I’m mixing up the order of my reviews here – with two other books waiting to be reviewed I decided to slot this one in first, for Jane’s lovely E H Young day. I have quite literally just finished the book – in fact more than half this review was written, while I was still reading, so intent was I upon the deadline. For today would have been Edith Hilda Young’s birthday. E H Young is definitely one of my favourite writers, so I really wanted to get my review up on the right day.

I chose Celia to read, one of only a couple E H Young novels I have still to read, and which fitted nicely into my ACOB.

In this novel there were some slight echoes of Chatterton Square – my favourite E H Young novel – in it’s depiction of middle class marriage. This is certainly a recurring theme for E H Young, and in this novel, she shines a keen light on three slightly mis-matched marriages.

“A family isn’t several separate persons. It’s a lot of–of dismembered people. Somebody has your head and another one has your hands and you have bits of all the others fastened onto you. You don’t belong to yourself, but then, they, poor things, don’t belong to themselves either.”

We find ourselves back in the familiar territory of Upper Radstowe between the wars, here forty-five-year-old Celia lives in a flat with her two children and architect husband. She is uninterested in the physical side of their relationship, contemptuous of her husband’s dull little house designs, though she keeps smiling kindly, and never rocks the boat. Tired too, of scrimping and saving for her family – while her brother’s family live so much more comfortably. Her only help is her daily, Miss Riggs, with whom Celia has a somewhat frank relationship. Miss Riggs lost her one love in the war, she talks about Fred as if he were only recently there. Celia often envies Miss Riggs her chaste memories of Fred, never having experienced the realities of married life.

Here we have the minutia of everyday life – the oppressiveness of domesticity, the weariness of years unvaried and unchanging. Celia is a typical E H Young character she wryly observes those around her and gives a good talking to where it’s needed. Though she hides her keen intelligence behind a veil of gentle vagueness. However, there is a frustration too.

“Men, she thought, always had this resource of attributing their failures to women…
‘Must we do everything?’ she asked herself angrily … ‘Bear their children and bring them up, manage the money, do without nearly everything we want and pretend we don’t want anything.’”

Susan; Celia’s niece – accompanies her aunt’s wealthy friend Pauline Carey on a short trip to Paris. Susan arrives home full of everything she did and saw, charmed by Mr Milligan Mrs Carey’s brother. Years earlier – unknown to everyone – Celia had loved Richard Milligan and it is the memory of this lost, long ago love that sustains her now. Susan delights in how like her aunt people say she is, and Celia imagining Richard seeing that likeness can’t help but feel a small pang of jealousy.

Celia, her brother John, and her sisters May and Hester were born into a family of drapers. John took on the shop, now a large, successful business and benefited from his father’s will more than any of his sisters. John – like his father before him – doesn’t approve of independence in women. Hester (who we don’t meet) has taken herself off to London and lives independently to the great disapproval and suspicion of John. May is married to solicitor Stephen, has three daughters – one of whom; Susan has turned the head of Celia’s son Jimmy – despite their being first cousins. John married Julia, a woman who sees herself as the perfect wife and mother, and to date has conformed to John’s ideal– they have six children. Julia is small, pretty and easily brought to tears – she sees it as her duty to dress nicely for people when she visits them – never mind the weather.

Celia, May and Julia – trip in and out of one another’s houses Julia and May meet up daily on their way back and forth to the shops, happily bickering. They are each watchful, as they carp and prey upon each other’s misdemeanours. Celia must also deal with her mother-in-law Mrs Marston who lives further along the terrace. It is, Celia acknowledges to herself, a somewhat narrow life.

Stephen suddenly announces he wants a little holiday of his own, a day or two away by himself – he has no idea where he will go and announces blithely he may just sleep under a haystack. No sooner has he told May, then he is off – and May trudges around as if she has been suddenly widowed. Julia, meanwhile, realises her eldest son Robert is desperate to not go into the drapers’ shop with his father as he is destined to – and sets herself up to save him.

