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uncle paul

I was drawn to read Uncle Paul, the second published novel by Celia Fremlin, for the simple reason that it intrigued me, and I hadn’t ever seen it reviewed by anyone else. This is my first novel by her (I hadn’t realised she had written so many). Celia Fremlin is best known for her first novel The Hours before Dawn, which I have, but have not yet got around to reading. My physical copy of that book is buried somewhere at the back of the bookcase and is hard to get at. Uncle Paul was much easier to get at, as it was simply on my kindle.

I really enjoyed this novel – it is an excellent suspense novel of fear and paranoia – though not overly so – most of the time Fremlin lulls us into a false sense of security. The suspense loving reader might well start to wonder where the suspense will come from. In this I think Fremlin is rather clever – she doesn’t over do the menace – the reader instead begins to get swept away by the fairly straightforward story of three sisters on holiday – domestic matters, odd characters they meet, fortune tellers, days on the beach. However, lurking just beneath the surface, is the possibility that something much darker might be happening, or about to happen. Gradually the reader starts to ask questions, as the tension builds in the final fifty pages or so to a brilliant heart-stopping conclusion.

“IT IS RARE for any catastrophe to seem like a catastrophe right at the very beginning. Nearly always, in its early stages, it seems more like a nuisance; just one more of those tiresome interruptions which come so provokingly just when life is going smoothly and pleasantly.”

Meg is the youngest of three sisters – though she has been forced to assume the role of grown-up on lots of occasions. Meg is living her own life in London, a flat, a new boyfriend – when she gets an anxious call from her older sister Isabel.

Meg and Isabel have a much older half-sister Mildred – she is at least twenty years their senior – and spent some time bringing them up when Meg and Isabel were very young. Mildred is now married to a wealthy man, and Isabel about six years older than Meg – has recently re-married, providing her two young sons with a new step-father.

Isabel tells Meg that Mildred has left her husband (again!) and run off to “the cottage” – a cottage Mildred once spent her honeymoon with another man she believed herself to have married years earlier when Meg and Isabel were still children. Paul (Uncle Paul to Meg and Isabel) turned out to have entered into that marriage with Mildred bigamously – only after her money – he had assumed a new identity and was wanted for murder. Mildred is now convinced that Paul’s time is up – he will be out of prison and coming to get her. Isabel is worried and persuades Meg to join her and the children at the caravan site they are holidaying in near to the cottage and persuade Mildred to leave.

Meg thinks Isabel is panicking about nothing – and is more than a little irritated with her sisters – an irritation she conveys in no uncertain terms to her boyfriend Freddy (so laid back he’s horizontal – though he seems happy to lap up the complicated details). Still, Meg feels unable to leave them to it – Isabel is one of life’s worriers anyway – frequently to be found with a frown on her face over some minor domestic issue. So off Meg pops – initially for the weekend – though it turns into an entire week – to calm Isabel down and persuade Mildred that staying in a tiny, fairly isolated, dilapidated cottage with no telephone or electricity – which is likely to bring back some unpleasant memories isn’t a very good idea.

“Could one recognise a person’s steps with such certainty? With the strange omnipotence of fear, Meg seemed able to hold back time itself while she pondered; and during those advancing seconds, as the steps grew louder, more purposeful, she seemed able to meditate in an almost leisurely manner the subject of the recognition of footsteps.”

Meg stays with Isabel and the children at the caravan – as Isabel’s husband Philip has had to stay in London for work. Meg barely knows her new brother-in-law only having seen him briefly at the wedding, he is quite a bit older than Isabel and seems to have very particular ideas about the upbringing of children – something else for Isabel to worry about. Meg is a little concerned about how nervous Isabel is about how her husband will react to certain things. Just after Meg arrives at the caravan and starts settling in, playing with her nephews – Freddy suddenly appears – which rather surprises everyone. He listens to all Meg’s stories of Uncle Paul – and using his well-practised charm insinuates himself easily into the lives of the holiday makers.

