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I’m back with another year long reading event – and as ever I would love some company. Can I tempt you?

Earlier this year I read The Driver’s Seat and A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark, I loved them. My only other experience with Muriel Spark was years ago when I read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which I liked but didn’t love – and perhaps put me off reading more. I was clearly wrong to have been put off and now I think is the time to get to grips with this fascinating writer. 2018 is Muriel Spark’s centenary and there is already a lot of celebrations planned.

murielsparkThose of you on Twitter can follow @MurielSpark100 for news of events –(#MurielSpark100) there is for instance an exhibition at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Virago books are bringing out a few new editions of Muriel Spark novels (though I haven’t been able to discover which ones) and Polygon books are in the process of releasing 22 books in recognition of Sparks 100th birthday – the first four are already out and available through their website or from the usual large online retailer.

Anyway, I’m jumping on the bandwagon with a little reading event. Of course, not everyone will want to sign up to a yearlong event – that’s my own peculiar piece of madness. A year long event of course allows people to dip in and out as they are able – though if anyone can keep me company for the whole period I would be delighted. If you did want to keep pace with me throughout the year – the minimum you would need to read is six books – in fact during phase four (see below) you could just read a couple of poems or one short story.

After my experience with #Woolfalong I’m dividing the year up into six two-month phases. People can choose which books to read in each category.

Phase 1 (January/February) Early novels – 1950s

• The Comforters (1957)
• Robinson (1958)
• Memento Mori (1959)

Phase 2. (March/April) 1960s

• The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960)
• The Bachelors (1960)
• The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)
• The Girls of Slender Means (1963)
• The Mandelbaum Gate (1965)
• The Public Image (1968)

Phase 3 (May/June) 1970s

• The Driver’s Seat (1970)
• Not To Disturb (1971)
• The Hothouse by the East River (1973)
• The Abbess of Crewe (1974)
• The Takeover (1976)
• Territorial Rights (1979)

Phase 4 (July/August) short stories/ poetry/essays

Various collections available including:
Complete poems
Complete short stories
The Golden fleece – essays
Going up to Sotherby’s and other poems

Phase 5 (September/October) 1980s/1990s

• Loitering with Intent (1981) – shortlisted for Booker Prize
• The Only Problem (1984)
• A Far Cry From Kensington (1988)

Phase 6 (November/December) later novels/autobiography/biography

Final two novels
• Aiding and Abetting (2000)
• The Finishing School (2004)

or
Curriculum Vitae – autobiography
Appointment in Arezzo: a friendship with Muriel Spark – Alan Taylor
Muriel Spark the biography by Martin Stannard

I really hope a few of you will join me in this – I love an internet read-a-long. I will be putting a copy of the above schedule on a separate page on my blog so that I and anyone else can refer to it when needed.

murielspark2

I feel I need a hashtag – but with so many Muriel Spark centenary celebrations around it could get confusing – there are already several others doing the rounds. So, I have settled on #readingMuriel2018 hoping it will be easy for people to remember and not get mixed up with the others. I don’t want to step on any toes.

murielspark

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love'sshadow

Ada Leverson is a writer I hadn’t read before – this copy recently loaned to me by Liz has now whetted my appetite for more. Despite having read Liz’s review of it – I had somehow put Ada Leverson in completely the wrong time period. Having assumed she was writing in the 1930s and 40s I had to do a quick reassessment of the time period when I saw it was first published in 1908. The whole tone of the novel actually fits with it having been published thirty years later – a light, bright, witty comedy of manners. It is a quite delightful little read.

I was interested to discover that Ada Leverson was great friends with Oscar Wilde – who of us wouldn’t rather love to get the chance to listen in on their conversations. Perhaps Love’s Shadow offers a little glimpse into their world.

The novel concerns the loves and preoccupations of a group of young, society Londoners, with themes of unequal marriage and unrequited love.

Edith and Bruce Ottley live in what they consistently think of as a very tiny flat – my suspicion is, that Leverson’s idea of a tiny flat and mine might differ by several rooms. Anyway, the young couple are about two years into their marriage and now have a young son. Bruce is a little dull, he shuffles off to the office most days – what he actually does, we don’t know. Though we get the impression fairly quickly that whatever it is Bruce does he does fairly half-heartedly – and is often late, and finds the least excuse to not go in at all. For Bruce is a terrible hypochondriac – on the smallest of provocations he imagines himself quite close to death – and takes to his bed for days on end, while Edith is forced to wait upon him. It is not surprising that Edith is already a little bored.