“And she thought they were all rather pathetic, these men and women of her family. They were all more or less mis-mated yet they could not and they did not wish to break their bonds. Even she could not break hers. Though the one attaching her to Gerald had worn thin, it held still, and primitively, unreasonably, she resented the idea that the one from him to her had worn thin too.”

So, while Celia had often imagined May and John’s marriages to have been more successful than her own, we see, as the novel progresses, that none of these relationships are ideal.

E H Young’s domestic settings are not always comfortable – she portrays marriages of disappointment or inequality in this and other novels, and in doing so seems to question the very institution itself. She was, I firmly believe an important writer – and despite her legion of fans has been sadly neglected. Surely, she is someone who should be re-issued and introduced to a whole new audience.

E H Young

the forgotten waltz

My second read for Read Ireland month was The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright – who I think is a beautiful writer, one who I admire a lot. I absolutely loved both The Gathering and The Green Road, and I was so looking forward to this novel, of which I had heard such good things. However, and I’m not entirely sure why, I really didn’t love this novel.

readireland18I don’t usually mind unlikeable characters, and the characters in this novel are certainly not likeable. The writing is naturally excellent, but something about the novel left me completely cold, and had it been a longer book, I may not have cared enough to carry on. The premise itself is a good one, perhaps not the most original storyline – but are there any of those left?

“I just can’t believe it. That all you have to do is sleep with somebody and get caught and you never have to see your in-laws again. Ever. Pfffft! Gone. It’s the nearest thing to magic I have yet found.”

There is something very cynical about the voice of this first-person narrative. Enright writes with a barely disguised irony. The title and chapter headings are I’m sure deeply ironical, as is the attitude of her central character Gina Moynihan.

This is a novel about two marriages, an affair and a child caught up in the midst of it. The title is misleading; the forgotten waltz, suggesting something romantic, nostalgic perhaps. Chapters have titles like; Will you love me tomorrow, The Shoop Shoop Song, Ev’ry time we say Goodbye – titles of jolly little pop songs about love – it’s all deliberately ironic. The stories of these people are not romantic, they are caught up in difficult, complex relationships. Secrets and lies consume the two who are having an affair – yet normal life continues too. Work must still be attended, a child must be collected or dropped off, a sick mother visited, parties attended.

When Gina first meets Seán he is standing at the bottom of her sister Fiona’s garden. There’s a housewarming party, and Gina’s boyfriend Conor is late. Gina is smoking, mocking her sister’s envious interest in what the woman three doors down has added to her home. Gina is a cool modern professional, beautifully dressed, fairly ambitious and as we come to see unrepentant. She is self-absorbed and unemotional, and despite the first-person narrative she remains oddly elusive to the reader. These are all very nice well-heeled Dublin suburbanites – property prices are on the up, and while one couple buys a beach house, someone else takes a year out to spend time with his yacht. Workers in I.T and consultancy, they entertain one another to barbecues and New Year brunches. When Gina first spots Seán she also spots his child, a daughter about four years old, she thinks there might be something odd about the child but can’t quite put her finger on it.

It’s years before Gina and Seán meet again, although they both exist within the same sphere – Seán and his wife friends of Fiona. In the meantime, Gina marries Connor, she’s mad about him, he’s crazy about her, they buy a house, settle down. Gina comes across Seán through work, and on a foreign trip they succumb to a thoughtless, passionate one-night stand. Things don’t stop there, and when Seán is brought in as a consultant to the firm Gina works for – they two are soon involved in a full-blown affair. At another party in Seán’s house his eight-year-old daughter Evie sees them kissing.

“All children are beautiful: the thing they do with their eyes that seems so dazzling when they take you all in, or seem to take you all in; it’s like being looked at by an alien, or a cat – who knows what they see?”

The inevitable happens – the affair is discovered, and the fall out must be dealt with. Seán still has a duty to his wife and child, which means Gina doesn’t always have his attention – being the other woman isn’t always a comfortable position. In leaving Connor – she takes with her all the dreams he might have had, the future he had taken for granted.