Visiting Mildred at the cottage, and hearing tales of footsteps walking around the cottage at night, Isabel and Meg manage to persuade Mildred to take a room at a hotel in the nearby seaside town. Meg is still convinced there is nothing to worry about, so when Isabel’s husband arrives to stay at the caravan, Meg is squeezed out – and decides to stay in the cottage by herself.

“Then, slowly, she began to understand. Mildred, as she sat so quietly, had not exactly been doing nothing. She had been listening; listening with a terrible intensity, and every slight movement of Meg’s pages had rasped intolerably across the blank canvas of the silence on which her attention was so dreadfully fixed. She must be imagining footsteps again, out on the cinder track. And yet, something in Mildred’s pose seemed to suggest that she was listening for something at closer quarters than that; something in the cottage itself … something in one of the upstairs rooms…”

At the hotel there are all sorts of colourful characters, including a mother and her very precocious son Cedric (brilliantly drawn), an old Captain and a fussy old spinster. As Meg’s nights at the cottage start to become increasingly uncomfortable – she begins to ask herself questions about Paul, and some of the people around her, and just how much she knows about them.

Fremlin, really ratchets up the tension in the final part of the novel – and the ending was (for me at least) superbly surprising and clever.

celia fremlin

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aranyak

(Translated from Bengali by Rimli Bhattacharya)

The latest book to arrive from The Asymptote book club was Aranyak (of the forest) by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. It is a partly autobiographical novel wreathed in glorious prose. Written between 1937 and 1939, the story was written out of the diary entries the author himself kept during the years he spent in the Bihar region. This new 2017 edition from Seagull books making this only English translation available to new readers.

The plot, such as it is, is simple enough. Satyacharan, a young educated man, originally from Bengal, living in Calcutta in the 1920s, finds himself out of work. Offered a job by an old friend, Satyacharan is soon heading off to an uninhabited forest land, as an administrator of land settlement. His home and office, known as the Katcheri is a small clearing, a few huts made from straw and bamboo are his world. It is a long way indeed from Calcutta.

“There is one day I shall never forget. I remember it was Dol-purnima, the full moon which marks the spring festival of colour. The katcheri guards had taken leave for the day; all day long, they had celebrated the festival to the beat of their dholak. When I found that the singing and dancing showed no signs of abating even after it was evening, I lit a lamp and sat at my table writing letters to the head office till late at night. When I was done I happened to glance at my watch and found it was almost one. Quite frozen with the cold, I lit a cigarette and went to the window for a smoke. What I saw enthralled me so much that I stood rooted to the spot. I was overwhelmed by the indescribable light of a full moon night.”

The forest land surrounding the Katcheri is dense, unchanged for centuries, it will in time become parcelled up, given over to people to live off. Satyacharan, is a city man, he loves the life he had there, the culture, the society – and at first, he hates his new surroundings, the emptiness he finds oppressive. The people he meets are wretchedly poor, and few and far between, he is concerned how long it might take to find new tenants for every bit of land he has to manage. He sees the people as barbarians, unable to appreciate the world he knows. He is frustrated by loneliness and isolation.

“Most wonderful it is to long for one’s homeland. Those who spend their entire lives in their native village, never venturing beyond the next one, would not know how intriguing is this feeling. Only one who has lived for many years without his kin in alien lands will know how the heart cries out for Bengal, for Bengalis, for one’s own village, and for one’s dear friends and relatives.”

Soon, the forest starts to work its magic on Satyacharan, he becomes enchanted by the natural world around him, the animals that live in the forest. The people, who come into the forest seeking a new existence – begin to impress him too. Their strength and vulnerability, their simple, poverty-stricken way of life. He meets a host of memorable characters, as the forest starts to shrink, bit by tiny bit, as small pieces of land are parcelled up, new tenants found, trees felled to make way for new crops. These people include: Raju Pnaare, a religious man, shy and harmless he spends the majority of his time reading religious books, and not doing much to clear the land he has been given. Dhaotal Sahu, a village money lender, he isn’t the usual kind of money lender, he is very good at lending out money – but not so good at getting it back. He is not in the least avaricious – and is himself much poorer because of it. Dhaturia, a young dancer, who comes to the Katcheri as part of a travelling group of performers, he returns a few years later and is persuaded to stay. Kunta a widow, shunned as the daughter of a prostitute, she lives a life of great hardship, and is later given a small parcel of land for nothing. We meet Venkateswar a poet, and Raja Doboru Panna a former king.

