Posts Tagged ‘Bello books’

the love child - bello

Edith Olivier’s first slight little novel; The Love Child is a wonderful, quirky little fantasy. Part dark hearted fairy-tale, it is a story of an obsession born of loneliness.

Agatha Bodenham has lived a quiet, largely solitary life with her mother. When she is thirty-two her mother dies, and Agatha finds herself alone but for the servants. She remembers the friend and great joy of her childhood – Clarissa. Clarissa her imaginary friend with whom she played and had adventures, but who Agatha had to rid herself of at fourteen when her governess mocked her. Now, with loneliness swamping her, Agatha finds she can summon up the image of Clarissa – just as she was all those years ago.

“She was smaller even than Agatha had imagined her, and she looked young for her age, which must have been ten or eleven. Her hair was brushed off her face and tied back with a brown ribbon, a little darker than the hair, which was dappled like the skin of a fawn. Her face was tiny, very pale, and her eyes were dappled brown like her hair. She wore a short white dress of embroidered cambric, and on her feet were the little red shoes which Agatha knew she had always worn.”

At first Clarissa comes just by night, she remains an insubstantial spirit like wraith – and Agatha is able to play with the child of her imagination as she did in childhood. Clarissa brings Agatha great joy and companionship; she is a secret which Agatha hugs to herself. Yet Clarissa begins to develop more substance, and soon Agatha becomes aware, that sometimes, other people can see her.

Agatha takes Clarissa to Brighton – here among people who don’t know her, Agatha can spend several happy weeks with Clarissa. Homesickness calls Agatha home, and she must come up with a way of explaining the presence of Clarissa. In some panic Agatha rashly describes Clarissa as her own love child.

“ ‘A love-child.’ The phrase had surged up from her inner consciousness, and she spoke it without realising what it implied. It did just express what Clarissa truly was to her – the creation of the love of all her being. It was truth, and in face of truth she knew that no one could take the child away, She had saved her.
But at what a cost! Her position, her name, her character – she had given them all, but Clarissa was hers, with a right which no law could override.”

the love child vmcClarissa doesn’t remain a little girl, soon she is seventeen, and still awkward around other people she finds she is happiest staying close to Agatha. However Kitty the rector’s daughter who is the same age as Clarissa and who Agatha and Clarissa have been obliged to entertain over the years, introduces Clarissa to David. David, Clarissa and Agatha go driving and attend picnics, Agatha must always attend, and David becomes increasingly irritated. Agatha is watchful, jealous and terrified that David may take Clarissa from her. David is a dull young man, Clarissa’s irrepressible spirit draws David like a moth to a candle but Agatha is determined to keep Clarissa for herself. Both wish only to possess Clarissa for themselves. There was a moment which reminded me of Rapunzel as David stands below Agatha’s window calling to Clarissa. Agatha spirals off into obsessive, desperation; Clarissa is all that stands between her and the loneliness she fears.

This novella is an absolute joy, one I had meant to read for ages – there are a lot of books on my shelves like that though. I glanced through the frustratingly short Wikipedia entry for Edith Olivier, and see that until he died in 1919; Edith was fairly dominated by her father. In 1927 (the year this novella was first published) Edith’s younger sister died, and so I suppose it is possible to see elements of Edith in the character of Agatha – at least as she is when the story begins.

Bello books are doing a great job bringing books like The Love Child to a new generation of readers, and I am very happy with my little Bello edition – but of course original green Virago collector that I am – I will keep my eyes peeled for an original VMC edition to add to it.

edith olivier

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Thankfully for Nina Bawden fans Bello books have a number of her titles available in both paperback and ebook editions, I must say I find their ebooks great value. Nina Bawden is an author who I have come to really admire; she was a quite prolific writer, writing for both adults and children over a career spanning many years.

The Solitary Child, I suspect is one title that is a little less well known than some of her others, another reason to be grateful to Bello.

“As the years pass, remembering becomes an academic exercise, a kind of cosy reckoning—a private game kept for the solitary train journeys, the white nights. You finish the crossword puzzle, read the new novel, but memory is inexhaustible, waiting to be taken out and examined without pain, touched inquiringly, like an old scar. There is no longer any emotion involved; what remains is pictorial and vivid. The little things stand out, the fly on the wall, the coffee stain on the carpet.”

When twenty-two year old Harriet becomes engaged to the much older James Random after knowing him less than a fortnight, she faces an uphill struggle to have her relationship accepted. James is a gentleman farmer from the Welsh borders, whose first wife Eva died in what had been described as ‘unforgettable circumstances.’ James had been charged, and tried with her murder, later acquitted a shadow hangs over him, suspicion lurking in the minds of many. When Harriet’s mother discovers the identity of Harriet’s fiancé she is devastated, but her concern seems to rest mainly with what her char lady thinks. Harriet marries James without her mother there to see her, before going to Switzerland on honeymoon for two months.

