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Nina Bawden giveaway


Christmas must have come early. I have decided to share some lovely Nina Bawden books with you all.

Last week Little Brown UK sent me these lovely editions of two Nina Bawden children’s books. Carrie’s War and The Peppermint Pig. I decided I would give them away, there may be a child in your life who will enjoy curling up with these lovely books, transported by Bawden’s consummate story telling. Or perhaps you would like to revisit your childhood favourites for yourself. So, the first giveaway is for BOTH these titles.


Giveaway 1.

When I was a child I adored Carrie’s War – I devoured the book, and watched the TV adaptation, I even watched the remake as an adult. It is a story I carried with me for many years and I think I had a slightly romanticised view of evacuation because of it. It tells the story of three children evacuated to Wales during World War two – such a wonderful cast of characters, it was definitely the book I loved most as a child – and still love now. I can’t remember if I read The Peppermint Pig, but I don’t think I did. The Peppermint Pig appears to be the story of a family living through a difficult period who are healed by the laughter a clever, mischievous little pig brings to their lives.

Giveaway 2

Of course, many, many years later, I discovered Nina Bawden’s adult novels, she was very prolific, and I have enjoyed quite a number of them now. So, I have purchased a new copy of The Birds on the Trees, one of my favourite Bawden novels for adults as giveaway number two (It has yet to arrive – so the image of the cover is only what was shown on a certain well-known shopping site – the images are not always correct, I find).

imagesThe Birds in the Trees is beautifully observed with great insight and honesty, it is a novel about parents and children and family life with all its complexities. In 2010 The Birds on the Trees was nominated for The Lost Booker – voted for by readers, Bawden lost out to Troubles by J G Farrell (another excellent novel). The Lost Booker was for books published in 1970 – as changing Booker rules that year meant many novels lost out on being considered.

Toby Flowers is the boy/young man at the centre of this novel – which is told in the varying voices of his family – his mother and father, younger sister and grandmother. These first-person narratives dropped into what is largely a third person narrative, works so well – giving the novel an added intimacy.

To enter simply tell me what your favourite children’s book was (I’m just being nosy really) and let me know which giveaway you would like to win, the two books for children or The Birds on the Trees. The Giveaway is open worldwide – and winners will be drawn next Monday, using a random name generator.

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My second pick for the 1968 club was Agatha Christie’s By the Pricking of my Thumbs – the third of the four full length novels featuring Tommy and Tuppence. The couple also appear in a collection of short stories. Rather adorably Agatha Christie dedicated this late novel as follows;

“This book is dedicated to the many readers in this and in other countries who write to me asking: ‘What has happened to Tommy and Tuppence? What are they doing now?’ My best wishes to you all, and I hope you will enjoy meeting Tommy and Tuppence again, years older, but with spirit unquenched!”

I completely love Tommy and Tuppence though I have largely neglected these novels, I am pretty sure I had read this one before, although I had forgotten almost all of it. I read The Secret Adversary – the first Tommy and Tuppence novel four years ago, (which is when I decided I loved T&T) and I have the final Tommy and Tuppence novel – and indeed the final ever Agatha Christie novel Postern of Fate tbr – I have had a first edition of it for years! and recently bought a copy of N or M? In The Secret Adversary Tommy and Tuppence are Bright Young things – the First World War had taken its toll on both of them. I can’t think why I have never got around to reading the other Tommy and Tuppence books so far – but I will and soon, and I so wish there were more of them. By the time of the events in By the Pricking of My Thumbs Tommy and Tuppence have been married for a long time, they are the parents of two adult children, and grandparents, and of course have lived through another war. The world has changed around them, their hair is showing signs of grey, yet Tommy and Tuppence are still recognisable as the enthusiastic young detectives Agatha Christie first wrote about in 1922. As a couple the Beresfords are still every bit as adoring of one another as they ever were – one really can’t imagine one without the other. 

“I don’t particularly want to think of your funeral because I’d much prefer to die before you do. But I mean, if I were going to your funeral, at any rate it would be an orgy of grief. I should take a lot of handkerchiefs.”