The stories of Satyacharan’s time in the forest, are told from a distance of some years, however the images of the place, and the people he knew there stay with him long after he has left.

“When evening falls in the quiet open spaces, like a parting in the hair the narrow path that cuts through the thick forests on the distant hill comes into view. And, Dhruba – poor and with her wasted youth – probably still comes down the path with a bundle of firewood on her head: I see this often enough in my imagination. As I have seen, too, my Didi, Rakhal-babu’s widow; perhaps, even now she slips like a thief into the fields at night to pick up the discarded cobs of maize, like any other old gangota peasant woman.”

The novel is episodic, written in a series of vignettes, that reveal Satyacharan’s changing relationship with the land and the people of this vanished world. Satyacharan never really becomes a true man of the forest, he remains a city boy in his heart, but one with a true appreciation of the natural world. Aranyak is an astonishing, sometimes haunting account of one man’s struggle with nature – told by the very man employed to destroy it.

bibhutibhushanBandyopadhyay

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I rarely take part in blog tours but having so, so loved Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves last year when I read it, I simply had to take part in the blog tour which celebrates the release of the paperback edition.

So, a very big thank you to Rachel Malik and the folks at Penguin books for providing me with this lovely, new paperback edition to offer as a giveaway.

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is a gorgeous novel, the kind I was sorry to finish, the characters have remained with me ever since I finished it. It is a story that comes from the author’s own family, one which would suit readers of vintage fiction. If you love writers like Stella Gibbons, and novels sets during the 1940s and 50s then this novel is definitely for you. I have yet to hear of anyone who hasn’t loved it.

I reviewed it back in July, having bought the hardback edition on something of a whim, I devoured the book. You can read my full review here, though I am copying some of it across here to help you decide whether you would like to read it yourself.

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is the story of two unconventional women, who are brought together by a world gone mad. Elsie Boston is a farmer, working the farm her father signed over to her, the best she can, her brothers killed in the First World War, her sisters have left to get married and as another war gets under way she is alone at Starlight, happy in her solitude and with the animals and the land she loves. In 1940, Elsie applies for a land girl to help out, gets the spare room ready, nervous about having another person in the house.

Rene Hargreaves arrives, a little older than Elsie had expected, she is a city woman, a widow drawn to work on the land like Elsie. Rene’s past is more complex than Elsie realises at first, she carries the shadows of it with her, never quite escaping her own sense of guilt.

Rene and Elsie come to understand one another quickly, they develop an easy way of life together, playing patience, doing jigsaws and listening to the wireless in the evenings after the work of the farm is done.

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The novel spans more than twenty years, trouble comes to Starlight but Elsie and Rene throw their lot in together and head off into the British countryside. Their lives will be turned upside down, held up for examination by the media, and subject to a high-profile court case.

If you would like to win this paperback copy of Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves, drop me a line in the comments box telling me what your favourite period to read about is – mine is definitely World War Two.

I will keep the giveway open for a week – closing it next Monday morning (19th) one winner will be drawn by a random name generator and notified by email. I shall be away for a few days but will post the book out when I get back. Happy to post anywhere by the way – so open to everyone – good luck.

Miss Boston and Miss H Blog Tour

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mde

I hadn’t planned to read a Persephone book last weekend but when I heard the Jessie at Dwell in Possibility was hosting a Persephone readathon, I changed my plans slightly. I always love an excuse to pull one of my unread Persephones from the shelf, The Journey Home and other stories was a Christmas gift from Liz, and proved to be yet another superb story collection published by Persephone -I always know I am going to love a Persephone story collection. This new collection of stories has been put together by Persephone – the stories dating from the 20s and 30s featuring stories from the collections originally published during Malachi Whitaker’s lifetime.