Following the honeymoon, the newlyweds arrive home, to the farm where James had lived with Eva, the place where she died a violent death. James’s sister Ann is waiting for them, she lives close by in a couple of Victorian cottages, saddled with a hypochondriac friend who she is forever running back to. Harriet soon senses strains between James and Ann, things not said, and Ann’s other friend – Cyril who had once wanted to marry Ann, is clearly not someone James wants around. James’s sixteen year old daughter who has been living with her mother’s parents is reported missing on the night of James and Harriet’s return home; everyone seems to think she is heading back to the farm. Harriet is rather shocked by her husband’s attitude towards Maggie – who he clearly does not want at home. Eva was apparently a selfish, damaged woman, who made James’s life a misery – is Maggie like her mother? Is she a painful reminder to James or are there things Harriet doesn’t yet know? When Harriet discovers Maggie hiding in the old servant’s quarters, she immediately feels protective towards the childlike girl.

“She crouched on the floor in a corner, huddled still and small like a hunted animal, plaster powdered like snow on her navy, reefer coat. She had, only recently, been out in the rain. Her wet, blond hair clung sleekly to her head, her eyes, wide and grey and steady, stared at me with a remote expression as if she were only half awake or did not see me properly. “You must be my step-mother,” she said. Her voice was light and hasty, trailing into silence. She stood up; her schoolgirl’s coat, unbuttoned, hung about her like a sack.”

Maggie is a complicated mix of contradictions, young for her age and childlike although obviously very sexual and completely aware of the effect she has on others. Manipulating Harriet’s liking for her, Maggie ensures she is able to stay despite her father wanting her to go back to her grandparents. Maggie is a very strange character; there are times when she seems too young – Harriet appears strangely blind to her obvious oddness and I found Harriet’s total absorption in Maggie a little unbelievable – but that is a small point after all this is a woman who married a man in unseemly haste.

Harriet slowly begins to doubt so much that she had taken for granted, the whispers of others about James’s guilt begin to sow seeds of doubt – doubts she valiantly tries to push aside. The more she hears about Eva and the events of the day she died, the more she realises why so many people said James was the only one who could have done it. Cruel, anonymous letters sent to Harriet also shake her a little, a fall down the stairs – which might have been a push, and a devastating miscarriage take their toll on Harriet and she begins to look at James in a new way.

There is a brilliant oppressiveness to this novel, the farm and the people who live and work there are superbly portrayed – as is the nosey little journalist who pops up adding fuel to the fire, and the slimy young man with whom it is said Eva had had an affair. Their world feels like a world of shadows and secrets, and Harriet becomes less and less certain of what is real.

“Harriet.” I turned and James was standing above me, at the top of the slope, black against the moon. He was about four feet away from me and he was carrying a gun. I had a sick and vivid picture. She was shot at close range, shot as she turned from the bridge because he called to her. And then I saw that it wasn’t a gun on his arm but a walking-stick.”

The Solitary Child is enormously readable, an atmospheric novel with an intriguing mystery at the heart of it. It is also a well written study in uncomfortable relationships; Nina Bawden explores her characters astutely, and the way in which she teases out the mystery at the heart of this story makes it hard to put down.

nina bawden

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I don’t think I had realised that Nina Bawden had ever written mystery novels, but it seems that she did, in fact her first few novels were mysteries. This novel from 1954 was only her second published novel. The Odd Flamingo while not having quite the depth of character and subtlety of her later more literary works is a quick engaging little mystery, with some flashes of what would come in later novels. There is no doubt that The Odd Flamingo, shows many of the strengths of Nina Bawden’s writing, but it is also apparent that it was written by a young writer, still honing her craft. Nina Bawden however is an excellent storyteller, and that is certainly evident in The Odd Flamingo. The setting of this mystery is definitely one of its strengths, brilliantly atmospheric; Bawden’s seedy world is one that feels very realistic and very 1950’s.

“I had no premonition of disaster. Later I remembered that there had been a bowl of roses on the table by the telephone and that, as I had picked up the receiver, I had been comparing the dead bloom with the clear crimson of a bud from the same bush and wondering whether there was anything that could be done to stop the red roses from blue-ing so badly when they opened fully.
Celia said, “Will,is that you? Oh, thank God. Can you come down to the School?”
I asked her what was the matter and she said, “I can’t tell you on the ‘phone. Please come.”
She sounded both frightened and distraught. It was unlike her.”

