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watershipdown

I really can’t remember if I ever read Watership Down before – I feel as if I must have done, but I can’t really be certain. It is a book that I suppose I was always very aware of, I know my parents had several Richard Adams books on their shelves, including this one, and like most people of my generation, I can still remember the animated film that was made with its haunting Bright eyes theme song. This is a book that was chosen by my book group, and I was quite pleased to have the chance to read it, I probably never would have otherwise – although I was very unsure how I would feel about talking rabbits now (it is naturally a book about far more than talking rabbits).

“Men will never rest till they’ve spoiled the earth and destroyed the animals.”

The story of Watership Down can easily be seen as allegorical, exploring the struggle for freedom, societal roles and responsibilities, leadership and friendship. It’s hard not to consider the environmental aspects of the story as the animals strive for a safe place within a shrinking world surrounded by man. However, Richard Adams denied his novel was in way allegorical, or political and insisted it was just a story he had made up for his daughters. It is far more than a mere story however, in creating the story of Watership Down; Adams created an entire culture, with a fictional Lapine language, folk-lore, proverbs, mythology and traditions. This animal society is rooted in the peace of the English countryside, it’s a countryside intruded upon by man, man just one of the many “elil” (enemies of rabbits).

“Animals don’t behave like men,’ he said. ‘If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill they kill. But they don’t sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures’ lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.”

watershipdown3In the Sandleford warren, Fiver, a young, slightly undersized rabbit is troubled by a terrible vision, of which he struggles to make sense; Fiver’s visions have however proved correct in the past. Fiver’s vision seems to indicate the destruction of the warren, and he shares his frightening worries with his brother Hazel. Fiver and Hazel having no great status within their warren fail to convince their chief rabbit of any impending doom, and they plan instead to leave the Sandleford warren taking with them whoever will join them in a perilous and uncertain journey to find a new home. As their hurried plans become known Fiver and Hazel are joined by a small band of other unimportant rabbits, and in a last minute confrontation with members of the warren’s Owsla (a kind of military body loyal to the chief rabbit) they are joined by Bigwig and Silver former Owsla, whose strength and cunning will prove vital in the dangerous journey that lies ahead.

Leaving the behind the only world they have ever known, Hazel leads his brother and this disparate group of rabbits out into the unknown. Fiver feels he knows they must head for a hill, but between their goal and the start of their journey lay many dangers any one of which could see them killed. Fiver is not a leader, he is a quiet, intuitive little thinker, but other rabbits listen and usually follow his advice. Gradually, Hazel takes up the position of leader, although not especially powerful, he is a good and thoughtful leader, thinking of others, intelligent and loyal. During their journey they encounter Cowslip who invites them to join his unsettling, unnatural warren, where things are not quite what they seem and Bigwig gets caught in a snare. Soon they are off again; and the little band of limping bedraggled rabbits from the Sandleford warren arrive on Watership Down, the place of safety of Fiver’s visions.

This however is only the beginning of the story in some respects, as the rabbits soon realise, that if they are indeed to establish a new and successful warren on Watership Down, they will need does. Their quest to find does and encourage them to join the warren on Watership Down is a daunting one, and requires some of them to again set out on a journey. Having, helped and been befriended by a seagull Kehaar, the rabbits enlist his help in searching out other warrens from where they will may be able to recruit does. Kehaar tells them of some hutch rabbits on a farm nearby, and of another large warren a few days journey off. While three rabbits undertake the journey to the warren, Hazel and Pipkin seek out the hutch rabbits on the farm, and following a raid return to the warren on Watership Down with two does and a buck rabbit. When the other intrepid rabbits return, they bring with them tales of an enormous warren called Efrafa, an overcrowded warren ruled over by the despotic General Woundwort. The rabbits from Watership Down barely escaped with their lives. Still, an Efrafa doe named Hyzenthlay does want to leave and so a plan is devised to return and rescue those who wish to leave and are being prevented from doing so. More battles and trouble naturally follow, with General Woundwort following them back to Watership Down where a final terrible confrontation is unleashed. watershipdown2

“To come to the end of a time of anxiety and fear! To feel the cloud that hung over us lift and disperse—the cloud that dulled the heart and made happiness no more than a memory! This at least is one joy that must have been known by almost every living creature.”