Tommy’s Aunt Ada has been residing in the Sunny Ridge care home for elderly ladies for some time, and every now and then her nephew and his wife pay the dutiful visit that is required of them. Aunt Ada is not the easiest of old ladies, she has never much liked Tuppence. When Tommy decides it’s time for them to visit his aunt again, he manages to persuade Tuppence to accompany him. When the couple arrive at Sunny Ridge, Aunt Ada quickly dispenses with Tuppence who wanders off while Tommy talks to his aunt. There are old ladies shouting they are dying, others who have forgotten whether they have had their hot chocolate or not, but Miss Packard who is in charge, takes it all in her stride, laughing off all the little eccentricities of her clients. Tommy doesn’t think too much of his aunt’s mistrust of the staff, taking her whispered assertion that ‘they’ could be about to rob and murder her in her bed with a pinch of salt. While Tommy talks to Aunt Ada, Tuppence is shown into a pleasant little sitting room, where another elderly lady is already sitting close to an imposing fireplace nursing a glass of milk. Tuppence engages Mrs Lancaster in conversation, the two of them getting on quite famously. However, when Mrs Lancaster suddenly asks Tuppence –

‘Was it your poor child’

– It can’t help, but send a slight shiver down our spines. The question certainly un-nerves Tuppence – the words resonating in her memory days after having left Sunny Ridge behind. Three weeks later Aunt Ada has died, and Tommy and Tuppence are back at Sunny Ridge to clear out her things. Tuppence is eager to visit Mrs Lancaster who she met before – even more so when she learns that the very attractive painting that is hanging in Aunt Ada’s room was a recent gift from Mrs Lancaster. Tuppence is concerned that Mrs Lancaster might want the painting back, rather than it going to strangers – but Mrs Lancaster is no longer at Sunny Ridge, having been taken away by relatives to a London hotel, on the way north. Tuppence – as poor old Tommy well knows is not one to let things drop, and she is determined to track Mrs Lancaster down and ask her about the picture. The picture shows an attractive house by a canal which Tuppence is convinced she has seen before. The hotel where Mrs Lancaster and her relatives are supposed to have gone have never heard of Mrs Lancaster. Where is the old lady that Tuppence met at Sunny Ridge? Tuppence is determined to find out, so while Tommy is off at a secret conference with government/secret service types – Tuppence decides to set out on a railway journey to find the house in the painting, and find out what (if anything) has happened to Mrs Lancaster. At the back of her mind too – those strange words spoken by the old lady in the sitting room at Sunny Ridge.

As the cover to my lovely old book club edition of the novel suggests – By the Pricking of my thumbs is quite a creepy story. Tuppence gets herself into all kinds of trouble and when Tommy returns from his secret pow-wow he wonders where she has got to, and is soon on her tail.

I completely loved this Tommy and Tuppence mystery, aspects of the plot are really clever – and Christie shows her ability to write a darn good mystery with few clues to go – no body or smoking gun – just a (possible) missing woman, a few odd words spoken by a confused old lady a pretty painting and a nagging doubt. Honestly, I couldn’t put it down. I must read some more Tommy and Tuppence soon.


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October in review


Two months of the old year left – goodness – how the years fly by these days.

I began October reading The Ghostly Lover – a book which really deserves a better title – it was the first novel by Elizabeth Hardwick, a coming of age novel set in depression era Kentucky.

Strong Poison – by Dorothy L Sayers was a re-read, the October choice of my very small book group, which provided us with an enormous amount to talk about, perhaps surprisingly so.

The Librarything Virago group had selected Margaret Kennedy as the author of the month – and I found myself engrossed in The Oracles, a fairly unusual novel in some respects, but one in which I could see echoes of other Margaret Kennedy novels. It tells the story of a community wrangle over a piece of modern art, and a group of abandoned children who get caught in the cross fire.

Narcissa by Richmal Crompton was a fabulously compelling novel, with one of the most monstrous characters, I have read in a while, at the centre of it. A darker story than the other books by Crompton I have read, but quite unforgettable.

