Feeds:
Posts
Comments

cofWhen Molly Keane wrote her final novel; Loving and Giving, she was well into her eighties. It had been over sixty years since her first novel was published under her pseudonym of M J Farrell.

In her introduction to this modern vmc edition (sorry virago, but I don’t like the cover at all) Michelle Roberts says Loving and Giving is her best novel. Other readers may argue that, Good Behaviour (another later novel) could also be in the running for that accolade. As Roberts says, the novel shows Keane’s maturity, describing it as ‘less superficial, less obviously funny than most of her previous fiction.’

Loving and Giving is a superb novel, Keane’s writing is as good as ever, she recreates a recognisable time and place without sentimentality. I always feel her characters could have been – and perhaps were, taken from life.

The novel opens in 1914, Nicandra is eight years old, life is good at the family’s grand Irish home; Deer Forest. Maman is beautiful, Dada a small, silent man is only really happy around his stables, horses and dogs. Aunt Tossie – Maman’s widowed sister is big bosomed and kind, and looks, she knows, quite wonderful in her weeds. This is a place where everyone has his or her place, above stairs the family live comfortably, below stairs or in the stables, the maids, butler, grooms and steward have a different kind of life. Nicandra runs between the stables, and the house with a freedom few modern children ever experience.

“Then, as light follows darkness, she saw Maman coming down the drive. She wore her lilac coat and skirt, braided with deeper lilac; the skirt, widened at the hem and floated out over thin boots, the tidy laces criss-crossing on shadowy ankles – there was something playful in Maman’s way of walking, something jaunty that swayed her hips, and made her straw hat tilt up on her frizzled curls…From the shrubbery side of the avenue fresh wet heads of lilac bowed over her, heavy in their prime flowering. She lifted her arm to catch at a branch and, as she held it down, rainwater fell on her face – her eyes were shut; it was as if she was drinking the scent of lilac.”

Nicandra simply worships her mother, enjoying the intoxicating scent of her hand cream, taking pleasure in small everyday acts she knows will please her mother. Every morning Nicandra runs into her mother’s bedroom when the morning tea is delivered. Life seems very nearly perfect, until Maman does something too terrible to be discussed, and thereafter, disappears from Nicandra’s life.

loving and givingWhen love is suddenly ripped away, it leaves a hollowness so deep, perhaps it can never be filled. Nicandra takes the confusion and distress of her mother’s disappearance, out on Silly Billy – the son of the lodge keeper – who has some kind of unspecified learning difficulties. It is the one act of spite of her young life – a moment she forgets all about. As she grows up into a lovely young woman she wraps those around her in love and kindness.

As a young woman starting out in society, Nicandra is looking around for what love could possibly be, what it might mean for her. The heady excitement of a hunt ball, her best friend; beautiful heiress Lal helping her dress, the two young ladies are accompanied by Nicandra’s faithful old friend Robert and his friend Andrew. Here finally, is love.

“Before she undressed, Nicandra pulled back the window curtains, cold as glass in her hands, and stood between them to look out at the changed world. Even the moon was not the same. It hung lower in the sky, nearer, more golden, since now she loved and was loved.”

Nicandra’s heart is ripe for hurt and betrayal, Andrew is happiest when at the races, he sometimes seems to have more in common with their mutual friend Lal.

Meanwhile at Deer Forest, not too far from where Nicandra lives with her husband, Dada and Aunt Tossie have fallen into a comfortable, companionship. The two old friends rub along pretty well, understanding one another’s little ways. Around the time of the Second World War, Deer Forest is falling into disrepair there isn’t the money there once was, and the family home may need to be sold. In preparation, Aunt Tossie moves into a caravan in the grounds with her whisky hidden in the ‘po’ cupboard and her stuffed parrot, attended to faithfully and a little jealously by Silly Billy – now called William.

I can’t say too much more about this novel and certainly not about the ending, but suffice to say, there is the most spectacular and unexpected conclusion to this novel. My jaw dropped.

witmonth18

Next week, I will be starting my long summer holidays and so my thoughts have inevitably strayed to holiday reading, and particularly #WITMonth (Women in translation) which is not so very far away now. #WITmonth started by Biblibio several years ago has a huge presence on book blogs and social media and I am looking forward to being part of it.