“I took my bag, and the suitcase of clothes, and I took the thing he wanted most – a little boy, maybe, as yet unmade; a sturdy little runaround fella, for sitting on his shoulders, and video games down the arcade, and football in the park.”

Gina discovers that perhaps she doesn’t understand Seán as much as she should, and to do so she must first understand Evie, and Seán’s relationship with her and his wife. Throughout all of this, Seán remains every bit as distant as Gina – and I’m sure this is deliberate as Enright seeks to show the dull, chilling reality of such family ruining relationships. However, I felt I too was held at a distance, and I soon realised I didn’t care what happened to any of them. The thing that slightly saved this novel – and took it to a three-star rating on Goodreads was the quality of Enright’s prose – which is just glorious. Overall though I was disappointed.

anne enright

Mad puppetstown

My first read for this year’s Read Ireland month was Mad Puppetstown by Molly Keane, it seems I often read Molly Keane for Read Ireland month. I enjoy her books a lot, but I honestly think that this might be my favourite of hers to date. I have quoted quite extensively from the novel – apologies to those who find that tedious – I had marked so many passages, that for me, show the exquisite nature of Keane’s writing.

Mad Puppetstown is a wonderful evocation of an Irish childhood in the early twentieth century, before the First World War. On page one Molly Keane describes the world as it was – as it would have been for her. The novel begins:

“Then : –
They said: “You naughty man!”
They wore hair nets and tortoise-shell combs.
It was more than fast to accept presents from men.
You bought a blood four-year-old up to weight for £60.
There was no wire.
The talked about “the ladies” and “motor-cars.”
“By George!” they said, but never used Americanisms; such were not known.
Their top boots were shorter and their spurs were worn lower down on the heel.
You loved with passion.
You did not trouble to keep your sense of humour ready in the background.
Love mattered.
Manners mattered.
Children mattered.
Places and dependents mattered too.
Money bought much more.
People drove about in dog-carts and pony traps.
Invitations were issued to tea.
Tea parties mattered too.
Women who powdered their faces were fast
Women who painted them – bad.
Hunting, low wages, feather boas, nipped in habit coats, curly bowlers, bunches of violets, black furs and purple hats were much in vogue.
A book called Three Weeks was both enjoyed and abused.
Champagne was a frequent drink. Women never drank whisky.”

Like poetry, I wanted to learn those lines and recite them. I was captivated immediately both by the world I found myself in, and Molly Keane’s glorious voice – her writing is always fabulous – somehow, I had forgotten how good she is.

Into what Molly Keane calls ‘those full-blooded’ days young Easter Chevington is born and raised. She is eight as the novel opens, living in her father’s country house of Mad Puppetstown with her father, Great-Aunt Dicksie, her two adored boy cousins Evelyn and Basil and their beautiful widowed mother Aunt Brenda. The children live a charmed life – running free, and slightly wild in the Irish countryside, surrounding the house. It is a way of life Molly Keane describes to absolute perfection. Easter and the boys brought up with the ways of horses, learning to shoot woodcock and snipe in the woods. Playing with Patsy; the boot boy, teasing the Peacocks in Aunt Dicksie’s garden – and tormenting the life out of O’Regan who works in the garden. It’s a joy of a childhood,with dogs, ponies and a riot of adventures.

“Out of the schoolroom window at Puppetstown you looked across flat water – where Giles, the swan, sat in immemorial calm and the dogs hunted water rats and moorhens – over the Long Acres, where young blood horses moved in a stately decorum of beauty, away to the chill breasts of the mountains yielding themselves only to the slow rapture of a sunset; thin and stark at any other time and remote as the grey women of the Sidhie that men had seen about their secret lakes. Mandoran, Mooncoin, and the Black Stair were these mountains’ lovely names and whatever was afar and unknown and remote unto themselves in the children, was joined and linked to the dispassionate ecstasy of these mountains.”