Watership Down is quite a thick book at nearly 500 pages, but it is a surprisingly quick read. Much of it is indeed very gripping, more so than I had probably expected. I was particularly charmed by the descriptions of the natural world; Adams conveys very beautifully the peace of a hillside, the quiet, shade of woodland. I can’t say I absolutely loved this book, there were one or two sections which did drag a bit – and it took me almost a hundred pages to properly start enjoying it, but I liked it, and there is much to appreciate in the writing. While I was reading I was talking to my mum on the phone, about the book, she said “oh but you soon forget they are rabbits don’t you?” well no, I can’t say that I ever forgot that they were rabbits, though I became more involved with them than I had ever expected to.

richard adams

circlesofdeceit

Circles of Deceit Nina Bawden’s 1987 novel about lies, deception and family fragilities, was short listed for the Booker prize in that year.

“All art is full of deception. Nature, too and human behaviour…”

There is an awful lot to admire in this later Bawden novel – which I seem to remember somewhere being described as among her greatest. Unusually for Bawden it is written from a male perspective, although this isn’t the only novel Bawden writes with a male narrator – and she does it well. Bawden portrays young people and children deftly; their hurts and frailties exposed with great understanding, although I find all her characters here are real, complicated beings.

“Like many another craftsman, like an apprentice stone cutter carving gargoyle on a cathedral, I want to make my individual contribution to the grand design. I copy the painting with all the skill at my disposal, all the tricks; squaring up, measuring with calipers, using photographs, a projector, a light box for transparencies to get as near as I can to the true colour. I try to match the pigments used by the artist, grinding my own Naples yellow, or buying it in a tube from Budapest where it is still legal to sell it ready made with lead and antimony. But instead of adding my signature, I change some insignificant feature. I alter the expression of a man in the crowd, add a tiny animal face in a dim corner, a mouse or a weasel, replace the diamond on a woman’s hand with a ruby, paint a watch on a wrist in an eighteenth-century portrait.”

Our narrator is a painter, an unnamed artist, whose chief income is made as a copyist of old masters to which he adds, his own tiny little signature touches. This is a trade of deception, where the eye can’t always believe what it sees; the artist hides his own little twists in the reproductions of great paintings. The painter is a man surrounded by family, badgered particularly by the women in his life, and rather haunted by his troubled son Tim. There is his ex-wife Helen, who left him, but from whom he can never really separate and his current wife, Clio – more than twenty years his junior who has brought her young son Barnaby to the marriage. Helen is a dentist; her middle class family never having had much to do with the in-laws their daughter’s marriage imposed upon them . Helen is obviously the love of the artist’s life, and even after their marriage breaks down, the ties between them remain strong. Their son Tim, although a young adult remains fragile, and they share the worries and griefs over their tortured schizophrenic boy who after his parent’s divorce has remained living in his father’s house.

“Once you start looking, the army of the lost multiples. Every turn holds them, each derelict for a heart-stopping moment familiar, but then, immediately, shadowy, nameless; huddled in doorways, raking through dustbins, shuffling down side streets; bundles of old clothes stretched out on benches, on tomb stones, over warm air gratings. I thought – I would make a bonfire of Rembrandts to warm them. If I had the option.”

Tim’s sudden and unexplained absence from home terrifies his parents although his young step-mother is less concerned. Clio is young; her son was born when she was just seventeen, and she is not a natural mother. Now four year old Barnaby is a dear little boy in desperate need of love, his step father quickly becomes his adored ‘Daddy’. Clio is a runner, running miles across London; she is also insecure, jealous and suspicious of her new husband’s connection with his former wife.

Maisie, the artist’s mother, has never tried to disguise her East end origins, she hangs some of her sons copies of old masters on the walls of her tiny terraced house. All our narrator was ever told about his absent father is an apocryphal sounding tale of a dodgy wine deal that went wrong. Maisie’s sister, Maud was given and made the most of the opportunities she received after being evacuated during the war. Now Maud lives in Chelsea, drives a Porsche and has left the East End behind her. She is a lecturer, a biographer, a single woman whose friendship with Ned and his wife looks like it could take a different turn when Ned is widowed. Maisie and Maud’s mother Razor Annie was a tough East End woman who is now in a home suffering from some form of dementia. Helen’s brother Henry is having an affair with the daughter of an old friend and art dealer, a woman who was at school with Clio. Like the layers of paint on an old canvas, the stories of the painter’s family weave back and forth from past to present, gradually revealing the hidden fissures beneath. The deceptions of both art and life are woven seemlessly together in a brilliant conclusion.