I always take part in All Virago/All August during August, a VMC reading challenge that began life on the Librarything Virago group. So, just like the last few years I will be juggling books for both these challenges.

cof

At the beginning of this year, I said I wanted to read more books in translation, starting with just one a month. Most years I probably only read about 5 books in translation, in the entire year, so I’m quite pleased to be half way through July and to have read 8, and I still have the latest from the Asymptote book club to read later this week or next.

This will be the fourth time I have joined in #WITMonth I usually manage 3 or 4 books but this year I would like to improve on that.

Regular readers will know I am also doing A Century of Books this year. I am quite pleased with my own organisation in setting aside books that will fit in with the years I haven’t yet done, written by women in translation. Not quite all the books I have will fit in with ACOB – and I can’t promise I will read them all – but I am excited about reading some fascinating looking books. I have enjoyed having my horizons widened by translated fiction, the main reason I joined the Asymptote book club.

I particularly wanted to read some vintage writers in translation, and several of the books I have come from Twitter recommendations.

My WIT books are: (dates shown – the year of the original foreign language edition not the translation year).

The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers (ACOB -1942)
The Collected Stories by Clarice Lispector – 2015 – I can’t use for ACOB and may just dip in.
The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart (ACOB – 1972) and my very small book group has picked it too.
David Golder by Iréne Némirovsky (ACOB – 1929)
Love, Anger, Madness by Marie Vieux-Chauvet (ACOB – 1968)
New Islands by María Luisa Bombal (ACOB – 1939)
(and on my kindle) The People in the Photo by Helene Gestern 2014 I can’t use it for ACOB

As I am trying very hard not to buy more books for this, as my tbr has barely decreased this year. I have bought so many books as the year has gone on. However, I have been eyeing up one or two others, and I am hoping that the next Asymptote book to arrive will fit in with #WITmonth too.

Last year I read:

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabó
La Bal and Snow in Autumn by Iréne Némirovsky
A World Gone Mad the diaries of Astrid Lindgren

They proved to be great choices – so I’m looking forward to another great August of reading.

Are you joining in Women in Translation month? What will you be reading?

I realise I will probably not get so many VMCs read this August – though I have set aside three or four brilliant looking books. Still, I am going to have to read up a storm in August this year.

the war on women

The War on Women was chosen by my very small book group, as our July read, we met last Wednesday to discuss it.

As one of Britain’s first video journalists Sue Lloyd-Roberts travelled the world telling stories of people from some of the world’s most dangerous and inhospitable locations. In this book she tells the uncompromising stories of many of the women she met. Sue Lloyd-Roberts was clearly a good, dedicated journalist, and this book was a labour of love for her, but sadly, Sue Lloyd-Roberts died of cancer before she could complete the book. Her daughter; Sarah Morris who also writes about her mother in a wonderful introduction – was able to complete the final chapter from notes she left behind.

The result is a searingly honest picture of the lives of women who have no say in their own destinies. It’s a pretty hopeless picture all in all and frequently horrifying. There are a couple of exceptions. The book is subtitled; and the brave ones who fight back – yet there seems few of those – I had expected more stories of women getting out, making a difference. What this book shows, is few women in the situations described, are in a position to fight back. Those that do are rather overwhelmed by the task, and unlikely to succeed in any meaningful way, though any victory however small is still a victory.

Early in the book we meet Maimouna from The Gambia, tradition dictates that she is the woman responsible for female circumcision in her village. The village rely on her for what, to them, is a vitally important ritual. However, having taken over the role from her mother, Maimouna becomes convinced that what she is doing is wrong. She leaves The Gambia for England, so she doesn’t have to perform the circumcisions any longer. She represents a small change – a change which might take generations, but it is a change.

In Argentina, Sue Lloyd-Roberts met the Grandmothers of the Plazo de Mayo, the mothers of the disappeared. Women who lost their children to the regime, young men and women and their spouses rounded up by the authorities and never seen again. Many of these young women were pregnant, kept alive until their babies were born, later the babies sold to wealthy government officials. The grandmothers fight to find those missing grandchildren, they work together, celebrate every success and fully support one another. Some may never find their missing grandchildren – but while they have breath they continue. They were my unexpected heroines.

In other chapters the view is less hopeful, in fact it is generally downright depressing. Sue Lloyd-Roberts gives voice to the women swallowed up by the vile Irish laundries, their stories are of years of incarceration, slave labour and mistreatment, sexual abuse by priests, the resulting pregnancy, punished again. It is a horrific cycle – and one that was allowed to continue for generations. Of the nuns in these places she asks:

“What is it about such women who have apparently rejected close contact with men in their private lives but who are nonetheless desperate for their approval? They carry out the orders to obey religious rules laid down by men and to punish other women into submission with unquestioning zeal. Denied real power themselves, they abuse the women under their control in a desperate attempt to win praise from the men who in turn control them.”