I first came across the writer Malachi Whitaker in the Persephone book of short stories – a truly brilliant anthology of stories from a variety of writers. That, however was the extent of my knowledge – I had to turn to the usual places to try and find out more. Well the Persephone website has far more information on Malachi Whitaker (born Marjorie Taylor) than Wikipedia. She published four volumes of short stories and an autobiography during her lifetime but seems to have stopped writing sometime in the 1930s. Born in Bradford in 1895 she spent time working in her father’s bookbinding works, moved around Yorkshire with her husband and adopted two children.

This collection brings together twenty of her short stories, many of which are very short, so the volume itself is only about two hundred and thirty pages – and that includes the afterword. The writing however is quite superb, Whitaker crafts her stories with precision, not a word is wasted, yet the stories are fully satisfying. I got the impression of a down to earth, no-nonsense Yorkshire woman who understood perfectly the communities among whom she lived. Her canvas is the ordinary, the domestic, but she perfectly captures the ordinary – making them appear less than ordinary – even the absurd in a way that not every writer manages. Here we have a boy starting work with his father, a couple getting drunk for the first time, honeymooners, children left to their own devices, young women ‘in trouble’.

Some of the stories are sad, a little dark, many are memorable. The collection opens with The Journey Home, this short, title story is quite a little shocker, about which I really feel I can’t say anything.

“The girl in the corner seat noticed the rabbit without a white bob to its tail, because she had never seen a rabbit without that mark before. She had seized on the rabbit, or anything else that offered itself outside the window, to avoid looking at the face of the woman opposite, a face so ravaged by one passion or another that it was almost obscene.”
(The Journey Home)

In the story Brother W, Whitaker tells the story of two brothers, one of the brothers has recently died. The surviving brother William, remembers, with some regret, the brother to whom he hadn’t spoken for twenty years. The brothers had continued to share the same bed as they had as children, it never occurring to either of them to move into the spare room. Now, William pays a visit to the stone mason to arrange for a headstone for his brother.

A man who has made his money in business in the south of England, returns to Bradford in September, the time of the annual fair (the tide) in The Smoke of the Tide. Albert Shepherd loves the beauty he sees in the industrial north of his birth, which is so disparaged by his London wife. He revels in the sights, sounds and smells of his youth and the memories flood back.

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A child is left alone by her mother in The Lonely One. A cold winter’s day, and her Auntie Annie is supposed to be coming over within an hour of the mother’s departure – but never arrives – presumably forgetting. The girl finds the hours hanging heavy on her – with little to fill her time, she is made more aware of the time and the silence as she eats her soup alone and pretends to make the beds. Later, she walks to a nearby farm to collect the milk. She spots a woman walking in the street and imagines briefly that it is her auntie come at last.

“But nobody came. The woman must have been a stranger, or somebody from the next village. As soon as she realised that nothing fresh was to happen, that the woman had passed, the child sat down in front of the fire and cried a little, pouting her lips and narrowing her eyes, but very few tears came. Her mother was far away and her auntie had forgotten her. Forgotten her! Yes, that was better. One real tear fell down her left cheek, and another stood in the corner of her right eye.”
(The Lonely One)

Two young brothers enjoy, perhaps one last really happy day in For a small moment. Their mother who has been sick so long – has died, but the boys have not been told. Having spent the last week with an aunt, they have been invited to the house of a family friend Mrs Taybrow. Mrs Taybrow leaves the boys with her young daughter; Miriam and her cousin Louise while she goes out to what we – but not any of the children know – is their mother’s funeral. The boys have a wonderful day, picking gooseberries, playing hide and seek and making toffee, creating quite a mess in the process – for which, oddly they are not reprimanded later. At the end of the day they are delivered home, where the boys can’t wait to tell their mother about all they have done.