This is a quietly powerful novel. In Circles of Deceit Nina Bawden sensitively explores the deceptions of life and the ways people seek to protect others with love.

nina bawden

mrharrisonsconfessions

It was some time ago that I first heard of Mr Harrison’s Confessions, this edition produced by Hesperus, who make very attractive books. Now whenever it was that I read a review of it, it simply sounded very charming indeed, and didn’t particularly ring any bells – but it really should have done. I was a little confused by the ‘Prequel to Cranford’ tag – although the story is very much in the tradition of Cranford, we are in a different town among different people. The reason I already knew the story is because Mr Harrison’s Confessions was told by the BBC in the Cranford TV series. A little research, however, tells me that the novella Mr Harrison’s Confessions, is an accepted part of The Cranford Chronicles which also include the stories of My Lady Ludlow. I see that Vintage publishes the entire Cranford Chronicles in one volume, which is a great looking edition too. I suppose I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t an entirely new story for me – but such is the warmth and charm of the story and Elizabeth Gaskell’s telling of it that I quickly got over that.

Mr Harrison is a young doctor, and as the novella opens he is settling down to tell his old friend Charles, newly arrived home from Ceylon, the story of his “winning and wooing” the story of how he met and eventually married the woman who is upstairs putting the baby to bed. This is merely the framing of William Harrison’s own story, the story of how he arrived in the small country town of Duncombe to work alongside Mr Morgan his father’s cousin, in his rural practice. Mr Morgan is a well-established member of the community already, and his hope is that in time, he will be able to hand his practice over to his young partner. cranfrod street

“Duncombe calls itself a town, but I should call it a village. Really, looking from Jocelyn’s, it is a very picturesque place. The houses are anything but regular; they may be mean in their details, but altogether they look well; they have not that flat unrelieved front, which many towns of far more pretensions present. Here and there a bow window – every now and then a gable, cutting up against the sky – occasionally a projecting upper storey – throws good effect of light and shadow along the street; and they have a queer fashion of their own of colouring the whitewash of some of the houses with a sort of pink blotting-paper tinge, more like the stone of which Mayence is built than anything else. It may be in very bad taste, but to my mind it gives a rich warmth to the colouring.”

Mr Harrison’s arrival is noted immediately by all the key inhabitants of the town, and as soon as he has put his bag down in the lodgings arranged by Mr Morgan, he is visited several times. Mr Harrison proceeds to set several single ladies heart’s a-flutter – although he himself remains, for some time, blissfully unaware of the effect he has. Duncombe – like Cranford of course – is a town in which resides many single ladies, the majority of them no longer really young. These ladies, with little to occupy them count on the ministrations of the local doctor whenever they feel they need him – whether they actually do or not is another matter. Soon after Mr Harrison’s arrival he meets Sophy, the vicar’s pretty daughter, a young angel, who is uncomplainingly helping to raise her younger siblings after their mother’s death. Sophy is one of those Victorian heroines who are a little too good to be true (I might have liked her better had she had a bit more spirit). We never get to know Sophy really very well however, it is enough that she is pretty and good and William loses his heart to her. Pretty Sophy serves only to distract the young doctor to such an extent that he is completely blinded to the series of embarrassing attachments and misunderstandings that soon result from his presence in the town.

“Before the end of the evening, we were such great friends that she brought me down the late Mr Rose’s picture to look at. She told me she could not bear herself to gaze upon the beloved features; but that, if I would look upon the miniature, she would avert her face. I offered to take it into my own hands, but she seemed wounded at the proposal, and said she never, never could trust such a treasure out of her own possession; so she turned her head very much over her left shoulder, while I examined the likeness held by her extended right arm.”