Reader, I married him – a collection of short stories edited by Tracy Chevalier – had been a gift I was really looking forward to reading. The stories, all inspired by that famous final line in Jane Eyre – were something of a mixed bag, but overall, I was a bit disappointed in the collection.

I have fallen out of love a little with the Booker prize the last two or three years, but I still keep my eye on it. This year I happened to read two of the longlisted books, and now two of those that were shortlisted. I can’t say I fancy the winner much – but I am open to persuasion. Elmet was the first of those shortlisted books, and I enjoyed it enormously. Not sure I understand why it was shortlisted and Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie wasn’t – but then what do I know?

Eva Trout by Elizabeth Bowen was the first of two books I read for the #1968club hosted by Simon and Karen. Bowen’s last novel – it has a simply unforgettable ending.

My second read for the #1968club was By the Pricking of my Thumbs, a Tommy and Tuppence novel – the couple are described as (a little tongue in cheek I suspect) ‘quite elderly’ by that I suppose about sixty. It might not be Agatha Christie’s best – but I enjoyed it enormously, finding very hard to put down.

I finished the month reading Autumn by Ali Smith – the second of those Booker Prize shortlisted novels. I haven’t read Ali Smith before – at least I haven’t finished one of her books before – having given up on The Accidental several years ago. This one -chosen by my very small book group as our November read, I enjoyed.

Those final two books of course will be reviewed soon.

I spent a week in my favourite seaside location during half term – and it really helped to re-charge the batteries, and while I was there I had a mooch in a little bookshop I like to pop in to each time I am there. I only came away with two books – a Persephone book The Gardeners Nightcap by Muriel Stuart (complete with matching bookmark) – not sure it’s a book I would have bought new – but I am happy to add it to my collection, and Wet Magic by E Nesbit, which looks perfect comfort reading. I admit, that one is already calling me.cof

November is a month that is perfect for curling up with a book and large pot of tea, but this year has been a very slow reading year so far – so I expect that will continue. However, I have one or two things set aside for the month. This month the Librarything author of the month is the wonderful Margaret Atwood – as well as several potential re-reads, I have three of her books tbr – Wilderness Tips, short stories from the early 1990s and more recent novels, Oryx and Crake and The Hagseed. I feel like the short stories are particularly calling to me – but I shall probably only decide which to read as I pick it up. A Facebook group I am a member of is having an Angela Thirkell reading week next week – beginning November 6th – so as I have a battered old copy of The Headmistress I shall be reading that.


With December and the end of the year on the horizon, my thoughts have turned to possible reading challenges. I sort of had a year off in 2017, though I paricipated in a few as I knew I would end up doing.

 I am considering two for 2018. 

1. A century of books, I know Simon and others are doing it again. I have never done it before. I will attempt to do it over two years, however, and I won’t make a list before hand. I assume that’s how everyone else has done it?

2. Read the 16 books of the Jalna series by Canadian writer Mazo de la Roche. I will read in narrative order, not year of publication. I have very few expectations really, are these even books I will like? I have purchased the first one.  

Anyone have any thoughts, advice etc. Anyone like to join me? 

So how was your October for books? Any exciting plans for November?

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eva trout

The 1968 club starts today, hosted again by Simon and Karen. I have done my homework well everybody, and have already read both books I had selected from the tottering piles I already own (note I did not buy anything specially).

Eva Trout was Elizabeth Bowen’s final novel, written when she was around seventy – it was nominated for the Booker prize – then in its second year, and which was finally won by Bernice Rubens for The Elected Member. I liked it very much, the eponymous character is particularly well drawn, reminding me of a slightly older Portia (Death of the Heart). While, Eva Trout is not my favourite Bowen novel, it is a very good, though occasionally challenging read. It is a novel of many themes, parenting, communication, innocence and betrayal among them.

“The way downhill, into the bottomless incredulity which is despair, was incandescent with flowering chestnut trees.”

Eva Trout herself is an enigmatic character, chaotic, often rather child- like, though she is in her twenties when we first meet her. A conspicuously large, awkward girl, unloved and alone. Eva was raised by a succession of nannies and governesses paid for by her wealthy father, following the death of her mother in a plane crash. Now, her father dead too, she awaits full control of her huge inheritance when she is twenty-five. Driving around the countryside in her Jaguar – Eva is a strange mix of vulnerable innocence and trouble.

