crystal and her son Giles passed unknowingly in the station, has been evacuated to the village where Crystal is living with her mother. She and her young, unmarried mother end up on a local farm, the old farmer takes to them, and shows them nothing but kindness. However, when Annie-May’s mother goes back to London for a visit, she is never heard of again, and it is presumed she has been killed in the blitz. The Owen family at the farm, decide to keep Annie-May despite this, but when old Owen dies, his son and daughter don’t care for Annie-May properly, are both neglectful and abusive. When Annie-May has been living at the farm for two or three years, miserable and almost invisible, Crystal meets her in the village shop, struggling to get her words out, having developed a crippling stammer. Crystal is drawn into the world of Annie-May – who isn’t the most appealing little girl at this point – and is horrified when she discovers how the child has been living. 

Crystal takes on the responsibility for Annie-May, and when the war is over, she adopts her. Her son doesn’t need her anymore, and her marriage ended during the war, Annie-May, now called Anna, becomes her whole focus. Anna is devoted to Crystal, and as she grows, she seems to be cast more and more in Crystal’s image. Giles – never really much of a brother figure in Anna’s life – returned from the war with Tottie, who he met when he was liberating Belsen, just ten days after Tottie had arrived there. Tottie has a story she tells about the camps, and in time has shaken off the realities of the horrors she encountered more than the people around her, who are frequently embarrassed by them, terrified of saying the wrong thing. Giles is haunted by what he himself might have been forced to become, had he been born in a different place.

“How could he be sure that in their position he would have behaved differently? Oh, he wasn’t a sadist, a pervert, but he wasn’t a natural martyr either. For every monster, there were hundreds of ordinary men who had simply carried out orders. Ordinary, frightened men with wives and families – what else could they do? Become victims themselves? What would he have done? Could he really sit here, in comfort, hand on heart, and swear he would not have behaved as they did?”

When Giles’ marriage to Tottie ends he marries Anna, fourteen years his junior and his mother’s adoptive daughter. They settle into comfortable middle class domesticity, similar to the type of marriage Giles’ mother once had.

Anna is more than just Giles’ wife, more than a mother to two boys at boarding school – Anna is also the child who Crystal discovered tied up in a barn. There comes a time, when Anna must start to acknowledge – at least to herself who she really is.

Bawden’s exploration of Anna and the flawed people around her is as good as ever, and while this is not her best novel, it is still a good, involving read, offering some sharply observed character studies.

With thanks to the Publisher for the review copy

This is a (very slightly edited) repeat of a post from just over five years ago. Lovely Turnpike books sent me this new edition of Tea at Four o’clock, which matches perfectly my other McNeill editions. I first read this one in a Virago Modern Classic, and it remains my favourite of all the Janet McNeill novels I have read.

Tea at Four o’clock is a psychologically astute novel of family tyranny and dominance, the title deliberately misleading with its connotations of cosiness. Set in the author’s native Belfast it is the story of a woman’s cautious attempt to reclaim the life she sacrificed to her exacting family.

Now middle aged, Laura Percival has spent her life at the Percival family mansion Marathon, in thrall to first her father, and later her elder sister Mildred. Laura and Mildred’s brother George, having incurred his father’s wrath left the family home twenty years earlier, never to return. Having nursed the bullying Mildred for the last few years, Laura is left bewildered in her sudden freedom when Mildred dies. Mildred was a woman who demanded that tea should be served at precisely four o’clock each day, that the plants should be watered each Thursday, she exacted a disabling obedience from Laura. On the day of Mildred’s funeral, Laura takes a small amount of pride in the Rev McClintock’s words of praise, in her “…exemplary devotion (who) did not spare herself in the long months of nursing”

Living temporarily at Marathon with Laura is Miss Parks, a strident figure once Mildred’s teacher, who had moved in to help, quickly making herself indispensable and now has little intention of moving back to her bedsitting room on the other side of Belfast. Miss Parks, showing a convenient devotion to the memory of Mildred and her habits sets out to continue the management of Laura. She has not reckoned however, on the reappearance of George Percival on the very day that Mildred is laid to rest.

“George’s memories of his home had been dominated so strongly, and for so long, first by his father and then by Mildred, that he had thought little of Laura during his years of absence. Any picture he had of her was of a quiet child who in her obedience to her father’s or Mildred’s bidding had seemed to accomplish much more than George ever had by his flouting of it.”