There are obviously too many stories in this collection to write about individually – but the whole collection paints a picture of a time and place, resurrecting the people who lived there in the way only a woman who lived among them can.

malachi whitaker

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threethings

Joanna Cannon’s debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep was a big success and a huge hit with readers. Her second much anticipated novel Three Things about Elsie is, I am sure, about to be every bit as popular. The physical thing is in itself a talking point – with the hardback edition looking like a wonderous slab of Battenberg cake – cue rumbling tums and cake craving. Where The Trouble with Goats and Sheep was a novel of childhood, the world and its complexities seen from a childhood perspective. Three things about Elsie is a novel of old age, the world viewed through the vulnerability of old age and dementia. I loved this book, I couldn’t read it fast enough, but it was a reading experience tinged slightly with sadness – probably because I loved the characters so much – and I was left with a rather depressing view of some aspects of old age. I swore to myself – and my family – that whatever happens to me in the next thirty years or so, I will not be going to any kind of old people prison. I couldn’t help but be reminded how so often elderly people are every bit as powerless as children.

“There are three things you should know about Elsie.
The first thing is that she’s my best friend.
The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.
And the third thing… might take a little bit more explaining.”

Florence is in her eighties, living in sheltered accommodation called Cherry Tree, though there aren’t any Cherry Trees. It’s a confusing world sometimes. Trying to remember the names of the young women who work there – they wear the same colour uniforms and all start to look the same. Elsie is Florence’s best friend, they have been friends since they were girls at the factory, and luckily for Florence, Elsie is at Cherry Tree too, and tries to keep Florence on the straight and narrow. Elsie always knows how to make Florence feel better.

“It was called sheltered accommodation, but I’d never quite been able to work out what we were being sheltered from. The world was still out there. It crept in through the newspapers and the television. It slid between the cracks of other people’s conversation and sang out from mobile telephones. We were the ones hidden away, collected up and ushered out of sight, and I often wondered if it was actually the world that was being sheltered from us.”

Florence has fallen, and as she lies on the floor in her flat, gazing at the collection of things lying underneath the sideboard she reflects on her life, the recent past at Cherry Tree and the time when she and Elsie were girls. The past and present had started to merge recently when a newcomer arrived at Cherry Tree. The story goes back and forth between the hours Florence spends lying on the floor – and the events of the months prior to her fall, and the shadows from sixty years before that threatened to overwhelm her again .

Florence is in the early stages of dementia; her memory keeps letting her down and she is finding it difficult to understand everything around her. Sometimes, Florence speaks a little too loudly, her behaviour has started to appear erratic to some of the staff. Miss Ambrose – who supervises the day to day running of Cherry Tree for Mrs Bissell the manager – has told Florence, that she is on probation. Florence knows what that means, she is in danger of being shipped off to Greenbank – and she knows she really doesn’t want to go there. Florence is terrified of being made to go away, she needs Elsie to help her.

When a new resident arrives, Florence recognises him, he looks like a man, she and Elsie knew at the factory sixty years ago – he wasn’t a very nice man. Florence remembers the man was called Ronnie Butler, and he drowned in 1953, he couldn’t possibly be the new resident at Cherry Tree, could he? This man is called Gabriel Price, but he has a scar at the corner of his mouth, just where Ronnie had one, a scar that brings back lots of frightening memories of the past for Florence. There is one person she can talk to about it, one other person who knew Ronnie, who shares the same past and the same memories as Florence. Florence asks Elsie to help her keep an eye on Gabriel Price or whoever he is. Another resident Jack, gets drawn in, he believes Florence’s tales. Everyone else is charmed by the smooth talking, helpful Gabriel Price – but Florence is convinced that he has been letting himself into her flat and moving things, filling the cupboards with Battenberg cake – making it look like she is losing the plot – ensuring that she will get sent to Greenbank.