The family suffer the loss of Easter’s father during the war but are otherwise unaffected by a conflict Evelyn and Basil are thankfully too young for. Aunt Brenda – who always meant to re-marry but never did get around to it – enjoys the company of a British army Captain from the local garrison. Meanwhile, Ireland is in the grip of another war, a war forgotten by those back in England. Patsy the boot boy receives whispered orders through the window late at night – which he dare not ignore.

“Meetings by night: oaths to the darkened land sworn, signed and forgotten: drillings and revolver practice and always the romantic cup of dizzy words…”

Throughout the dark hills surrounding Mad Puppetstown men gather to whisper threat and plot – and so when violence touches the family at Mad Puppetstown, Aunt Brenda hurriedly takes her sons and niece away to England. Great-Aunt Dicksie will not be moved, refusing to surrender her family home – she bolts the doors, turns the ponies loose and settles down to living alone with just Patsy, in a house that starts to decay around her. Aunt Dicksie becomes more and more eccentric, so very lonely at first – the echoes of her family are in the very walls around her – she learns in time to live alone. Taking refuge in her garden, spending far too much of the little money she has on seeds and bulbs for her garden, she takes to wearing the old clothes from the wardrobes upstairs rather than buy new ones.

In England the cousins are educated and groomed for British society, it’s a world away from Mad Puppetstown. As Evelyn falls in love with an English society beauty, Basil starts to yearn for Ireland, and Mad Puppetstown. Easter turns twenty-one and her father’s house now belongs to her, so she and Basil decide to run away – heading back to Aunt Dicksie and the home of their childhood. However, neither Aunt Dicksie nor the house is as they remember.

I simply loved every bit of this novel – compulsively evocative – and for those who have been irritated by such things in other novels – rather less of the huntin’, fishin’, and shootin’ that was such a part of Molly Keane’s own life.


the girls of slender means

The Girls of Slender Means is a novel of taut perfection – a wonderful precursor to A Far Cry from Kensington. Told in flash back from the present (1963) looking back at the summer of 1945, and those months between VE day and VJ day. The London streets are scarred by bomb damage and rationing bites those who have put up with it so long already.

“The May of Teck Club exists for the pecuniary convenience of and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means, below the age of Thirty years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London.”

The May of Teck Club has had its windows shattered three times since 1940. It is a hostel for young ladies under thirty. Spark herself lived in a very similar establishment, and she recreates the community perfectly. That atmosphere of everyone being in it together – endless chatter, borrowing and swapping belongings, young men visiting, careers just beginning. The upper floors look down over Kensington gardens, the Albert Memorial just around the corner, it’s a rather nice area of London to be residing in, even in 1945.

“Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions. The streets of cities were lined with buildings in bad repair or in no repair at all, bomb-sites piled with stony rubble, houses like giant teeth in which decay had been drilled out, leaving only the cavity. Some bomb-ripped buildings looked like the ruins of ancient castles until, at a closer view, the wallpapers of various quite normal rooms would be visible, room above room, exposed, as on a stage, with one wall missing; sometimes a lavatory chain would dangle over nothing from a fourth- or fifth-floor ceiling; most of all the staircases survived, like a new art-form, leading up and up to an unspecified destination that made unusual demands on the mind’s eye. All the nice people were poor; at least that was a general axiom, the best of the rich being poor in spirit”

Despite being over fifty, three middle aged spinsters have been allowed to stay at the club since before the First World War, and though one of them insists that one of the bombs that dropped into the garden of the May of Teck Club is still there, no one listens. These three older women hold something of a privileged position at the Club and are generally tolerated by the younger women.