“For the last few days Bruce had been greatly depressed, his temper more variable than ever, and he had managed to collect a quite extraordinary number of entirely new imaginary illnesses. He was very capricious about them and never carried one completely through, but abandoned it almost as soon as he had proved to Edith that he really had the symptoms. Until she was convinced he never gave it up; but the moment she appeared suitably anxious about one disease he adopted another.”

The main character in the novel however is Edith’s friend Hyacinth Verney, who really doesn’t understand why Edith married Bruce Ottley. Hyacinth is a beautiful heiress, an orphan with a fond guardian living nearby. Hyacinth has fallen for a young man called Cecil Reeve, desperate for him to notice her properly and take her seriously. However, Cecil has his own concerns, he has fallen in love with an older woman, a widow who flatly refuses to take his declarations seriously. As soon as soon Cecil is finally convinced that there is no changing Mrs Raymond’s mind he does a complete about turn and goes after Hyacinth.

Living with Hyacinth is Anne Yeo – her companion, and probably the most interesting character in the book. Anne deliberately makes herself appear older than she is, wishing to be seen as a suitable companion to a young heiress. She dresses unattractively and though she obviously disapproves of Cecil Reeves – is not above a little interference to secure Hyacinth’s happiness. Not everyone knows quite what to make of Anne, Lady Cannon, Hyacinth’s guardian’s wife, certainly disapproves of a young woman she doesn’t understand.

” ‘Tea? At three o’clock in the afternoon! I never heard of such a thing. You seem to have strangely Bohemian ideas in this house, Miss Yeo.’
‘Do you think tea Bohemian? Well coffee then?’”

Anne shocks everyone by disappearing for a while. Edith, meanwhile, has clearly adopted her own way of managing Bruce and his peculiar friend Mr Raggett who has taken a shine to Edith. Mrs Raymond decides to bestow her affections elsewhere – much to Cecil’s shock. Hyacinth is blissfully happy but jealously is destined to rear its ugly head.

“As Cecil came in, looking, Hyacinth thought, particularly and irritatingly handsome, she felt a fresh attack of acute jealousy. And yet, in spite of her anger, her first sensation was a sort of relenting – a wish to let him off, not to entrap him into deceiving her by pretending not to know, not to act a part, but to throw herself into his arms, violently abusing Eugenia, forgiving him, and imploring him vaguely to take her away.”

Not all is light fluffiness though, there is a definite brittleness to the ending I thought. Hinting perhaps, that nothing is ever quite as tidy as happily ever after. The novel ends a little abruptly – but with everything nicely in place for the story to continue.

Love’s Shadow is the first book in a trilogy – that was published under the title The Little Ottleys in the 1980s. Tenterhooks (1912) and Love at Second Sight (1916) are the titles I need to look out for.

Ada_Esther_Leverson

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the third miss symons

The Third Miss Symons was the first novel published by Flora MacDonald Mayor, the daughter of an Anglican clergyman and professor of classics. It had been preceded by a collection of short stories in 1901, and two more novels and some ghost stories came later. I read F M Mayor’s 1924 novel The Rector’s Daughter in 2015 – it’s a beautiful, poignant novel, though a sad one. It was through the introduction of that novel, that I got the sense that Flora Mayor was more than the quiet, Victorian, clergyman’s daughter we might envisage from her novels – which all do seem to run along rather similar lines. Having read history at Cambridge Flora later became an actress, before eventually turning to writing.

The Third Miss Symons – for me at least, was rather depressing. The Rector’s Daughter was merely sad, it was also compelling and quite brilliant. I was relieved that this was such a short novel, I started it late one evening and finished it the following morning. It offers us a rather bleak and probably not unrealistic portrait of the life of a woman whose destiny it is to never fully connect with anyone, and to remain without a recognisable role or purpose. There is a pall of deep unhappiness that exudes through the novel, I felt the mood and the atmosphere of the novel briefly affected my own mood. No doubt it is testament to the skill of Flora Mayor as a writer that she manages to produce this atmosphere of wasted years so effectively.