Through Florence’s eyes Miss Ambrose is a thoughtless woman who doesn’t listen, and just wants rid of Florence. However, when we see things through Miss Ambrose’s eyes, we see a woman who is unsure of the career path she is on, who is exhausted, trying to do her best, sometimes over whelmed by the responsibility and who sees Florence as a difficult old woman. A woman who doesn’t want to socialise, who is confused, buys twenty odd Battenberg cakes, and suddenly insists on having her locks changed. Handyman Simon is a sweetheart, not always appreciated by Miss Ambrose – he watches what goes on at Cherry Tree and worries about Florence – who is looking sad. One of the carers Cheryl, has a tattoo of Alice; her child’s name on her wrist – no one but Florence ever speaks to her about Alice – Cheryl likes Florence.

“..but love paper-aeroplanes where it pleases. I have found that it settles in the most unlikely of places, and once it has, you’re left with the burden of where it has landed for the rest of your life.”

Florence, Elsie and Jack set about unravelling the mystery of Gabriel Price. Memories of the past resurface, and events not spoken of for a long time are given clarity – as secrets are revealed.

To say very much more about this novel would probably be to spoil it, it is a deeply poignant story – with characters that a reader can’t help but instantly connect with. I worried about Florence all the time I was reading – I had to fly through the book, breathlessly gulping it down, until all was revealed.

joannacannon

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cof

I’ve read Agatha Christie on and off since I was about eleven – but it was more recently that I discovered a particular fondness for Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Agatha Christie unfortunately only wrote four full length novels and a collection of short stories about Tommy and Tuppence – which is a crying shame. With Poirot’s ridiculous fastidiousness, ‘little grey cells’ boastful confidence, and Miss Marple’s old lady nosiness (all of which I still love) there is something about Tommy and Tuppence that is a breath of fresh air.

It appears I have read the Tommy and Tuppence novels in completely the wrong order – but I don’t suppose that matters. A few months ago, I read By the Pricking of My Thumbs which takes place a few years after this one, an excellent mystery – and I have had the final novel Postern of Fate for years but have never read it. Admittedly I have seen some poor reviews of that last novel – so perhaps I shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to read it.

N or M? takes place in the spring of 1940, Tommy and Tuppence who original readers first encountered as bright young things, trying to shake off the horrors of the First World War, are now middle aged in the early months of another war. They have been married for a long time, have two grown up children, and have, in the past undertaken work of a secretive nature for ‘Mr Carter’ the former chief of Intelligence. The pair have been feeling very much out of things for a while, yet know they still have a lot to offer, are desperate to do something to help the war effort.

So, when a Mr Grant ‘a friend’ of Lord Easthampton (the real name of Mr Carter) Tommy and Tuppence know immediately that it is no social call. Sensing that their visitor would rather speak to Tommy alone, Tuppence makes her excuses.

“ ‘…All we know about them is that these two are Hitler’s most highly trusted agents and that in a code message we managed to decipher towards the beginning of the war there occurred this phrase – suggest N or M for England. Full powers –’ ”

Mr Grant wastes no time in taking Tommy into his confidence, a conspiracy of fifth columnists, activities which threaten Britain’s European campaign. Grant asks Tommy to undertake a secret, covert operation, he needs someone whose face is unknown. The only thing the intelligence service know are the code names N and M; the final words of a murdered man and the name of a boarding house on the south coast. Grant asks Tommy to keep his mission a secret even from Tuppence and invents a dull desk job for him in Scotland to explain away his absence. Tommy bids a fond farewell to his understanding wife, and to add colour to the lie, takes a train to Scotland, before turning around and heading back South to the boarding house Sans Souci in the seaside town of Leahampton. ww2 poster

When Tommy finally arrives at San Souci – as Mr Meadowes he is absolutely stunned to find Tuppence already installed, in the guise of a Mrs Blenkensop. Tuppence having of course listened in to the conversation between Tommy and Mr Grant – was not about to miss out on a bit of excitement, and the chance to prove herself still useful. They have a challenging task, routing out traitors and conspirators, a seaside boarding house not an obvious hunting ground. Tommy and Tuppence must appear to everyone as strangers – and they manage to play their part very well, meeting up on the beach to swap notes. At their first meeting after Tommy’s arrival, Tuppence is unrepentant at her deception.