The younger women are an interesting mix, there is Jane Wright, an overweight young woman who requires extra food for her brain work. Some of this work is writing letters to famous writers, on behalf of  Rudi Bittesch – who Jane thoroughly dislikes. During the day Jane works in publishing. Joanna Childe gives elocution lessons from her room, her beautiful voice ringing out through the house. ‘Mad’ Pauline Fox frequently goes out to dinner with her imaginary companion; well-known actor Jack Buchanan. Beautiful, Selina Redwood, who daily recites an incantation to maintain her well-practised poise. Dorothy Markham is the impoverished niece of Lady Julia Markham, who is a member of the club’s management committee. Then there is the worldly Anne, who owns the coveted taffeta Schiaparelli dress. The dress is shared between the girls slender enough to wear it, swapped for little pieces of soap or coupons.

In the back ground of all this there is a sense of darker goings on, largely ignored by those girls of slender means, but nevertheless there. The reality of war is everywhere, in the landscape all around and the coupons they trade for the right to wear the Schiaparelli dress. Whispers of another great bomb being prepared, remind us that the world was on the brink of frightening great change.

It is important to be very slim at the May of Teck Club, not only so girls can fit into the Schiaparelli dress, but because girls who are slender enough are able to squeeze through the lavatory window to the flat roof. Here girls can sunbathe unseen or meet lovers who climb over from the building next door.

Selina is quite the expert in getting through that window, while Jane of course can only stand and watch. This ability, or not to get through the tiny aperture of the window to the roof beyond becomes very important as the novel progresses.
Into this all female world that runs smoothly enough, comes Nicholas Farringdon an aspiring writer to unwittingly unsettle the status quo.

“We come now to Nicholas Farringdon in his thirty-third year. He was said to be an anarchist. No one at the May of Teck Club took this seriously as he looked quite normal; that is to say, he looked slightly dissipated, like the disappointing son of a good English family that he was.”

As the novel opens in the present time of 1963, former residents of the May of Teck Club pass along the news of Nicholas’s death in Haiti where he had worked as a missionary. In those former days he had made great friends of several of the young women from the May of Teck Club, and becomes a regular visitor. He decides he would like to do nice things for Jane (though not sleep with her) he takes her to parties and poetry readings, introducing her to other writers, but it is Selina who really turns his head. Many hot summer nights are spent with Selina out on the roof of the May of Teck Club.

Nothing lasts forever, and the days of the May of Teck Club are sadly numbered. In typical Spark fashion the conclusion of the novel is shockingly dramatic. The Girls of Slender Means is a slight novel, in which not a word is wasted – Spark re-creates the atmosphere of a hostel for young ladies, in 1945 with absolute perfection. Who wouldn’t want to be one of the nice poor people in 1945 who live at the May of Teck Club across the road from Kensington Gardens and have a share in a taffeta Schiaparelli dress.

I persuaded my very small book group to join in #ReadingMuriel2018 and pick this for our March read. We meet on Wednesday to discuss it.



Way back sometime in the 1970s – when I was a very little girl, but already in love with books I read a book called The Tree that Sat Down by Beverley Nichols. I loved every word of that little book and have remembered it ever since. I even remembered the author (as a child I thought Beverley Nichols was a woman, and it was many years before I discovered my mistake). I think we carry the books we loved as children with us somewhere – though I’m hopeless at remembering the titles of many of them now. That was pretty much my only experience of Beverley Nichols – until many years later – a few blogging friends began sharing their love of his adult books, their enthusiasm ensuring that I soon acquired some for myself.

Beverley Nichols was an enormously prolific writer – journalism, politics, autobiography and novels. Though some of his most popular works seem to have been his books of gardening and house restoration. Down the Garden Path is the first book in one of the two gardening trilogies that Nichols produced. A book about gardening restoration is not something I would usually read, but there was something very appealing about this trilogy. Having heard such wonderful things about Nichol’s warm witty writing from other readers, it seemed a good place to start. However, I think I probably have the best books still to read, as it seems some people believe the other gardening trilogy starting with Merry Hall is better than this one. Yet, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

“I bought my cottage by sending a wireless to Timbuctoo from the Mauretania, at midnight, with a fierce storm lashing the decks.
It sounds rather vulgar, but it is true.”