Henrietta Symons (generally called Etta) is the third daughter in a large Victorian family, she is a misfit in the middle of the family. An argumentative, cross little girl she grows up to be a querulous woman, without any natural charm or attractions. Etta irritates her mother and sisters, there is little in the way of comfort or softness about her life, while her elder sisters are the pretty, conventionally good Victorian daughters Etta continues a round peg in a square hole. For several years Etta dedicates herself to her younger sister – the fourth daughter born when Etta was eight, Evelyn becomes the focus of all the love Etta is desperate for. While Evelyn is a baby, Etta is allowed to help, and in time the little girl does develop a strong affection for her older sister her ‘little mummie.’ This great capacity for love that Etta, has really should be her saving grace, only it isn’t. Misunderstood by the adults around her, they immediately assume her valiant attempt to replace Evelyn’s dead canary to be nothing more than simple naughtiness.

Unexpectedly, perhaps Etta nearly gets married. Mr Dockerell is not exactly a Prince Charming but he seems to like Etta, and Etta enjoys his good opinion, for a short time.

“And perhaps she loved him all the more because he was not soaring high above her, like all her previous divinities, but walking side by side with her. Yes, she loved him; by the time he had asked her for the third dance she loved him.”

One of Etta’s sister’s returns home and in a bit of spectacularly malevolent spite deliberately turns Mr Dockerell’s head – because she can. Etta’s chance of marriage and a family of her own, is over, and her sister Louie marries somebody else soon after. Etta never really manages to get over her bitterness toward Louie – and in a sense this disappointment blights her life. While Mayor allows us to feel some sympathy for Etta, just like the members of Etta’s own family, we are unable to really like her – or fully engage with her. Etta is one of those difficult people, who without trying, put our backs up, who never seem to fit.

As Etta’s brothers and sisters marry, leave home and start their own families, Etta’s life is further narrowed. As an unmarried daughter at home in a house of servants, her life lacks purpose, and to add insult to injury she is viewed by others as being of little worth too.
As she ages Etta learns little – she never learns how to acquire friends, she has money at her disposal which in middle age she uses to study and travel – yet nothing seems to bring her any kind of fulfilment. In his preface to this edition John Masefield says…

“In a land like England, where there is great wealth, little education and little general thought, people like Miss Mayor’s heroine are common; we have all met not one or two but dozens of her; we know her emptiness, her tenacity, her futility, savagery and want of light; all circles contain some examples of her, all people some of her shortcomings; and judgement of her, even the isolation of her in portraiture, is dangerous, since the world does not consist of her and life needs her. In life as in art those who condemn are those who do not understand; and it is always a sign of a writer’s power, that he or she keeps from direct praise or blame of imagined character.”

Mayor understands Etta completely, the sad, uselessness of Etta’s life – so much of it brought about by her own personality.

This is a novel (novella really, I suppose) that I spent a very short amount of time with, but it felt longer. I think The Rector’s Daughter is almost certainly Flora Mayor’s masterpiece – and I very much want to read The Squire’s Daughter (1929) should I ever come across a copy.

F M MAyor

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An avenue of stone

An Avenue of Stone is the second instalment in Pamela Hansford Johnson’s Helena trilogy. It is certainly Helena who drives this novel, she is a fantastic character – who it is hard to do justice to in a review. At the heart of this novel is the fear of ageing, the loneliness and uncertainty that comes with ageing, that desperation to keep it at bay is poignantly explored in a novel which is so compelling and superbly written. An easy five star read for me.

“But those who have lived richly, exhaustively, staring into every face, attentive to every voice, are only too often pursued by the spinster Furies, and are driven at the end down avenues of stone where the walls reach to the sky, and the doors are sealed, and the pavements are rubbered against all sound but the beat of the hurrying heart. Well—Helena would say—And even if I understood all that … and believed it … wasn’t it worth it?”

In a sense the books would probably stand alone reasonably well, but I was glad I read them in the correct order. In the first book; Too Dear for my Possessing we witnessed the gradually changing relationship between Claud Pickering and his stepmother Helena. As a young boy living in Bruges, before his father married his mistress, before Helena gave Claud a half-sister – he had hated her. Helena had been a tempestuous force of nature, and she and Claud had really butted heads in those days. In the years since his father’s death Claud and Helena’s relationship changed. With his half-sister Charmian, fourteen years his junior they are very much a family – albeit one that drive Claud a little bit mad.

“The night was very clear and starry, the streets empty, I felt elated, at first knowing no reason for my pleasure; then I realized that I had seen Helena again, the Helena of the world before the war, had seen my own youth in her. Because there was something left of the past I could not be entirely unhopeful of the future.”