“ ‘…I wished to teach you a lesson. You and your Mr Grant.’
‘He’s not exactly my Mr Grant and I should say you have taught him a lesson.’
‘Mr Carter wouldn’t have treated me so shabbily,’ said Tuppemce. ‘I don’t think the Intelligence is anything like it was in our day.’
Tommy said gravely; ‘It will attain its former brilliance now we’re back in it. But why Blenkensop?’
‘Why not?’
‘It seems an odd name to choose.’
‘It was the first one I thought of and it’s handy for underclothes’
‘What do you mean Tuppence?’
‘B, you idiot. B for Beresford, B for Blenkensop. Embroidered on my cami-knickers. Patricia Blenkensop. Prudence Beresford. Why did you choose Meadowes? It’s a silly name.’ ”

The boarding house is filled with an odd assortment of people. There is Mrs Peranna, her daughter Sheila, a Major, Mrs Sprot a devoted young mother and her charming little child Betty, a large Irish woman Miss O’Rourke, a German refugee von Deinem, an elderly lady called Miss Minton, a married couple, the Cayleys an invalid and his fussy, chattering wife. Tommy and Tuppence soon have their suspicions, and within a day or two of their arrival another foreign woman has been seen loitering outside the boarding house.

Tommy and Tuppence find themselves playing a dangerous game in a bid to unmask the traitors. Neither of them is safe, each of them seeming about to land themselves in hot water, I had my heart in my mouth. However, Tommy and Tuppence are possessed of incredibly cool heads. Christie is quite brilliant here, at recreating the sense of wartime paranoia, where nobody’s identity can be take at face value and foreigners are all treated with a degree of suspicion. Twists, turns and misdirection keep the reader guessing, and there are several surprises before the case is solved.

N or M? is an excellent Christie novel, more wartime espionage than the usual murder mystery we associate her with, it’s a brilliant little page turner, featuring an adorable couple.

Agathachristie3

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A Persephone readathon

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With several posts popping up over the last forty-eight hours about this – I am sure everyone knows about this by now – but Jessie who blogs at Dwell in Possibility is having a Persephone readathon. Between the 1st and 11th those of us who love Persephone have the chance to brighten up our social media with photos of our Persephone books, talk about all things Persephone and of course indulge ourselves in a bit of Persephone reading. happytree

I only found out about this readathon two days ago – so I wasn’t sure I could join in, but I really wanted to. So, I have re-thought my reading schedule (which is always fairly elastic anyway) and decided to try and squeeze one – perhaps even two Persephone volumes into the next ten days. I’m not sure if any reviews will get written in time for the end of the readathon though – that might be tight, as I still have two of January’s books to review.

mdeI’m finishing a novel in translation today – as well as meeting my mother for lunch and going to the cinema – but sometime today I aim to get properly stuck into The Journey Home and other Stories by Malachi Whitaker; Persephone book number 124 – which I got for Christmas from Liz, I read the first two very short stories the night before last. This collection was first published by Persephone in 2017 though the stories themselves date from mainly the 1930s – which is very much my reading comfort zone. I have five others Persephone titles tbr – and now 97 titles altogether.

I have a couple of links to old posts for those of you who might have missed them.

Last January I wrote a post called Perfect Persephones – it was my top ten Persephone titles – as they were then. Already I feel if I were to edit it, I might have to change it to include Earth and High Heaven – one of my best books of 2017.

In 2015 I wrote about the children in Persephone books in a post called The Lost Children of Persephone.

All my Persephone reviews are tagged Persephone – so if you’re looking for recommendations – click away ;)I like to encourage others in the Persephone habit.

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Everyone discovers Persephone at different times, I first heard about Persephone books from Liz, that was at least twelve years ago. I have visited the shop a few times, it is always an exciting trip, and of course the train journey back always includes an extra bag. The shop is so beautiful, even the outside is wonderfully photogenic.

So I am looking forward to seeing lots of Persephone love around in the next week or so, reviews and pretty pictures.

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