Mr Harrison is settles in a small house, looked after by a housekeeper, the recently widowed Mrs Rose, the two are quite companionably suited as Mr Rose’s husband was a doctor, and soon Mrs Rose’s terrible grief over her loss begins to abate. Nearby live the Misses Tomkinson’s, the elder sister treating her younger sister (who herself is not much short of middle age) as an almost child, Miss Caroline, is prone to fainting fits and other imagined ills, and Mr Harrison spends a lot of time re-assuring the poor woman. Meanwhile Mr Bullock and his second wife seem rather anxious to rid themselves of the awkward young Miss Bullock through matrimony, and so her stepmother makes sure she is thrown in the way of the good doctor during a picnic, when naturally William can only think of Sophy.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels and stories often depict the realities of life for people in Victorian England, and this is no exception. Wrapped around the charming story of rural town life, romance, gossip and misunderstanding are stories that would have been part and parcel of everyday life for people in the 1850’s. Sudden illness comes to the vicarage and William struggles to help, while a working man with a large family has his livelihood threatened by an accident, which could lead to an amputation. William has to fight to have his more modern medical attitudes taken seriously by his older, more traditional partner.

This really is a lovely little novella, a delightful quick read which will delight fans of Cranford and other works by Elizabeth Gaskell.

elizabeth gaskell

heatlightning

Heat Lightning; Persephone book number 101 was first published in 1932, and in fact was a book-of-the-month club selection for April of that year. Over a period of fifty years Helen Hull produced some seventeen novels and many short stories, and so it is surprising that until Persephone re-issued Heat Lightning I had never heard of her. Judging by this novel alone, Hull was a gifted writer, and one I would certainly like to read more by.

Heat Lightning is a domestic American novel; set in an unnamed Michigan town, presumably reminiscent to the one Helen Hull herself grew up in. It is summer 1930, when Amy Norton arrives back in the town she grew up in, to stay for a week with her family. Her husband has gone on a fishing holiday, her two children are at summer camp, and Amy must work out what it is that is wrong with her marriage.

‘Now that she was back in the town of her childhood, standing on a corner across from the village triangle of green, a small pyramid of luggage at her feet, Amy’s one clear thought, over the fluttering of unimportant recognitions, was “Why on earth have I come?”’

The extreme summer heat crackles off the pages, its oppressive effects ever present, as the heat lightning of the title threatens, like the conflicts at the heart of a large family.

heatlightning2Amy usually only comes home at Christmas, it has been years since she last saw the town in its summer colours, and she arrives in a heatwave, the day her sister Mary gives birth to her fifth daughter. All families have their complexities, and the Westover family is no exception, some of Amy’s family are more complex than others. Amy’s mother, Catherine, is mildly distracted by the new arrival – rushing back and forth to Mary’s house, her father Alfred has business worries. In another, smaller house on the edge of the Westover property lives the matriarch of the family, Madam Westover, Amy’s grandmother. Madam Westover tended to by the faithful Lavinia and doted on by Curly, the silent, odd job man is the lynchpin of the family. Madam Westover is a woman of contradictions, easy in the use of casual racial epithets; she is also an apparent righter of wrongs, a champion of the less privileged, she is the strongest character in the novel. Having little time for hypocrisy or the pretensions of some of her relatives, Madam Westover is a stubborn dispenser of good advice.

“A lifetime’s too short to find your way about another’s heart, without blunderings and mistakes. That’s why these folks nowadays are so foolish, rushing into marriage, out of it, into another. They never do anything but make a beginning, and then make the same beginning again. They think there’s nothing else, besides that crazy excitement at the first.”

Lora, Amy’s aunt is a weak weeping woman, still smarting from the betrayal which led to her divorce, her unmarried grown up children; Tom and Harriet provide Lora with plenty to worry about, while she spars with Laurance’s wife, her daughter-in-law Emma. In the portrayal of Harriet, Amy’s cousin, we see the attitudes of the 1930’s. Harriet, is quite obviously a lesbian (although that term is never used), she wears unattractive, masculine tweeds, smokes heavily, and refers coyly to her woman friend waiting for her somewhere or other, the family seem to view Harriet indulgently, and a little patronisingly as someone who given time can surely be cured. This negative portrayal of the character Harriet and Amy’s apparent distaste for her is especially odd; as I believe Helen Hull spent her life with a woman (perhaps Amy’s attitude merely reflects the attitude of many sections of 1930s society). Tom, meanwhile indulging in bootlegging activities has entered into a little dalliance with Lulu, Alfred and Catherine Westover’s maid, and it appears the girl has become pregnant.