Now in her late sixties Helena is Lady Archer – married to wealthy Daniel Archer – whose daughter Claud once loved, not bad for a former actress – and it’s a role Helena does very well at. Helena is living very comfortably with her husband in London, Claud and Charmian are close by. It is war time, and Claud is a Major in the war office – Charmian in the ATS, although only twenty-two is already married, but while her husband is abroad she is staying with her mother. Neither Claud nor Helena think much of him, Helena calls him the boiled owl.

When Daniel dies suddenly Helena’s financial situation is made rather more precarious, as Lord Archer leaves much of his wealth distributed between former mistresses and his step daughter Charmian. Although she is certainly not poor – Helena can no longer quite afford the large flat she and Daniel lived in together. Now Helena can throw off the role she adopted as Lady Archer, and return more to herself. Claud helps Helena re-locate – despite her resistance. A friend of Claud’s John Field needs somewhere to stay, and Claud persuades Helena to have him to stay for a short time. Helena makes her usual protests and makes a big show of it being a huge imposition, but she soon has Field whipped into shape. He helps with the washing up, fetches and carries and Helena rather loves bossing him about. From here on in, Field becomes a pretty much permanent fixture – and Helena loves having him around.

“I have always recognized a tormenting emotion that lies between friendship and love; something stronger than the first and less demanding than the second, though it may well exceed it in endurance. It may exist between man and man, or between woman and woman, but, as it has some undefined sexual element, it exists more frequently between man and woman. It is a torment of understanding that can have no physical expression.”

In time Claud has reason to be concerned about the hold John Field has on Helena – she adores him, talks about him endlessly when he isn’t there, makes plans for him, and in her eyes John can do no wrong. Helena is as difficult as ever in many ways, and she is very good at covering up things that she thinks Claud won’t approve of, and with Claud busy at the WO most of the time, he can’t know everything that happens. He turns up from time to time to find she has agreed to some financial obligation or other that worries him but is unable to do much about.

What Pamela Hansford Johnson does so well, is to show us the frustration of Claud and Charmian as they try to steer an ageing Helena in the right direction. Yet, Helena has her own frustrations, and despite her being a difficult character, we can’t help but feel for her, as tries to keep hold of her independence and decision making.

Helena’s platonic love for Johnny verges on obsession, he brightens her life – gives her a purpose, adds the kind of excitement to her life she hasn’t had since she was a younger woman. She and Johnny collude secretly over matters of money and business. Helena can’t see what a fool she is being, she has become a figure of fun to some of her contemporaries, especially the vile Mrs Sholto – Charmian’s mother-in-law. Behind her back, Helena is being laughed at, and much to Claud’s horror, gossiped about in the most unpleasant way. Helena can’t see herself for who she really is now, getting older and rather vulnerable.

“Helena would love Field till she died, but in a different fashion. Whether she knew it or not, she was really regarding him now in a ‘correct’ light; as a child to be cherished and pleasured, his faults discounted, his small virtues magnified into qualities of man’s worth. And this is not the love that flatters.”

Forgive me for including so many quotes, but I just loved this book so much and found Pamela Hansford Johnson’s writing to be wise and insightful, and so, so readable. I flew through this kindle edition in no time, and was sad when there was no more. I can’t wait to read the third book in the trilogy A Summer to Decide, which I bought ages ago in a huge Bello buying glut. I have a habit of then forgetting all about the books I have on my kindle – I should get it out more often.

Incidentally – does anyone know exactly what happened (if anything) to Bello books? They disappeared ages ago it seems, though their kindle books are certainly still available on Amazon.

phj

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cof

When it comes to reading I suppose I know what I like, and I stick pretty much closely to it. I do occasionally step outside my comfort zone – and sometimes surprise myself. So, with that in mind, I have bought myself a little subscription to the Asympote book club. I don’t read that much in translation, but I have read lots of fascinating reviews by other bloggers so perhaps I am missing out. I do have a few books sitting here (that have been sitting here a while) that I keep over looking in favour of other things.

So, I am challenging myself to read a little more in translation, I would like to read one title a month – but that might be a bit ambitious – this year I have read just four books in translation.

The Asympote book club first came to my attention through Marina at Finding Time to write who is one of a team of people working hard to bring a variety of world literature to their subscribers. I have opted for a three-month subscription – and I am going to try and read each of the titles as it arrives – and perhaps join in the online discussions too. If the first three months go well I might buy a second subscription – I feel I need to widen my horizons a little.