Eva has difficulty interacting with the world around her, relationships are conducted with a certain amount of drama and misunderstanding. Her legal guardian is Constantine, a former lover of her father’s – who lives in London and dispenses with his duties concerning Eva from there. Eva craves acceptance, and freedom, and as the novel progresses we see Eva moving from place to place in her bid to find them.

Constantine was delighted to approve Eva’s present living arrangements; a paying guest at Larkins, the home of Iseult and Eric Arble, Iseult a former teacher of Eva’s at the second of only two schools she attended. When she was sixteen. Eva had insisted her father pay for her to go to school. The first school she attended was in a castle owned by her father, here her roommate Elsinore attempts suicide, and the school soon closes. Despite having been very fond of Iseult when she was at school, now Eva is less happy living with the Arbles than she had imagined she would be. Seeking refuge from the Arbles, she makes friends the Danceys who live nearby – a clergyman’s family, with whom she spends a lot of time. Their son Henry – several years younger than Eva is her most particular friend, who she involves in her bid for freedom. Unable to wait for her twenty-fifth birthday – just three months away – Eva decides to rent a house in Kent and live entirely by herself. Despite not even knowing how to boil a kettle. On the day she is to take over Cathay – the house she has selected – she is met by Mr Denge the agent, to whom Eva can’t help but display her absolute ignorance of all household matters.

“‘Must we go far? asked his client, as they drove off.
‘No distance!’ sang out the professional optimist. ‘You are not familiar with our part of the world, Miss Trout?’
‘No. That is why.’
‘I see,’ he said, accustomed to doing so. ‘you will find we are rich in associations, not to speak of celebrities past and present. Charles Dickens –’
‘- Yes. Where do I buy a bicycle?
‘Now, immediately?’
Mr Denge altered course. ‘And, Miss Trout, groceries? This is your opportunity. I take it you have brought with you your plate and linen? As we pointed out in ours of the 23rd, those you provide. We trust you understood?’
‘No. What are they?’
‘Ha-ha – sheets, and so on. Spoons and, ha-ha, forks.’
‘How should I possess those?’ asked Eva moodily. ‘Must I buy them? Are they very expensive?’”

Once she is installed at Cathay, Eva receives a letter from Henry – and is visited by Eric – whose visit is interrupted by Constantine. Meanwhile Iseult sits at home in the house vacated by Eva, worrying about Eric’s absence. When Eva and Iseult meet again, Eva helps her former teacher to a terrible misunderstanding, which will adversely affect her already fragile marriage.

From here events move forward eight years, years that Eva has spent in America where she bought/adopted a child, (we assume illegally) a boy – Jeremy who is transpires is a deaf mute. Jeremy is now eight years old, able only to understand Eva. Eva has decided to bring her adopted son back to England.

“The boredom, for Eva, of being a passenger was mitigated by showing Jeremy England. Lambs, elms, cottages, colleges (they passed through Oxford). He missed nothing. From time to time, dread of the impending day overcame her; the aware child, at such moments, went supine against her, shoulder to shoulder. They stopped for lunch at Evesham, roast beef, apple tart, afterwards walking some way along the river looking at boats. ‘You’d like a boat of your own?’ He certainly would. ‘A seagoing boat, with an outboard engine?’ Still better! … Just after three o’clock, the Daimler drew up outside Larkins.”

Living a transient hotel existence Eva begins finally to address Jeremy’s needs – and look around for someone to help him.

The ending is extraordinary – and I won’t say too much about it – except to say it is unforgettable and for me totally unexpected – and took the whole novel up a notch.

Elizabeth bowen2

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Recently shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, Elmet is Fiona Mozley’s debut novel. It has been enormously popular with ordinary readers and book bloggers, generally a sure sign it won’t win, and as we now know it didn’t.