She ventured into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where (at the time she was writing) women couldn’t drive or earn their living. She calls Saudi Arabia the world’s largest women’s prison, and it is easy to see why. Women have no right to be independent, they rely on the male members of their family for everything. Poor women trapped in their homes, wealthier women allowed to employ drivers (usually from abroad so they don’t count as men in the same way) they are driven to the huge malls, the only place outside their homes they can spend time.

In a chapter which is frequently hard to read Sue Lloyd-Roberts calls India the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. Strong words. The instances of rape and murder against girls and women – most particularly in rural areas is unimaginable – the sheer scale took my breath away. Of course – I had been made aware of the problem through a couple of high profile cases, but I had, had no idea of the scale of it. In other chapters, highlighting the problem of forced marriage and honour killings, Sue Lloyd-Roberts reminds us how cultural traditions, so ingrained in some communities are still putting women’s lives at risk. The men who carry out these horrific murders, for instance, are unapologetic they are absolutely certain of their duty to carry out the unimaginable.

“Premeditated murder in Jordan carries the death penalty, except for men who kill female members of their family who have committed adultery or behaved in a way the male members of her family deem morally unacceptable.”

We meet the trafficked sex workers from Lithuania – a country whose separation from the old USSR has meant crippling poverty, with no state care, few jobs and young people desperate to get out and earn money to send home. Others are willing to manipulate that desperation, and young unworldly girls find themselves duped, enslaved and far from home. It is a desperate picture. So many things shocked me, but I really hadn’t considered how the UN peacekeeping forces in places like Bosnia had been largely responsible for the continuation of this horrendous trade.

“Where there are UN peacekeepers there are traffickers.”

Which left me wondering – who the hell are the good guys then?

This really isn’t an easy book to read. The stories are stories which really did need to be told, and here they are told with compassion and intelligence. I really can’t say I enjoyed the book, though I was compelled to read it – I was horrified much of the time I was reading.

I understand why Sue Lloyd-Roberts was so desperate to get this book written – to tell these stories and give voice to women with no voice. She has done them proud, so perhaps, the least we, who are so privileged can do, is read their stories and repeat them, but it’s tough going.

 

cof

The Queen of the Tamborine was one of the books I bought following Twitter recommendations to fill in gaps in my ACOB. I have read shockingly few Jane Gardam novels, though I have had the Old Filth trilogy recommended to me on a few occasions.

An unusual epistolary novel; The Queen of the Tambourine, introduces us to Eliza Peabody, a lonely woman who is very slowly falling apart in the polite middle-class suburb where she lives.

Eliza is a terrible do-gooder, she is liable to become wildly enthusiastic for things quite suddenly, and she talks far too much. Eliza is prone to offering unsolicited advice – via notes through the doors of her neighbours. Her interest and concern for her neighbours frequently verges on the downright annoying. The novel starts with a short note, written by Eliza to a neighbour; Joan.

“I do hope I know you well enough to say this.
I think you ought to try to forget about your leg. I believe that it is something psychological, psychosomatic, and it is very hard on Charles. It is bringing both him and you into ridicule and spoiling your lives.
Do make a big try. Won’t you? Forgive about your bodily aches and pains. Life is a wonderful thing, Joan. I have discovered this great fact in my work with the Dying.”

We soon see that perhaps we should take some of what Eliza says with a large pinch of salt – her ‘work with the Dying’ turns out to be that of voluntary washer upper at a nearby hospice. We get the impression the position was given to her as it was felt that here, Eliza would do least damage. Eliza has taken a great interest in Barry – one of the patients and spends a little time each day visiting him. He is someone else Eliza likes to chatter away to, and she feels duty bound not to disappoint Barry with a nonappearance, we never know if Barry enjoys Eliza’s visits.

Following this note, Eliza’s neighbour disappears, but Eliza keeps on writing to Joan, some letters get sent care of various foreign embassies others Eliza doesn’t ever send. Eliza is concerned about Joan. Did that first note, meant to be friendly advice, have something to do with her disappearance? Eliza’s letters get longer and longer – she tells Joan everything that happens to her, even discussing her marriage – which has just ended. She updates Joan on the husband and children she has left behind, keeping a close eye on the now empty house across the street.