George has been living in another part of Belfast, in a smaller kind of house altogether, his wife Amy (who he believes to be rather common) and their daughter Kathie have never met George’s sisters, and have naturally always had an enormous curiosity about Marathon and its inhabitants. Having spotted the announcement of Mildred’s death in the newspaper, Amy persuades him to go to the house and attend the funeral; George arrives just in time to see the funeral cars leave the house. George decides to reacquaint himself with the sister who is left alone in the old family house. George’s motives are suspected by both the reader and the family solicitor Mr McAlister, who has his own designs on Laura. George is not easily repulsed, and to the extreme irritation of Miss Parks spends a lot of time over the next few days with Laura.

In trying to reclaim the life she has given to others, Laura must confront and understand the past, the part she and others played in the consequences which resulted from her one aborted bid for independence. McNeill’s masterly at slowly revealing the truth of both the past and the present, and ultimately Laura cannot help but be seen as having been complicit in her own oppression.

“During Mildred’s illness the hour after lunch had always been treasured, an oasis, a withdrawal into herself, a renewal of courage while the invalid rested. Now the necessity of idleness confronted Laura and became a weight, a terror. What was there for her to do? She glanced through the newspaper, reading the words, but understanding little of what she read. At last, in an agony of loneliness she went down the passageway into the kitchen.”

Told in flashback, we see Laura as a young woman, an art student, who meets Tom, a friend of George’s in her art class. Forever after, Laura is haunted by the ambiguity of the words he spoke to her once twenty years earlier, “I never told you I loved you.” Now Tom is dead, having gone to America and married the first woman he met, his son another young artist is visiting Belfast, and Laura hurries along to meet him. George would like to move his family into Marathon and begins to think he too can manage Laura; however, Laura turns out to be not quite so easily managed. The novel ends spectacularly with McNeill gently twisting the knife just one last time.

This new edition of Tea at Four o’clock is published on October 18th.  I also recommend her other novels re-issued by Turnpike books.

The Small Widow

As Strangers Here

The Maiden Dinosaur

I have loved everything by E H Young that I have read, and continually wonder why she has not been re-issued since many of her novels were brought back by Virago in the 1980s. Moor Fires was not one of the novels Virago published then, probably because it is quite different to those novels they did. It has a different tone – the characters behaving in ways we would find a bit peculiar now. There is something slightly Hardy-esque to the writing in Moor Fires, an old fashioned story-telling – but I have no problem with either of those things. E H Young’s writing is still very good, and many of the themes she would return to in later novels are present too – overshadowed perhaps by a dramatic romanticism that I don’t usually associate with her. I knew before hand it was different to the E H Young books I had already read; I was prepared for something different and that perhaps helped me enjoy it more.

Moor Fires was first published in 1916 – the third of Edith Hilda Young’s novels. Those novels she was perhaps better known for – and were later re-issued by Virago were published between 1922 and 1947. Those novels are definitely stronger, in terms of character development and in the themes she explores so deftly throughout her work. I suspect that the tone of Moor Fires reflects the times in which it was created – perhaps a time when some people wanted to look to the past, be taken away from the horrors of the daily news reports – we all know how that feels.

The novel set on a stretch of wild moorland, where twin sisters Helen and Miriam Caniper live with their stepmother; Notya and their two brothers.

The sisters are twenty as the novel opens, and clearly very different. Helen is a domestic being, she loves her home and the moorland and has no wish to be anywhere else.

“For Helen, all trees were people in another shape and she could not remember a time when these had not been her friends, but now they seemed not to care, and she started up in the sudden suspicion that nothing cared, that perhaps the great world of earth and sky and growing things had lives as absorbing and more selfish than her own.”

Miriam longs to escape, she enjoys nothing more than to torment the young men who come in her way, proud of her looks and quick to make fun of others.

Zebedee Mackenzie is a young doctor returned to the moor after three years away to take over his father’s practice. Both Miriam and Helen have been looking forward to their first sight of Zebedee, and it is Helen who meets him first, while she is out on the moor looking for the moor fires that are lit at Easter time.

The Caniper family live in a house called Pinderwell House, named after the man who lived there before. The sisters have inhabited the house with the ghosts of past residents. The bedrooms named Jane, Pheobe and Christopher, the names, the sisters have decided, of the children poor Mr Pinderwell never had with his young wife who died so tragically young. The family deserted by their father have lived here for sixteen years.

Over the coming months, Helen spends more and more time with Zebedee and is soon in love with him, a feeling he returns.