As Alfred’s business worries worsen, due wholly to money being withdrawn from the business by his brother and squandered rashly on the stock market, Amy watches the various members of her family, as she tries to make sense of her own feelings. There is necessarily a good deal of introspection here, which is partly what makes this novel a fairly slow read. As I generally prefer the kinds of novels where ‘nothing very much happens’ –this wasn’t a problem. When an unexpected family crisis – in the midst of everything else going on – occurs, Amy tries to cable her husband, only to find he is not where she thought he would be.

“Queer, how her own desperate need of light seemed to throw such brilliance over the affairs of the members of her family. She carried her need like a many-batteried pocket spotlight, illuminating emotional corners in other people, but she walked in darkness behind it. Her wrist wouldn’t bend to turn it on herself.”

It is testament to Hull’s skill as a writer, that she can explore so much of how human beings live together in the very simply story of a week in the life of one family. Here there is conflict, greed and selfishness, family secrets, betrayals and new beginnings. Hull’s thoughtful narrative allowing the reader to enter into the minds of these people, we particularly feel Amy’s bewilderment over her marriage, as she struggles to understand what has happened to her and husband Geoffrey.

This is an excellent novel although its scope is domestic; there is astute intelligence here fine writing and quiet drama.

helenhull

the silver spoon

Some of you may remember that when I finished my last Forsyte read, I was devastated to learn that there was an interlude or two missing from my Penguin edition of A Modern Comedy Vol 2 of the three volume set I bought specially. So I naturally turned to my kindle – the complete Forsyte Saga Chronicles – all nine books and interludes are available very cheaply on kindle – so I am afraid I jumped ship, my paperback editions sadly abandoned. My latest Forsyte fix saw me begin with the interlude ‘A Silent wooing,’ which is very short and prepares the way nicely for the main fifth novel The Silver Spoon which I loved so much I immediately went right on to the next interlude ‘Passers by’. Goodness me, I gobbled them up, these books are so compelling, I am now thoroughly caught up with these characters. Like a literary soap opera (which is what it is I suppose) I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

In that first Interlude ‘A Silent Wooing’, we meet Jon Forsyte again, living in America with his mother, he is befriended by Francis Wilmot – and through him meets his sister Anne. Jon falls in love with Anne, their future seems sure to be as happy as Jon’s father’s marriage to Irene was.

As The Silver Spoon begins, Francis Wilmot turns up at Fleur and Michael Mont’s fashionable London house, bringing with him news of Jon and his sister. Fleur enjoys the society of all sorts of fashionable, interesting people at her carefully decorated home. A new dog has taken the place of the adored little Pekinese and the décor is no longer Chinese in inspiration. Fleur and Michael’s son, Kit, often affectionately known as the eleventh Baronet is a happy little chap, the apple of everyone’s eye.

Michael has left the world of publishing since we last saw him and entered the world of politics. While trying to decide what his politics actually are, Michael hits upon Foggartism – a bizarre policy which focuses on fixing the country through the eradication of unemployment by sending young people to the colonies to work. Foggartism is in danger of making Michael into a laughing stock, but he sticks to his adopted principles, introducing a small scheme for a group of unemployed people on his father’s estate. Michael finds himself talking to Soames more and more as he tries to make sense of his concerns for the country and the possible divisions between him and his young wife.

“When you’ve lived a little longer,” he said, “you’ll know that there’s always something to fuss about if you like to fuss. There’s nothing in it really; the pound’s going up. Besides, it doesn’t matter what you tell Fleur, so long as you tell her something.”
“She’s intelligent, sir,” said Michael. Soames was taken aback. He could not deny the fact, and answered: “Well, national affairs are too remote; you can’t expect a woman to be interested in them.”
“Quite a lot of women are.”
“Blue-stockings.”
“No, sir; they nearly all wear ‘nude.'”
“H’m! Those! As to interest in national affairs — put a tax on stockings, and see what happens!”
Michael grinned. “I’ll suggest it, sir.”