“Oh, all our travels. I thought of the busy, happy woman I used to be laughing, talking, organising, setting up our official residences.”

Red haired Eliza is a still beautiful woman, though she is beginning to feel old and useless, having once lived the life of a busy embassy wife abroad. She can’t help but notice that her neighbours are becoming less and less keen to talk to her and appear to be watching her closely with odd pitying looks. No one seems to want to talk to Eliza about their fellow neighbour who has disappeared, and Eliza is worried they have forgotten all about Joan.

“Nick Fish stands by the car and appears to be waiting for me. ‘Oh-kay,’ he says, going round to the passenger side, opening its door, coming back to arm me in. That’s one of the new things people have started trying to do – to arm me about. ‘Lift?’ he says. ‘I’ll take you home Eliza.’ That’s something else. ‘Eliza.’ Nick Fish always calls me Eliza of course, but now it’s the butcher, the baker and the dry-cleaner. Madness is a great leveller.”

One of the neighbours who comes in for particular attention is Nick, a vicar, who has three children. One day, childless Eliza, who has never had much experience with children – finds herself babysitting – taking much of her instruction from the children themselves.

the queen of the tambourineEliza’s letters are full of anecdote, small vignettes from a life that is imploding. There is humour and pathos in Eliza’s letters to Joan, but in time the tone shifts, and we witness a woman struggling with her mental health. The distance between Eliza and the people around her seems to be getting wider. Just how reliable is Eliza as a narrator?

Eliza Peabody is a brilliant creation from Jane Gardam, a wonderfully memorable narrator, who the reader gets to know intimately. Gardam is a superb observer of people, she understands the woman whose life has tilted uncontrollably, she reveals Eliza’s growing separation from her neighbours subtly. Gardam’s portrait of Eliza Peabody is warm, funny, often poignant and very authentic.

not to disturb

On the very last day of Phase three of #ReadingMuriel2018 I decided to read Not to Disturb on my kindle – I hadn’t realised just how short it is. However, I was too tired to read it all that night, so saved some for the next morning. I’m planning to read a few short stories at the very least for phase four although it won’t be till later this month I don’t think.

“To put it squarely, as I say in my memoir, the eternal triangle has come full circle.”

 

Muriel Spark is well known for weaving bizarre situations through her fiction, odd characters nursing dark thoughts, overly concerned with death and religion. Not to Disturb has all that, in spades. A novella sized 96 pages, Not to Disturb is dreamlike and illusory, like those passageways one blunders through in dreams, where everything is so familiar yet doesn’t make complete sense. It is compelling though, peopled with some extraordinary characters including a sinister butler and a ‘lunatic’ in the attic.

“At that moment a long wail comes from the top of the house, winding its way down the well of the stairs, followed then by another, winding through all the banisters and seeping into the servants’ hall.”

In a large house near Geneva, Baron and Baroness Klopstock have locked themselves into their library with their young secretary Victor Passerat. An argument ensues between the couple and their handsome young secretary. Their instructions are that they are not to be disturbed. Downstairs, the servants – wait for what they see as the inevitable demise of those three in the library. The servants are directed by Lister, the butler. In the lodge, the porter tells his nervous wife that nothing will happen at all.

“ ‘…You all get your own supper tonight.’
‘What about them?’
‘They won’t be needing supper.’
Lister stands in the doorway, now, watching his young aunt routing among the vegetables for a few carrots which she presses between her fingers disapprovingly.
‘Supper, never again,’ says Lister. ‘For them, supper no more.’”

In the servants’ hall, all is tightly controlled calm, as the staff prepare for a lucrative payoff following the tragedy, by selling their story to the highest bidder. They are, unsurprisingly an odd group; Eleanor is Lister’s aunt, despite being younger than him, Pablo is the handyman, Heloise, is the youngest maid, pregnant, though she doesn’t know who the father is. Monsieur Clovis; the chef, has an assistant called Handrian, but they all take their lead from Lister.

Upstairs, the baron’s brother – and heir – howls with rage, throwing plates at the woman employed to care for him. Outside the house, a car is parked with two people sat inside, they are waiting for their friend, the baron’s secretary. From time to time they come to the door asking for him, but always receive the same reply, that the baron and his secretary are not to be disturbed.

“‘How like,’ says Lister, ‘the death wish is to the life-urge! How urgently does an overwhelming obsession with life lead to suicide! Really, it’s best to be half-awake and half-aware. That is the happiest stage.’”