“…now she descried dimly the truth she was one day to see in the full light, that there is no gain without loss and no loss without gain, that things are divinely balanced, though man may sometimes through his clumsy weight into the scale. Yet under these serious thoughts there was a song in her heart and her pleasure in its music shone out of her eyes…”

Miriam meanwhile is tormenting the life out of local farmer George Halkett. Miriam has no intention of becoming romantically involved with George, the sisters grew up with him on the moor, though he is a rough, unsophisticated man, brought up by a difficult and temperamental father. Miriam is waiting for the arrival of Notya’s brother – Uncle Alfred – hoping to persuade him to take her away to London.

Zebedee and Helen enter into a kind of secret engagement – Notya is ill, and Zebedee also ill with some kind of respiratory illness is forced to go away to get better. Helen wears his ring under her clothes and no one else knows how far things have progressed with them. Miriam continues her teasing of George – driving him to contemplate sexual violence.

It is Helen who stops him, coming upon him poised to strike, her sister insensible on the floor – she talks him down. We’re clearly supposed to understand that George is not a monster – but has merely been driven to such lengths by a silly woman (hmmm, I have a few problems with this – but ok – Miriam is really very silly). George is beside himself with fury – but in that moment he recognises in Helen something he has always loved. In order to save her sister from his base intentions, Helen does the only thing she feels she can. She promises to marry him. Well of course she does.

“The front door stood open, and she passed through it, but she did not go beyond the gate. The moor was changelessly her friend, yet George was on it, and perhaps he, too, called it by that name. She was jealous that he should, and she did not like to think that the earth under her feet stretched to the earth under his, that the same sky covered them, that they were fed by the same air; yet this was not on account of any enmity, but because the immaterial distance between them was so great that a material union mocked it.”

Helen is keen to get Miriam away and contacts Uncle Alfred to help – meanwhile she is caring for Notya and carrying around more than one secret. Zebedee is due to return soon, and George is never far away.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot – but modern readers will find Helen’s actions inexplicable – she loves Zebedee, but she has lots of sympathy for George, she recognises his frailties and feels she needs to help him. The ending is extraordinary – and very memorable. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Moor Fires, it’s not one to start with, but for readers who are already fans of Young – it’s worth tracking down.

Margaret Millar was an American-Canadian mystery writer who I had never heard of until I read about her on Canadian blogger Buried in Print’s site. Vanish in an Instant is my first book by her. She was a prolific writer – and was awarded the Edgar Allan Poe best novel award for one of her later novels.

I’m not always a fan of that American hard-boiled style that writers like Raymond Chandler employ – and although there is an element of that style here it is definitely softened. Margaret Millar’s characters are explored with some depth I think and there is some nice descriptions which make her more readable for me than a writer like Chandler, who I didn’t engage with.

Set in a small Michigan town in winter, with snow lying thickly and the first of the Christmas lights going up, Vanish in an Instant, concerns the death of a well known local lothario. Claude Margolis has been stabbed several times in the neck and was found dead in the cottage where he takes his lady friends. Virginia Barkeley; the spoiled young wife of a local doctor, has been arrested for the crime, she was found wandering nearby covered in the victim’s blood, and local gossip casts her as Margolis’ latest conquest.

“Mrs Hamilton’s face looked crushed, like paper in a fist. ‘Why didn’t someone tell me? Virginia wrote to me, Carney wrote. No one said anything. I though things were going well, that Virginia had settled down with you and was happy, that she was finally happy. Now I find out I’ve been deceived. She didn’t settle down. She’s been running around with married me, getting drunk. Behaving like a cheap tart. And now this, this final disgrace. I just don’t know what to do, what to think.’”

As the novel opens, Virginia’s mother Mrs Hamilton and her companion Alice have arrived from California to deal with the unexpected crisis. Mrs Hamilton is clearly aware that Virginia can be, what she calls difficult – but she is keen to manage the situation, and if necessary, throw money at it. She hires cynical local lawyer Eric Meecham to help get her daughter out of jail. Meecham goes straight down to the police station to see her. Here he finds Virginia, cross and uncooperative, but having borrowed a lipstick from one of the guards. She doesn’t seem too clear on what happened that night – and with mounting evidence against her Meecham isn’t sure what he will be able to do.