1920'sAt one of Fleur’s social evenings attended by Soames and Francis Wilmot among others, Soames overhears another young social butterfly Marjorie Ferrar gossiping spitefully about Fleur whilst enjoying her hospitality. Marjorie calls Fleur a snob – accusing her of not having either the wit or personality to create the social salon she craves. Soames is incensed, calling Marjorie a traitress and insisting she leaves. The scene is set for a heck of a row – it seems these things matter to certain sections of society in 1924. Francis Wilmot is a witness to the name calling, but chooses to side with the red headed beauty who has already turned his head. Unbelievably the resulting row rumbles on for months – ending in a libel case. In the story of what must now seem like pretty tame tit for tat – Galsworthy explores the changing attitudes of the upper echelons of English society of the mid 1920’s – questions of morality are raised and explored alongside the stuffy old ideas and expectations of a previous generation.

Marjorie, the impoverished daughter of an aristocratic family is charmed by a love sick Francis, but the American has little to offer her, Marjorie needs to either inherit or marry lots of money, and there is certainly no money about to land in her lap. Sir Alexander MacGowan, wealthy MP is very keen to marry her, and Marjorie sees little option but to agree, although she doesn’t love him. Before Marjorie is finally married however, the libel case is set to intrude, a case which Soames has worked hard to ensure Fleur wins, but which has unexpected consequences for both sides.

“Left alone with the Fred Walker still unhung, Soames gazed at his pictures. He saw them with an added clarity, a more penetrating glance, a sort of ache in his heart, as if — Well! A good lot they were, better than he had thought, of late! SHE had gone in for collecting people! And now she’d lost her collection! Poor little thing! All nonsense, of course — as if there were any satisfaction in people!”

Following the libel case, Fleur decides she must go travelling, and as Michael is unable to leave until the Parliamentary recess, Soames accompanies his daughter abroad, where Michael will join them in a few months.

Passers by – the interlude before the next full length novel sees Fleur, Michael and Soames coming to the end of an American sojourn. While in Washington, Soames becomes aware of certain key figures from their past staying at the same hotel, and the poor man goes to extraordinary lengths to keep everyone apart.

It is interesting how in these Modern Comedy novels – Soames is a much more sympathetic character than he was in A Man of Property, In Chancery and To Let, in those original Forsyte novels I hated him, (brilliant though he was to read about). As we leave Soames in his Washington hotel, he is about seventy, feeling the years, and yet aware of how much younger he is, than his father and uncles were at the end of their lives, and of how much he might still have to live for. I wonder if this change in Soames, his apparent mellowing reflects Galsworthy’s changing feelings for his character, he had lived with Soames for many years by this time.

Liz has now reviewed The Silver Spoon here, and Bridget will review it soon I will link to her and Karen’s reviews when they are up. I think I am a little ahead for once.

john galsworthy

2015-05-15_19.08.45

All Day Long; a portrait of Britain at work published this year by Serpent’s tail is one of a few books I have won on Twitter this year. I was instantly captivated by the idea, work is such an enormous part of all our lives – and this book sets out to show us what working lives are really like for a variety of British workers in the twenty-first century. I am often fairly hopeless at reading non-fiction, and this was a perfect book for a fickle non-fiction reader – as I was able to read it in small bit sized morsels.

“… what follows is a portrait – fragmentary, personal, fleeting – of the UK at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We may love our work, hate our work, find meaning in our work, or none, but it’s what we do all day long, and it shapes us.”

Joanna Biggs, an editor at the London Review of Books, travelled the length of Britain to uncover fascinating stories of workers from as far apart as the Outer-Hebrides, Wales, Westminster and the industrial midlands. I am sure that undertaking such a project was a daunting one for the author – which jobs to choose? Which leave out? All Day Long is divided into 11 main chapters: an introductory opening with workers in a charity shop sets the book in some context and describes briefly how the book came into being at all. Then, each chapter takes a different area of the working world, entitled simply: Making, Selling, Serving, Caring Leading etc. concluding with a chapter about the school Biggs herself attended as a child, to discover what the children today want to be when they grow up. In each chapter we meet the people Biggs spoke to, a variety of voices sharing their world with us, we hear about when they get up what they do each day, how they first started and what they think of their work. The book is very current, set against a back drop of the economic downturn, and the upcoming General Election of 2015, it gives voice to people who aren’t always heard.