It’s a wonderful initiative; the Asympote book club, is an international book club, which will send subscribers a surprise book every month. It’s the only international book club working with independent publishers rather than the big houses. I’m not quite sure what to expect in terms of the books I will receive – I assume that the books will be new writing rather than vintage novels (which I am always more comfortable with) but I see it all as part of the challenge – and it isn’t as if I don’t read any new writing.

asymptotePlease take a look at the Asympote book club – I think it looks very exciting and for those of you who like reading world literature it is surely a must. Or perhaps it would make a good gift for someone else.

 

I believe I get my first book soon – I am quite excited to see what it will be.

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cof

It’s the first day of December but I’m really not sure where the month went, I don’t feel as if I have had quite enough November yet.

In bookish terms it’s been quite a slow reading month – though I have read an interesting variety of books including two books by the Librarything Virago Group author of the month Margaret Atwood.

Oryx & Crake was the first of those Atwood’s – an incredible work of speculative fiction, which imagines the world as it could be if we don’t watch our step. I’m not sure I had expected to love it as much as I did, now I can’t wait to read the next two books in the MaddAddam series. What a writer Margaret Atwood is!

A bookish Facebook group I’m a member of was having an Angela Thirkell reading week towards the beginning of the month. I chose to read The Headmistress as I had found a fragile old copy of it several months ago while browsing in a second-hand bookshop. My experience of it was a bit mixed – Thirkell is loved by many for her cosy nostalgia – others find her class consciousness – and in this novel attitude to refugees – hard to stomach.

I have managed to dust off a couple of books this month that I have had ages! The first of these Who was Changed and who was Dead by Barbara Comyns is a superbly crafted little novel. A dark, quirky little novel which could also been seen as an allegory, it tells the story of a strange, unhappy family and the peculiar plague which comes to the village just before the First World War.

The second Margaret Atwood book I chose to read was a collection of stories, Wilderness Tips – which tell stories of women and the men in their lives exploring some of the extraordinary choices people make. It really was an excellent collection.

The British Library Crime Classics have produced an incredible array of vintage mysteries for those of us who like to relax with a bit of murder. Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate was a good World War Two mystery, and although I felt it sagged a bit in the middle – it is still very readable – and the solution was particularly ingenious.

Over the Mountains by Pamela Frankau is the third novel in the Clothes of a King’s Son trilogy. Taking us from London to Hollywood, from France to Spain and Portugal it completes the story of the Weston family who we first met in 1926.

I seem to have developed a fondness for trilogies, and having finished Over the Mountains, I was reminded of another trilogy I was overdue in catching up with.An Avenue of Stone is the second book in Pamela Hansford Johnson’s Helena trilogy. I read it on my kindle – which I really don’t use often enough – especially when I consider how many books I have squirrelled away on it. I raced through An Avenue of Stone – such a brilliant book – it’s hard to sum up in just a few worlds. PHJ’s characterisation is simply superb – and in this novel Helena is in her late sixties – a woman altered by time and experience from the one we met in Too Dear for my Possessing the first book in the trilogy. It’s an extraordinary portrait – and makes for surprisingly compelling reading.

Another book I have had for an age The Third Miss Symons by F M Mayor. I read The Rector’s Daughter by Mayor – a couple of years ago. That one is in my opinion a far superior work; this much earlier novella is altogether bleaker.

I have finished the month reading Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson which was loaned to me by Liz. I’ve not had chance to get very far with it yet – but I’m certainly enjoying it so far. I was amazed to see how long ago it was first published. I think I had assumed it to be from the 1930s or 40s – but a quick check revealed it to have been published in 1908. I very quickly had to reassess my idea of the costumes worn by the characters. This is my first experience of Ada Leverson who I had obviously placed in completely the wrong period. Anyway, I’ve read so little of it, it can go on next month’s pile.

December is upon us – and the bed news is that barring miracles or at least being seriously snowed in for four weeks I will (again) not make my Goodreads reading challenge. The only reason I care about numbers is because of the ridiculous numbers of books I have waiting. Oh well – maybe next year?

Sylvia Townsend Warner is the Librarything Virago group author of the month – and I am looking forward to re-reading Lolly Willowes with my very small book group. I may even manage some short stories too.

Other thoughts turn to Christmassy books. I have a couple of tiny little Christmassy books to read that I bought last year and didn’t get around to. Stories by Gogol and Capote, which look charming. I also have a BLCC Christmas mystery Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith which looks excellent and I am considering Winter by Ali Smith too.

cof

As ever please share what you read during November – anything I should know about?

