I began May a little way into a lovely Persephone book, The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler which I absolutely loved – originally a book for children at the end of the nineteenth century, it had me shedding a tear or two. That was followed up with The Story of a new name by Elena Ferrante, an absolutely brilliant follow up to My Brilliant Friend. I chose to read The Custom of the Country for #Whartonreview which has been hosted by Brona’s books this month, it was a wonderful read, and I loved every word. Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes was a complex academic mystery, the first novel in Michael Innes Inspector Appleby series. The White Monkey, book four of the nine books of The Forsyte Saga Chronicles, was fabulously readable and I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Soames and Fleur in 1922 a time of social and political change. It was fitting I should have been reading it around the time of our General Election. A Sea-Grape Tree (accidently left out of the pictures) was Rosamond Lehmann’s final published novel, coming after quite a lengthy literary silence, it is also the sequel to her masterly 1944 novel The Ballad and The Source, it is a slightly odd little novel, but overall I liked it.
Next came a re-read – a book I really don’t know why I haven’t re-read before – the utterly perfect To Kill a Mockingbird, I loved it so much I didn’t want the book to end. Next I caught up with two book group reads with a wonderful collection of poetry The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy and Margaret Atwood’s re-telling of the story of Odysseus; The Penelopiad. I finished the month with a wonderful early Mary Hocking novel A Time of War – preparing as I was for Mary Hocking week, and some lovely short stories (see below) and continued my reading of All Day Long by Joanna Biggs – which I haven’t managed to finish yet – I’m about half way through – it is brilliant actually but I keep being distracted by other things.
So on to June, next week is all about Mary Hocking reading week for me, and I hope some of you will be joining me. I will be reading the sequel to A Time of War, The Hopeful Traveller. As for the rest of the month, I don’t have many definite plans although I am supposed to be re-reading Watership Down toward the end of the month for a book group.
Some of you may have been aware of a Sylvia Townsend Warner reading week that has been happening in some corners of the internet this last week– mainly on Facebook I think, which I had wanted very much to join in. I realised last weekend though that I wouldn’t be able to fit an STW novel in to a week which saw me catching up with book group reads and preparing for Mary Hocking reading week. However yesterday afternoon I did manage to read two lovely Sylvia Townsend Warner short stories from a wonderful collection called Wave me Goodbye, which is published in an omnibus edition with Hearts Undefeated – this is a book absolutely crammed with the voices of the women writers I love. I will be dipping into this collection more and more I think now that I have whetted my appetite.
Sweathearts and Wives – tells the story of the inhabitants of Badger Cottage. Married young in 1940, Justina and Midge, decided to throw their lot in together while their husbands are away fighting. Midge has a baby Lettice which absolves her from conscription, while Justina has taken over the work of an auctioneer’s clerk. Into this house come the Sheridans, bombed out of Mitcham, Mr Sheridan away at the war (except when on leave) three children, an Alsation dog and a horse called Shirley.
“Sometimes Justina and Midge discussed what would happen if all their husbands came on leave together.”
Poor Mary – is a more sombre story. Mary is the wife of Nicholas, a conscientious Objector who has spent the years since his exemption working on a farm. Mary had joined the ATS – their views on war differed rather. Their differences had led to their separation. Now, having not seen one another for four years, Mary has come to spend her leave visiting him at the tiny farm cottage where he lives. Both of them feel awkward, they have both changed; the war is nearly over, they each to re-adjust their view of the other.
“In the other room the clock was ticking, the kettle was boiling. Three hours earlier the bed had not seemed his own, now his living-room was not his either, but some sort of institutional waiting-room where two people had made an inordinate mess of a meal.”
In the second section of this omnibus made up of non-fiction pieces, extracts from essays diary entries etc. were three extracts from Sylvia Townsend Warner’s letters here entitled; Bombs in the Country, The New Austerity and The Censor . These I read in just fifteen minutes, and they are wonderfully engaging and humorous. Some pieces in this collection are tiny just a paragraph or two – while others run to a few pages, part of me wants to gobble up the whole volume – which is quite chunky – now that I have dipped into it, don’t be surprised if this volume is referred to again and again as time goes on.
All in all it’s been a pretty excellent month, so what have you been reading?