Before the novel starts the reader is presented with an epigraph from Ted Hughes ‘The remains of Elmet’ – which describes Elmet as a Celtic kingdom, a region of northern England, that during the seventeenth century was known as the Badlands, secluded from the rest of the county, it was a sheltering place for fugitives.
Although the novel has modern perspective there is a timeless quality to it – an acknowledgement of traditional communities living in harmony with the land.

Man’s relationship with the land is at the heart of this novel – those pieces of land we call home, where we put down roots, raise families. It is, as it has been for generations, that struggle for somewhere to call our own. Many of the semi-rural people we meet in Elmet are struggling to exist on the fringes of society. People who are looking for work, or earning small amounts of money – in addition to their benefits – as fruit or vegetable pickers, in thrall to private landlords who can pull the rug out from under them at any time.

“I break all bonds. I step through the margins of fields. I scale barbed-wire fences and locked gates. I cut through industrial estates and private gardens. I pay no mind to the lines of counties and boroughs and parishes. I walk, whether paddock or pasture or park.”

As the novel opens, Daniel is walking north, searching for his sister – Daniel is the narrator of the novel, though we don’t know why he is heading north, or why he is searching for his sister. From here the narrative goes back, to tell us the story of Daniel’s family, his father John; a fighter, and his older sister Cathy.

Following the death of their grandmother, John had brought his children to the woods. Here he built them a house, eking out a simpler life – away from normal society – although the reason John choses this particular moment is not entirely clear. The house is built lovingly, a simple wooden structure, it is very much a home. It is where the little family are safe, they work perfectly as a unit.

“We arrived in summer when the landscape was in full bloom and the days were long and hot and the light was soft. I roamed shirtless and sweated cleanly and enjoyed the hug of the thick air. In those months I picked up freckles on my bony shoulders and the sun set slowly and the evenings were pewter before they were black, before the mornings seeped through again. Rabbits gambolled in the fields and when we were lucky, when the wind was still and veil settled on the hills, we saw a hare.”

To Daniel and Cathy, John is Daddy – a word which somehow speaks particularly of childhood – though at the time their house is first built Cathy is 15, Daniel almost 14.

“Waiting is what a true house is about. Making it ours, making it settle, pinning it and us to the seasons, to the months and to the years.”

John is a renowned fighter, a giant of a man – in the past he fought for Mr Price, a local man and landlord, whose businesses seem less than legitimate. Price is a hard man, a cruel man whose squeeze upon various sections of the local community makes him very powerful. Price considers the land that John has built his home on to belong to him, and so battle lines are drawn. Flanked by his two sons Charlie and Tom, Price pays the first of several visits to the house in the woods.

Daniel and Cathy have learned a lot from their father in the ways of living this life on the edges of society. Known especially for his strength, John is gentle with his children, using his strength when he needs to provide for them. Cathy takes after John, with her wiry strength and love of the outside, while Daniel is slightly happier inside, he delights in helping to make the house in the woods a home. For a while a local woman Vivien takes on the teaching of Cathy and Daniel at her home nearby, but Cathy needing the freedom of the outdoors takes her work and escapes to the fields, trees and hedgerows surrounding the house. Daniel is drawn to Vivien and her world – craving a mother figure – he is a sensitive boy, quite young for his age in some respects, he wears his hair long and hasn’t cut his finger nails in a long time, but then, nobody has told him to. Daniel spies on Vivien quite innocently through the crack in her bedroom door – drawn to her femininity. It is a scene beautifully drawn by Mozley, Daniel’s awkward innocence tenderly explored.

Conflict erupts between Price and John, with other local men joining an action against Price and the other landlords. As local tensions rise, John, Daniel and Cathy fight for one another, odds are stacked against them, and there is an inevitability I suppose, to just how grim things get. There are scenes of horrible brutality toward the end of the novel, which I hadn’t known to expect. Still, I very much enjoyed this novel, which is beautifully and sensitively written.

Combining a lyrical celebration of the natural world with a story exploring the bonds of parents and siblings, Elmet introduces us to a wonderful new voice in Fiona Mozley. It’s exciting to think that this is just her first novel.

fiona mozley

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Oh dear, my tbr does have a habit of getting rather out of control, and this book demonstrates that perfectly. A good friend bought me this for my birthday – no, not my last birthday, the one before that! I generally love short stories, and my love of Jane Eyre – the inspiration behind the collection – is probably quite well known.