In the early 1930’s Beverley Nichols was already a well-known writer – still quite a young man, he also had a passion for gardens, and it would seem, enough money to buy a cottage with large gardens in the country. This book tells the story of the garden (and cottage) he bought in Cambridgeshire. It and the two sequels which follow were illustrated by Rex Whistler – and were a huge success.

Having quite rashly bought his cottage – because of the gardens he knew came with it –Beverley hurried down to view his new house, hardly able to wait to see the garden. He is met by Arthur – a strange, oddly behaved servant who provides him with uneatable food and stays in bed all morning. The garden however, which Beverley remembered so well has been sadly neglected, and is nothing like it had been. He is devastated, but the immediately starts putting it to rights, planning how it will look, researching in detail winter flowers, so that there is always flowers in his garden. It is a labour of love.

“It was not till I experimented with seeds plucked straight from a growing plant that I had my first success…the first thrill of creation…the first taste of blood. This, surely, must be akin to the pride of paternity…indeed, many soured bachelors would wager that it must be almost as wonderful to see the first tiny crinkled leaves of one’s first plant as to see the tiny crinkled face of one’s first child.”


Nichols writes deliciously about his garden, his descriptions are glorious, his passion for his flowers is infectious. Despite not being a gardener – or even all that knowledgeable about flowers I found myself quite happily caught up in Nichol’s enthusiasm and as someone who has been known to push a few daff bulbs into my garden soil and sit in my zero-gravity chair with a cup of tea and book on a sunny day I found myself oddly able to fully appreciate the glory in the appearance of little garden miracles. Though even while he is describing the glories of nature and his simple, never ending joy in the miracle of mother-nature – he can’t resist a little cheeky humour on the side.

“The seed of a blue lupin will usually produce a blue lupin. But the seed of a blue-eyed man may produce a brown-eyed bore…especially if his wife has a taste for gigolos.”

However probably the best parts of this book are Nichol’s mischievous portraits of some of his neighbours. We never get to know these people as well as I would have liked but, he is rather funny about them all – Mrs M, Miss W, Miss X (we never learn their full names either). One of his visitor; hilariously described, an affected woman, who makes much of her apparent tininess and feminine weakness. Another neighbour, Mrs M becomes Nichols’s rival and nagging thorn in his side. She finds something to criticise in everything he does, and Beverley presumably makes himself feel better by writing about her with such scathingly sharp wit. We even meet his parents who visit him in his country home.

It is Beverley Nichols simple joy for life that is so adorable here. I am really looking forward to reading a lot by him now.

BN allways garden


The Bright Day Mary Hocking’s 1975 novel does have a very seventies feel to it. The sense of time and place is always strong in a Mary Hocking novel, and I so enjoy a seaside setting!

“…the bright day is done
And we are for the dark”

The place is Scotney – the fictional seaside town in the South East of England, a typical seaside town ripe for redevelopment that butts up against marshes and the Sussex Downs.

“The river twisted through a flat valley with the Downs rising on either side. The valley was treeless and rather drab with pylons striding across it. There were one or two herds of cattle. The only sign of human occupation was an old cottage standing beside what had once been a railway halt. It was a melancholy place, a half-way house between dream and nightmare; it had an attraction for Hannah which she could not define, except to say ‘it speaks to my subconscious.’ Whenever she came to Picton’s Quay, she made a point of visiting the cottage; it was more than a habit, it was a ritual and if she didn’t perform it she felt uneasy.”

A local election has returned Neil Moray as an independent member of Parliament for Scotney. On the night of the election, William Lomax; editor of the town’s newspaper receives a visit from the estranged wife of Moray’s main opponent. She has a tale to tell about Moray’s campaign manager Rodney Cope – which is suggestive of underhand dealings. Mrs Ormerod is known to drink rather heavily, suspected of being rather irrational – Lomax treats her story with little interest initially. However, Lomax’s journalistic interest has been spiked. He starts to wonder.