“Virginia was sitting on her narrow cot reading, or pretending to read, a magazine. She was wearing the yellow wool dress and brown sandals that Meecham had brought to her the previous afternoon, and her black hair was brushed carefully back from her high forehead. She had used Miss Jennings’ lipstick to advantage, painting her mouth fuller and wider than it actually was. In the light of the single overhead bulb her flesh looked smooth and cold as marble. Meecham found it impossible to imagine what emotions she was feeling, or what was going on behind her remote and beautiful eyes.”

Later, a man intercepts Meecham outside the house Virginia shared with her husband and admits that it was in fact he who killed Claude Margolis. The admission seems too good to be true – but Earl Duane Loftus tells a believable story – and is able to back it up with evidence. Virginia is freed to return home, and Meecham is free to walk away from the case – and yet something stops him. Although not representing Loftus Meecham becomes drawn further into the world of Loftus, meeting his landlady and her husband, his alcoholic mother and her bickering landlords. Loftus is a sad character, and it seems as if Meecham wants to know what has driven him to act as he has. He is a tenacious character, he simply can’t stop asking questions, he worries that perhaps Loftus has been paid to admit to something he didn’t do. Meecham is a rather world weary character a bit jaundiced by the world he has lived in – but there is hope for him perhaps, as he catches the eye of Alice – young and untarnished – but could they possibly be happy?

I’m keeping this review a bit shorter than usual, as I am worried about unintentionally including spoilers. Margaret Millar’s storytelling is a bit of a slow burn, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this small town in deep winter. Millar explores her characters well, they are people who are ill, lonely or unhappy – and the worlds they inhabit aren’t always comfortable.

I am sure that I will read Margaret Millar again following this fully satisfying read that is full of unexpected surprises.

September in review

September has been a bit of a drag in some ways, the days seem to be long and slow moving, I’ve been very very tired, and not reading as much as I would like. So, while everyone is saying ‘how is it October already’ I’m thinking ‘gosh is it only October?’

I began September reading a 1960s mystery from the British Library. In Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs three men are killed in an explosion at a joinery company which has been struggling financially. It is the small town grievances and petty grumbles in this one that are portrayed particularly well.

Something Light by Margery Sharp was the perfect book for my first week back at work after the long break. A delight from start to finish it concerns Louisa who admits to being very fond of men, and who has many male friends. Now she has decided to get married – which leads her into all sorts of muddles.

The Richer, the Poorer by Dorothy West is a wonderful collection of stories and biographical reminiscences. Here Dorothy West shows her brilliance in the shorter form, she illuminates the struggles of ordinary families, the sad, disappointment of childhood, the misunderstandings that exist between the old and young.

The most talked about book for a long time, The Testaments did not disappoint me. It is a triumphant return to Gilead, and answers some of the questions fans of The Handmaid’s Tale have asked over the intervening thirty-four years.

I had meant to re-read The Soul of Kindness for a while, I’m so glad I took the time. Elizabeth Taylor is always a fabulous read, her writing full of astute observations and pitch perfect characterisation. Flora; the soul of kindness of the title, is a brilliant, terrible creation.

Wine of Honour by Barbara Beauchamp set in the early months of peace in 1945, is another winner from Dean Street Press. The novel depicts so well the challenges that peace brought to many people, a sudden return to ‘normal life’ after the unpredictable war years.

The Secret Life of Books by Tom Mole is a book which celebrates the book as an object. The author explores the physical book, and our changing relationship with books, rather than what they contain. It is an interesting way to approach a book about books.

Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar was a different kind of mystery for me. I generally prefer British golden age – this American crime novel from the 1950s is entirely different in tone. I still have this to review, but overall, I enjoyed my first Margaret Millar novel.  

I’m currently reading Moor Fires by E H Young – a novel I already knew wasn’t typical of her work, certainly it’s different to those later novels I have enjoyed so much. However, Moor Fires is still very enjoyable – and I am promised an unforgettable ending by someone on a FB group. Moor Fires will have to be my first book of October.

As I continue to read quite slowly, I am not making too many reading plans for October. I certainly plan to join in with the 1930 club hosted again by Karen and Simon, and I have two books set aside for that. Lovely Virago sent me two collections of stories which will be perfect for this time of year – so I may dip into those too. As you can see, witches and ghosts – perfect!

My book group will be discussing The Testaments a week on Wednesday, and I am looking forward to hearing what everyone thought.

Quite a short round-up post this month – I’m probably too tired to blather on as much as usual. 😉

What did you read in September? What ever you read during October I hope you love it.