The precise inspiration for all the stories in the book – published for Charlotte Bronte’s bicentenary in 2016 – is that most famous of final lines; reader, I married him. A few weeks after being presented with this by my friend – a book I was delighted to receive – I attended a talk at Hay Festival 2016 in which Tracey Chevalier and a couple of authors whose work appears in the collection talked about the concept of the book, and read extracts from the stories. There are twenty-one stories in this collection – which bring together many famous names and a variety of voices from modern fiction. Jane Gardam, Helen Dunmore, Salley Vickers, Elif Shafak, Susan Hill and Lionel Shriver to name but a few. I was excited about this collection – despite having left it on the shelf so long – I felt it could only be wonderful. Umm… I was wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, I did enjoy several stories very much, but not all of them, several left me rather cold, some I’m sorry to say I could barely remember just a day or so after reading them.

Generally, I am a fan of short stories – and I often read them one after the other after another – rather than dipping in and out while reading other books. I know some people think that is the wrong way to approach a collection – but it usually works fine for me. Whether that was part of the problem I don’t know, but I think that I like collections to have a cohesive feel to them – and I had definitely expected that of this one, but somehow, I didn’t feel there was that kind of cohesiveness.

The scenes, characters and settings are very varied – Pembrokeshire, London, a lido out of season, a small Canadian town, Turkey, Harlem, in these places we meet the married, the about to be married, those seeking romance, a new mother, a widow, and immigrants. The title story by Susan Hill, tells the story of Edward and Mrs Simpson from her point of view, it’s a story of love, loss and sacrifice. A story that we think we know, but Wallis puts a slightly new spin on it. In To Hold, Joanna Briscoe tells the story of woman who marries several times, her story is rooted in the British countryside – Briscoe’s was one of several new voices for me.

“The espaliered walls, the choke of cabbages, ended in a gate that led straight through to where the gorse was webbed with nests and the merlins soared to Gibbeswick Fell. Tay-Mosby hiked daily through the tussocks accompanied by his dog, Ranger Boy, surmounted the head of the waterfall as he chopped at thorns with his stick, walked by the beck to where the quarry was, the Pennine Way, the views further west to witch country.”
(To Hold – Joanna Briscoe)

One of my favourite stories were Behind the Mountain by Evie Wyld. A woman struggles to settle into her new life in a Canadian town, following her husband’s appointment as bank manager. Her home, and its furnishings bear the scars of previous occupants, and a dinner for her husband’s colleague causes some anxiety. As the woman misses her son, at school in England and dreams of English beaches, her husband exerts a quiet tyranny over how his toast should be prepared. On a visit to the store for food, she meets Old Annie – a mountain woman whose bandaged head tells of her recent encounter with a bear. Old Annie – and the mountain which looms over their house, speak of another kind of life.

“She sits in the car and watches Old Annie cross the street and sling the package in the back of a green truck. She moves with the confidence of an animal.

She follows. There are no other cars on the road this morning, and though she catches Old Annie’s eye in the rearview mirror, she still follows. They reach the dump and she stops, watches Old Annie drive on, a bear swivelling its head towards her as she goes. Their eye contact is broken. Soon, the green truck is a beetle kicking up dust in the distance, the top of the mountain she lives behind a faded pink.”
(Behind the Mountain – Evie Wyld)

Alongside these stories we have three stories that feature the characters from Jane Eyre itself – Grace Poole Her Testimony by Helen Dunmore – it does pretty much what it says on the tin as they say. In this story Grace Poole defends Bertha Mason, calling into question the generally accepted view of Jane Eyre. In The Mirror by Francine Prose, we have an imagining of what Jane’s married life might have been after that famous novel ends. While in Reader, she married me by Salley Vickers, Mr Rochester reveals a long-kept secret. As a fan of Jane Eyre these were the stories I was looking forward to most, but although they are all very readable, I just wasn’t convinced. I didn’t recognise my small, pale friend Jane Eyre in any of them, true Jane is a complex character, we see different things in her at different points in our lives. As we encounter Charlotte Bronte’s most loved heroine we can read her character in a variety of ways, she is much more than small, plain and poor – we know that. These stories certainly pay homage to the variety of ways we can read Jane Eyre; however, I didn’t feel that I was reading about the same person. Salley Vickers Rochester wasn’t my Mr R, and while Helen Dunmore’s Grace Poole is less of a problem, I probably liked the Salley Vickers story the most of the three.