A great deal has been made of Neil Moray’s personal integrity – his determination to clean up Scotney – and Lomax can’t help but sense there is a story there somewhere. The West Front re-development is a big talking point in Scotney and naturally formed a big part of both Ormerod and Moray’s campaigns. Two very different businessmen have plans for the development, neither of them exactly squeaky clean. One of these men, Mario Vicente is a larger than life Italian, owner of several local restaurants, but who wants to retain the character of the development of the town. The other man, Heffernan sits at the helm of a big company, his plans for the town will change it out of all proportion. So, while Neil worries he may have shown too much bias toward Heffernan over Mario – Lomax wonders whether Rodney Cope could have been just a little too self-serving in his dealings before the election.

Hannah is Neil Moray’s secretary – he takes her for granted – and the scales have started to fall from Hannah’s eyes already. Hannah takes walks past an old abandoned cottage on the marshes outside the town, one day spotting two people who really shouldn’t be there. She spends time ruminating on her family’s disapproval of the choices she has made. They don’t think much of Scotney, would prefer Hannah to just get married. Hannah thinks Scotney has life – and has thrown her lot in with Moray to prove it – living in a small flat above a lock up garage near to the seafront. Now with the election over and won, the only thanks she gets from Neil is a half-hearted bunch of flowers – bought at the last minute – it really doesn’t feel like quite enough to Hannah.

Then, Mrs Ormerod is found dead. Rodney Cope – a nasty, self-serving man if ever there was one – continues along his own path, shrugging off any suggestion of scandal or corruption. Seemingly able to charm everyone around him, with his peculiar fascination. Hannah and Neil begin to look at Cope anew – exhausted after an election campaign but with so much still to do – they begin to recognise there is an enemy much closer to home. Neil begins to see there are more challenges ahead for him than perhaps he had first realised. Distracted, uncomfortable about his campaign manager and the promises his campaign might have made about the development, Neil seems ill-equipped to meet them.

“This disorientated feeling had been even worse this morning. The heat didn’t agree with him. It was still very warm now. Everywhere, windows were open and music blared into the streets; people spilled out of pubs and stood drinking and laughing on the pavements. A young couple strolled in front of him, the tips of their fingers touching; this roused more erotic sensations in him than if they had been mauling each other. The girl wore a long brown dress which looked dowdy and old fashioned. Moray didn’t like brown.”

Lomax steps up his investigation into Cope’s affiliations, putting himself into unexpected danger.

As the summer season gets under way and the weather hots up, holiday makers queue for donkey rides and troupe down to the beach. Meanwhile the scene is set for a dramatic standoff, police sharp shooters gather in a street outside a first-floor office, with TV cameras ready to capture every move.

This isn’t the first Hocking novel I have read that has such a dramatic ending – proving once again that she is a really versatile writer. Where Hocking’s strength lies for me has always been in her exploration of her characters’ psychologies – here beautifully capturing both naïve, and self-serving personalities. She is also adept at making the absurd both plausible and realistic. In The Bright Day small seaside town politics, corruption and journalism make for a compelling story.

Mary hocking typing


I’ve really come to love Olivia Manning’s writing, and so I was delighted when I received The Doves of Venus as part of the Librarything Virago secret Santa parcel exchange. This accompanied me on the journey home from Devon almost two weeks ago now and proved to be one of the highlights of last month. Sometimes it is hard to write about a book I loved as much as I did this one, as I can’t really be objective. So, I should probably keep this simple.

Actually, the plot is very simple, but Olivia Manning brings so much to the story, her exploration of the characters is absolutely spot on. As always, her characters step fully formed from the page, they have a past and a future – and speak with the voices of people Olivia Manning herself must have known.

Eighteen-year old Ellie leaves her home in the provincial seaside town of Eastsea in search of independence. In Eastsea, Ellie’s mother runs a restaurant, and favours Ellie’s sister – who is about to get married. Ellie’s help is wanted – and everyone in the town seems to think it entirely appropriate that Ellie should stay and help her mother – and completely scandalous that she has gone off to London instead. Ellie is suffocated by the atmosphere of home; the small-town mind is not hers – she seems to be able to do nothing right anyway – and is always getting on the wrong side of her mother. Having done a night school art class at the technical college Ellie has her sights set on the art world.