I particularly want to hear about your December reading plans – especially if they are Christmassy themed.

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cof

Over the Mountains is the third novel in Pamela Frankau’s Clothes of a King’s Son trilogy, which follow the fortunes of a theatrical family over almost twenty years. In Sing for your Supper and Slaves to the Lamp – we saw the Weston children grow up in the shadow of PhilipWeston; their Pierrot star father and start lives of their own. Gerald following in his actor father’s footsteps, Sarah’ who embarks on a writing career, before marrying an older wealthy man, while Thomas the youngest; adored by everyone struggles with the gift of spiritualism.

Over the Mountains opens in 1940 – and Europe is at War. In London, Blanche – once nanny to the Weston children and still a family favourite, moves in with their grandmother Mrs Murray to help her manage the house in wartime. They are a rather wonderful double act – but take a bit of a back seat in this novel.

“Mrs Murray professed to look forward to the air raids. She maintained every precautionary device; sand-buckets; buckets of water; the stirrup-pump; the regulation shovel for dealing with incendiaries. She had bought what they called a siren suit last September. These were not her only preparations. She had ordered three dozen bottles of red wine on Mr Percy’s account, the day Hitler invaded Holland. They were taking up two shelves and all the floor-space in the linen cupboard.
One had to laugh.”

Thomas is in France, having joined up early in the war. Thomas has been reported missing, captured by a German patrol, a fellow prisoner has confirmed seeing Thomas shot. Blanche and Mrs Murray refuse to believe the news – and they are right to – Thomas was merely wounded, later rescued by a French family. The story of Thomas’s extraordinary adventures on the continent are told in chapters entitled The Unwritten Notebook.

The only other member of the family experiencing any kind of active service is Rab, daughter to American actress Paula who married Philip Weston in the 1920s. Thomas and Rab had always been special to one another – theirs is a bond which goes beyond family. Rab is rather changed; part of an ambulance unit – working in France. During this time Rab meets Noel, a cool, assured young woman who is head of the Comité de Quatorze. Realising she has strong feelings for Noel – Rab ends up in her bed, throwing her feelings for Thomas into confusion.

“ ‘Did you try and fix me?’
‘What is this, the catechism?
‘Well did you?’
A pause before Noel’s voice said, sounding amused. ‘I just thought vaguely ‘that would be nice,’ but my intentions were honourable till I saw you sitting on the step of the truck.’
‘What happened then?’
‘I was so pleased to see you it shook me.’
‘And then?’
‘And then alas for vows of good behaviour. Idiotic to make them in a war, anyway, life’s too short.’
‘Think we’ll be killed?’
‘Shouldn’t wonder. If I’m killed.’ Noel said, ‘Come and walk by my grave. I’ll watch you walking and I’ll like that.’

Meanwhile in America Philip and Paula are still in Hollywood, and apart from waiting for news of Thomas, and letters from Rab, life continues pretty much the same for the theatrical couple. There is no sign yet of the US entering the fray. Sarah is still nursing her terrible grief brought about by the death of her husband, now she has to deal with the probable loss of Thomas too. Philip Weston accepts the reports of his youngest son’s death, mourning him dramatically as if playing a part. Sarah is disgusted by many the attitudes she sees around her – desperate to get back to England, to be in some way a part of the war that has taken Thomas. In New York, lives Gerald, now married to Mary Castle an American actress, the couple have become a 1940s style celebrity brand – unfortunately they can’t bear one another – and Gerald is looking for ways to put some distance between them. He briefly considers enlisting, but instead signs a contract to star in a war film. Sarah finally leaves America, bound for England via Lisbon, where she spends weeks stranded – waiting, along with other flotsam of the war in Europe – for a passage home. Here Sarah seeks Miles, an old trusted friend, once an employee of Paula, and driver to Rab when she was a scruffy twelve-year-old, he is now a man with his finger in a number of pies, someone apparently who can get things done. In Lisbon, Sarah also runs into Rab.

Pamela Frankau tells a wonderful story in this final novel of her trilogy. Showing Thomas to be stronger than we may have ever expected – surviving against the odds – his story seems almost touched by a special kind of magic. As he fights his way across France and Spain toward Portugal, he is imprisoned, encounters a mad countess, finds and loses friends – and through it all he carries the memory of Rab – and that one glorious summer with his family in France – which he always calls ‘the twenty-nine summer’ – a time of perfection – a time he recalls with both nostalgia for the past and hope for the future.

pamela frankau

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