Overall, I was disappointed by these stories – which is a shame given that it was a gift. I still like the premise – but something didn’t quite gel for me.

tracy chevalier

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In the unlikely event that it has passed you by – Persephone Books’ latest offerings are published this month, and one of them is Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton.

In 2012 Simon from Stuckinabook read a little-known book called Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton and blogged very enthusiastically about it. It was of course, a wonderful review, the kind that makes almost everyone want to read the book immediately. It almost seemed as if everyone wanted a copy of the book, and many of us immediately jumped online to get a copy. All the reasonable priced copies seemed to get snapped up, and soon the prices of second hand copies appeared to have risen. I just wasn’t fast enough – and was disappointed not to get a copy. A few months later a friend of mine on Librarything offered to send me her copy – she had read it and didn’t particularly want to keep it. I finally had the book – and read it eagerly.

cofNow, a short extract from my original review from 2013, is among others in the afterword to this new Persephone edition. So exciting to have my blog name in the back of a Persephone book, and such a lovely idea to gather together a myriad of voices from both modern bloggers and contemporary reviewers.

I include some highlights from my old review below – although I certainly feel I should re-read the book now. Oh, and yes, I am keeping hold of both copies.

Guard your daughters is a novel about five sisters and an unconventional slightly dysfunctional family at a time just after the Second World War. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Certainly, there is something familiar about this novel, it feels like something one has read before or should have read before, it is nostalgic somehow and familiar, yet at the same time is something of a new discovery.

The Harvey sisters are unconventional, unschooled and oddly named they have been brought up at quite some distance from the rest of the world. Living with their famous detective writer father, and their fragile mother, they have been one another’s friends – with hardly any experience of people outside their family. Pandora the eldest has recently married and moved away to London – and this change seems to highlight for the sisters the peculiarity of their lives. Our narrator is Morgan, the nineteen-year-old middle sister, a pianist with a keen imagination. The eldest of the sisters still at home, and next in age to Pandora, is Thisbe, a beautiful and sharply tongued poet. A year younger than Morgan, is eighteen-year-old Cressida, sensible and domesticated, she seems most keenly aware of the oddities in the Harvey’s existence. The youngest sister is fifteen-year-old Teresa, romantic and dreamy she is very much the baby of the family.

Coming back to visit her family after her marriage, Pandora fears for her sisters – fears they won’t be able to marry or have lives of their own. Her removal from the family has increased her unease of the way the sisters have been brought up.

With their parents existing very much in the background, the five sisters have made their own entertainment and learnt to look after themselves and one another really very well. Their father divides his time between his writing and his wife, who he dances attendance upon constantly ensuring she is not upset. This fragile absent mother is a strange character, at first, she appears merely cosseted and spoilt, her husband and daughters adoring her without question. The sisters have been sheltered from the world to a ridiculous degree, but when two seemingly eligible young men come into the sisters’ lives; their lack of social experience becomes obvious. However, there are darker undercurrents to this unconventional household. Throughout this novel, woven into the humorous and charming story of the relationship between five sisters – there is a definite shadow. For me there was always something unexplained, remaining unspoken till the end. This element is brilliantly done, well plotted it adds something quite special to what could have been a fairly ordinary story. Yet the story is not ordinary, it’s heart-warming, funny and memorable, and the final twist utterly brilliant.

diana tuttonIn the new Persephone Biannually, we are offered a tantalising glimpse of a sequel. I almost can’t bear knowing that it existed. Written in the late 1950s Unguarded Moments was never published – set seven years after the events in Guard your Daughters. I don’t know whether the manuscript still exists, and whether future publication is even possible – but oh, I want to read that so much it hurts!

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