In London, Ellie takes a small bedsit in Chelsea and manages to get a job at a furniture studio – initially in packing – but soon she is moved to the ‘antiquing’ room where she paints bits of furniture. She also acquires a middle-aged lover Quintin Bellot – who has a much more laid-back attitude to their affair than Ellie – who has fallen head over heels. The affair is destined to be a short one, with Ellie learning quickly, the complexities of a married lover.

“During her weeks with Quintin she had lived, it seemed like the ‘Snow Queen’ girl, in a garden where it was always summer. Now she was shut out from the summer garden of love.
‘My fault’ she said
All female gossip, all advice given in women’s magazines, made it clear that a woman thrown over had only herself to blame.”

Quintin is harried continually by his estranged wife – Petta; a familiar figure around the pubs on the Kings Road with her circle of assorted bohemians. When Petta leaves her most recent lover, she lands back at Quintin’s flat – much to his irritation – charming his housekeeper Mrs Trimmer and setting up home in his dressing room. Petta is manipulative and slightly hysterical, bitterly resentful toward all of Quintin’s ‘little girls’ – shrugging off her own indiscretions, a previous marriage and an abandoned daughter. She yearns sadly for a time that is long gone, a world she understood, the world as it had been when she was young.

“‘Why is it all so dismal now? What happened to life? What’s missing from it? It used to be such fun. It’s true, conditions were different. Money bought things then. Everyone had country cottages: they picked them up for a few pounds. Other people did the work for us – but it wasn’t all that that made life fun…’”

When Quintin tells Ellie, he won’t be able to see her anymore, she is devastated – but is determined to believe he will come back to her in time. In the meantime, Ellie concentrates hard on impressing with her work at the studio – and ignoring her mother’s attempts to get her to go home. Ellie is at the bottom of the rung at the studio – her tasks quite menial – she attempts to win the friendship of colleagues Denis and Bertie and when a new girl Nancy starts the two become firm friends.

Although she doesn’t see Quintin again for months – Ellie unknowingly spends time in a world not so far from Quintin. Nancy introduces Ellie to her uncle. Tom Claypole an old roué – who is also related to Quintin. Tom loves to surround himself with young girls, the doves of the title (nothing inappropriate occurs, Tom’s a gentleman). Ellie and Nancy spend several delightful weekends at Clopals – Tom’s country home. Nancy wants to put Tom’s mistress Maxine’s nose out of joint – and the two enjoy dancing attendance on the old man – who is a generous host. There is a wonderful exchange between Nancy and Tom about equal pay for men and women – an argument that rumbles on still.

“Recently she had spoken to Daze, the chief of staff, and had been told that there was one wage scale for men and another for women.
Tom nodded his approval: ‘Men need more money.’
‘They don’t need more’ said Nancy crossly, ‘they just get more, that’s all. Prices aren’t reduced for me because I’m a woman. You bet they’re not.’
‘Surely my dear girl, you’ve discovered by now that you’re living in a man’s world. You must try to gain things by your charms. We men are delighted to reward you, but we won’t disarm ourselves in your favour, Why should we? Eh?”

As the months pass, Quintin is never too far from Ellie’s thoughts – though the image of him fades a little – and she stops seeing him everywhere she goes. When they do meet again, he is no longer quite the romantic figure he was. Ellie has had to learn how to live in London on little money – and with few friends – she loses her job and is terrified to be in debt to her landlady. Ellie’s determination to remain independent sees her through – and by the time the novel ends she is a stronger, wiser young woman – who has found a new happiness for herself.

The Doves of Venus is a brilliant novel – which has reminded me I should get back to the Pringles and read The Levant Trilogy – having finished my re-read of The Balkan trilogy some months ago.