We meet the pointe shoe makers of Hackney, and later the ballet dancer who might use shoes like them. I was surprisingly fascinated by these shoe makers; it’s a very specialised kind of shoe making, I had never considered ballet shoe makers – but of course someone must make them. In the Outer-Hebrides we meet Donald a crofter, part of a very traditional world, the ownership of his seven and half acres can be traced back through his family for 200 years. Hugh Crossley; hereditary Lord, talks about his work on the estate he runs with his wife, what it’s like having people walking around his house, and how he sees the future. We meet, amongst others, a Belfast fishmonger, a legal aid lawyer, a carer, nurses in an abortion clinic, a quiz show question writer, a scientist, a potter, an army major, a giggle doctor and premiership footballer.

“What we do for money may seem like the essential but dull part of our lives – in tired phrases such as ‘work-life balance’, work is set against life, as if it were life’s opposite – but it’s also where we make friends, exert power, pass the time, fall in love, give back, puff ourselves up, get bored, play, backstab, bully and resist. And as the days slide by, it changes us almost unobserved.”

Britain’s diversity is also brilliantly acknowledged in the stories of Ina a Bulgarian sex worker from London, Rakhshanda a British Muslim stay at home mum, Benjamin a rabbi from Manchester, and Henry Lopez an Ecuadorean cleaner from London.

All Day Long really is a brilliant portrait of Britain at work, and out of it, as we meet interns, apprentices and the unemployed including a 56 year old man on the coalition government’s workfare placement (workfare participants don’t show up in unemployment figures). The people I shall certainly remember every time I go to buy a sandwich or a cup of tea are the Barista’s of Pret A Manger who can only ever lose their tips and are subject to the vagaries of the mystery shopper, and can easily collect informal warnings or file notes and who feel the pressure of their position within the chain of a well ordered machine. On TV I always love those documentaries which shine a light into the working lives of people doing things that are very different to what I do all day, and so this book is very much the literary equivalent of that. Joanna Biggs shows us the good and the bad, while Baristas force their smiles, a carer on a zero hours contract – loves her work it’s what she always wanted to do – but her salary is meagre and she isn’t even paid for travelling time between clients. This is a Britain we will all recognise I think, the struggling high streets of pound shops, pawnbrokers and fast food outlets, the rich who like the 25 year old Aston Villa Footballer Biggs spoke to are very well rewarded, and those who work long hard hours without much time to stop and think about what it was they really wanted to do.

joannabiggs

20booksofsummer

As many of you will already know Cathy has launched a brilliant summer reading challenge. The challenge; is simply to read 20 books between 1st June and the 4th September. I hope I can read 20 books between now and then (especially as I started a week late), it should be easy enough but I am very conscious that I am reading much slower than I usually do – so I felt I needed a little pick me up challenge. Those of you on Twitter, can follow the hashtag #20booksofSummer and similar to the #TBR20 earlier in the year will be able to see everyone’s pretty piles of books and updates on reading progress. I joined in #TBR20 too, but the trouble with building up a lovely big pile of books and photographing it, is that immediately I stop wanting to read the books on it. So following advice from other participants I am creating my 20 books of summer pile in sections. I wasn’t sure whether to choose five or ten books for my first pile, so, just to be different I chose eight. On the day I decided to take up this challenge earlier this week, I was already part way through what became my first book; the appropriately named Summer will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner. The first eight of my twenty are (in order they appear in the picture):

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1 The silver Spoon – John Galsworthy ( I have ditched my fat paperback copies for a kindle version) – currently reading
2 Watership Down – Richard Adams (book group choice)
3 Heat Lightning by Helen Hull
4 Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
5 Road Ends by Mary Lawson
6 Mr Harrison’s Confessions by Elizabeth Gaskell
7 Circles of Deceit by Nina Bawden
8 Summer will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner

My idea is that after I have finished those eight books – I shall pick another pile – and so on. The only book on the above pile I am unsure about is Watership Down. Picked by one of my book groups as our June read I shall need to read it in the next two weeks – and although I know I enjoyed it goodness only knows how many years ago – I’m not at all sure how I feel about talking rabbits now. It will be interesting to see how it stands the test of time I suppose. Elizabeth and her German Garden, I have been meaning to read it for ages and this copy was kindly sent to me by Kaggsy – and so having put into my summer pile, I took it to my second (as yet very small) book group and it was picked for our July read. The others were picked because they are all simply books I really want to read soon – and that I feel is good enough reason – although there are dozens more that fit that category. I love this challenge already as there are so many people joining in and I love seeing what everyone else is reading.

Are you joining #20booksforsummer? Or do reading challenges make you hide behind the sofa?

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