The servants endure a long night, as a storm starts to rage above their heads. It is a night of a series of extraordinary and rather bizarre events. A visit from both a prince and a Reverend on a motorbike. A wedding is conducted; Heloise is married to the ‘lunatic’ in the attic in a scene that is quite disturbing, and perhaps could only have been written by Spark.

The morning brings exactly what the household staff had expected, and finally it is time for them to step out into the light.

Muriel Spark’s 1971 novel is clearly a satire on other kinds of novels, the Golden Age mystery particularly and those novels of the past which concerned themselves with the servant problem. This is a clever, and darkly humorous novella, shot through with Muriel Spark’s unique creativity.

mde

O Douglas was born Anna Buchan, the daughter of a Scottish minister and sister of writer John Buchan. I don’t know why she chose to write under a pseudonym though I can understand her wanting to make a name for herself. Eliza for Common is just the third O Douglas novel that I have read, she writes novels of Scottish domestic life, often set in villages near the Scottish Borders. In this novel we find ourselves in Glasgow, London and Oxford as well as in the Scottish Borders, however the Glasgow of this novel doesn’t really feel much like a city. These novels do seem to reflect aspects of the author’s own life, and I wondered whether in the brother sister relationship depicted in Eliza for Common, we get a glimpse of the relationship between Anna and John Buchan.

Eliza Laidlaw is the only daughter of a Glasgow minister and his wife, Eliza is around sixteen as the novel opens, in the winter of 1919/1920. She has three brothers; Jim (sometimes Jimmie), Rob and Geordie but it is Jim who Eliza adores. Jim is waiting for news of his Oxford scholarship – a nervous wait for the telegram, that will take Jim away to another world. Jim is twenty, the last year of the war – he had gone to France just before the Armistice – having interrupted his education. Now he has his chance.

The Laidlaw family live in a house named Blinkbonny, and Walter Laidlaw is the minister of Martyrs’ church in Glasgow. The house in Glasgow is a little shabby and unchanging, beginning in time to look old fashioned – especially to the younger members of the family. The Laidlaws spend their summers at a family owned farmhouse in the Scottish Borders. Life is one of domestic routine, the mischief of boys, evening meetings at the church, tea-trays by the fire and sick calls. Rev Laidlaw is committed to his church, a quiet slightly sad man, he is never really as happy as when he is out of the city and back in his beloved borders.

“The day at Blinkbonny began with breakfast at a quarter to eight. The two boys had to be at school at nine o’clock, and it took them half an hour to get there. It took, also, constant prodding on the part of their mother and sister to make them eat steadily and not stray into arguments with each other. After breakfast the one servant, Mary-from-Skye, came up, and they settled down more or less reverently to listen while Walter Laidlaw read a chapter from the bible and prayed.”

eliza for common

Mary-from-Skye was my favourite peripheral character, the Laidlaws one maid, she is woman prone to convulsive, silent laughter, particularly when showing visitors in. Mrs Laidlaw runs her home competently with only Mary to help, she is a busy, active little woman, and expects her daughter to be happy to play her part too. That means, going to parties and not dancing, or playing bridge, as it’s not seemly in a minister’s daughter – Eliza isn’t really sure that’s fair. There are times when Mrs Laidlaw is pretty hard on her daughter, who nurses her mother when she falls ill for months, taking on the responsibility of getting her mother back on her feet.

The next few years pass with Jim at Oxford, returning during the holidays with stories of that legendary city, introducing his family to the friends he makes. It is Jimmie who opens the world up a little to Eliza, taking her to Oxford, and London and bringing people into her life she might not have met otherwise. For Jim, Oxford really is the city of dreaming spires, it changes his life, the place from where he starts to write, and produces a successful play. Talking to his sister of Oxford as he comes to the end of his time there, Jim says:

“‘I’ll dare say I’ll come across lots of good things in life, but I can’t expect anything quite so perfect again as my last summer term at Oxford. It has laid its spell on me for good and all. There are some things you can’t forget – the way the sunlight falls through the great chestnut in Exeter gardens, the reaches of the Cherwell on a June afternoon, coming in late after a gorgeous day to eat bread and cheese and drink ale… my word, I wish I were just beginning my three years!’”

As Eliza starts to get older, she decides she would rather be called Liza – and the title begins to make sense. Eliza is frustrated by the narrow world she grows up in, she criticises her parents, and is instrumental in making changes to two rooms in Blinkbonny – changes her mother secretly hates. This is very much a quiet, domestic old-fashioned kind of novel – in which not a huge amount happens, I found it quite a slow read, certainly very enjoyable, although I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as my last O Douglas, Pink Sugar. There are definitely times though when such books are perfect, undemanding allowing an escape, and I have Penny Plain tbr which I think I will enjoy too, as like Pink Sugar it is set in Priorsford again.

who calls the tune

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a quite a fan of Nina Bawden, known to many for her children’s books like Carrie’s War. She was wonderfully prolific, and actually wrote more novels for adults than she did for children. I tend to think her later novels to among her best – her stories well controlled with superb characterisation. Who Calls the Tune was her first novel – one of those Bello ebooks I bought a couple of years ago, that have remained unread on my kindle ever since. If I’m honest I hadn’t expected much of it – I have read a couple of Nina Bawden’s early novels before – and they were fine, but really nothing special. Perhaps we can think of those early Bawden novels in the same way as those Graham Greene novels that Greene dubbed ‘entertainments’. Anyway, Who Calls the Tune is definitely entertaining, a quick compelling read, I thought it was much better than I had expected, and in it we see Bawden’s burgeoning skill at characterisation – one of the things I have always liked about her writing.

As the novel opens our narrator Paul is being picked up from the station by Brigid. Brigid and her young son Sebastian are already house guests of Venetia, and Paul has arrived to join them. Cleverly, Bawden doesn’t reveal exactly what the connection between these three are, so we don’t know if this is important, though we know from the beginning their association is a long one going back to childhood.

“I saw Brigid when I was half-way up the platform; she had been in front of me all the time and I had not recognised her. She was just a stranger in a shabby blue coat that wrinkled at the waist, hatless, and with too sturdy legs in the wrong sort of shoes. The station was almost dark, the lamps were misty through the raw, coughing air, and somewhere a wireless was blaring out the weather report, the megaphone muffling and distorting the prim, righteous voice.”

Venetia is a mesmerising woman, a beauty who seems to captivate everyone around her. She is clearly a key figure in the lives of Paul and Brigid, the kind of woman though, around which everything revolves.

At the beginning of the war – when Venetia was fourteen she lost a leg in an air raid, and now wears a prosthesis. Venetia is married to Henry – but the marriage has not been a success, and the couple sleep in separate rooms, and Venetia has been enjoying the attentions of an Austrian man staying nearby. Tom Adlesburg and his daughter Rella are staying in a cottage close to Venetia and Henry’s home. Paul recognises Adlesburg, there is, it seems, some secret about what he did during the war. Is Rella, really his daughter? Brigid has left her husband Tony, and it seems that Paul’s marriage is also over – it is some time since he last saw Venetia, and he last saw Brigid’s nine-year-old son when he was a baby.

Young Sebastian seems oddly fearful, he claims someone is trying to poison him, a claim the adults all seem to dismiss as fanciful, make-believe – the result of an active imagination. Though when the dog, Childe Roland is killed eating food meant for Sebastian, the child is terrified.

Bawden creates a wonderfully taut atmosphere – we know instinctively that something in the house is not right – though we don’t know who we should be concerned about.

“I think I must have gone to sleep, because I came to, suddenly, feeling very cramped and cold and with the feeling that something was going to happen. I lay quite still on my bed, and listened. Then I heard something. It was a squeaky, sliding sound. A sound that might be made by someone sliding up a stiff sash window. Then there was a thud. I got off the bed silently, and as slowly as I could so that the springs wouldn’t creak. I padded across the room and opened the door. The corridor was black and still. I listened by the door of the first room I came to, but there was no sound. I went on, and up a flight of stairs. There was a line of light along the bottom of the door of Venetia’s room. I opened the door and went in.”

Early the next morning Venetia is found to be missing from the house. The countryside is deep in snow, the air icy and bitter. A search is made, and Venetia’s abandoned car is found, and soon after Venetia herself is discovered, dead is suspicious circumstances. Who though, would want to harm her?

Who Calls the Tune is an atmospheric, compelling read, and while it certainly it isn’t among Nina Bawden’s best it is an enjoyable, entertaining read for fans of Bawden’s work. I would not recommend starting with Nina Bawden’s early novels if you haven’t read her before – better to look to those novels published from the mid-1960s on – as she really did write some excellent books. Still, as a debut this novel is good and as a fan it is nice to see where she started.