The Odd Flamingo is rooted in the world of nightclubs, spivs, drugs and petty criminals, with young women who have taken the wrong path, anxious to escape their dreary existences. The story is narrated by Will Hunt, a lawyer who lives with his mother, and has idolised his friend Humphrey Stone for years. Will is an interesting character although not as deeply explored as I would have expected from Nina Bawden, his feelings for Humphrey are ambiguous, especially as we meet a woman as the story progresses who Will loved years earlier. In setting her novel among the people and places of the heaving London underbelly of the 1950’s Bawden has moved right away from many of the cosy crime novels of the period, all those country house mysteries she must have read herself.

Humphrey Stone is a respected school headmaster, whose wife Celia is visited by a beautiful young girl, Rose Blacker, who announces she is pregnant by Humphrey. Celia is naturally appalled, fearful for her family’s reputation; she immediately turns to Will for help with the delicate situation. Rose produces love letters, written in Humphrey’s unmistakable voice and hand. Will is keen to help, and while speaking to Rose he becomes fascinated and drawn to the strange innocence that he sees in her. However, barely can Will begin to ascertain the exact nature of the situation before a murder looks like taking things to a much darker place. Will begins to question everything he knows about Humphrey, but determined to help him where he can.

Will’s enquires bring Will back to the Odd Flamingo club, a place Will had visited a few times years before with Humphrey. Will had no idea that Humphrey was still a regular, and is shocked to hear that his old friend had been there with Rose and her close friend Jasmine. The Odd Flamingo is frequented by all sorts of unsavoury types, and it is also here that Will runs into his former love Kate. While trying to track down the elusive Humphrey, Will must also run the gauntlet that is Piers Stone, Humphrey’s odious and manipulative half-brother. As Will delves deeper he uncovers some unsavoury truths about some of Rose’s friends and the world that she has been inhabiting.

“There are moments when everything becomes clear and sharply drawn, moments that stand out in memory like three-dimensional figures against a flat background. I can remember now everything about that moment; the exact pinkish colour of the light, the pale patch in the carpet where a stain had been removed, the single cobweb strand that hung from the ceiling and moved gently in the breeze from the window. Humphrey’s back was to the light, his head was tilted towards me at a slightly enquiring angle as though he had just asked a question and was waiting for me to answer it. There was a small smile on his thin mouth, a timid, almost conciliatory smile.”

Will is something of a romantic; he is drawn to Rose and her unhappiness, his faith in his old friend and all he knew of him severely shaken. Several of the characters are destroyed, or have been by the shady world of the Odd Flamingo, but it is Will who seems most affected by these events, the reader gets the impression that Will Hunt will be marked by his experiences. Like Rose, there is something of the innocent in Will, and like Rose, his association with the Odd Flamingo and the events which take place over a few short weeks put an end to that innocence.

This is an enjoyable mystery which could be of interest to readers of Nina Bawden’s later literary novels. Bello books who produce ebooks and print on demand books have a few of these early books available.

nina bawden

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An impossible Marriage

There was a small part of me that didn’t want to like Pamela Hansford Johnson; An Impossible Marriage, the first of her novels I have tried. As many of you will know I love the writer Elizabeth Taylor – and Elizabeth Taylor and Pamela Hansford Johnson were contemporaries, only they didn’t exactly get along. Apparently (according to the one biography of Elizabeth Taylor which exists – The Other Elizabeth Taylor which I have read twice) Pamela Hansford Johnson and Olivia Manning were really quite vile about Elizabeth Taylor and her work – spitefully so, although I get the impression that Elizabeth Taylor gave as good as she got – in private at least, which is fair enough. As an ardent fan of Elizabeth Taylor I felt that reading PHJ was a bit of a betrayal – I know that’s bonkers. Worse still I really liked the book and no doubt will read more of her work, sorry Elizabeth. For those of you with no such qualms it is good to see Bello books re-printing Pamela Hansford novels as paperbacks and ebooks. An Impossible Marriage was being offered for about 59p so it seemed a good opportunity to at least try her work – I am now actually very glad that I did.

“The Dutch boy put his finger to the breach in the dam and he stemmed the sea, but the sea held him prisoner. I was caught, I was done for, I was frightened—what other word? Not terrified. Not panicked. Simply, as a child, frightened. It is frightful to be caught by your future in a corridor of youth, to feel its hands of iron across your eyes. Caught you! Did you think you could go further? There are corridors and corridors, rooms and rooms, gateways that open on to gardens orientally bright with peonies and singing-birds, but they aren’t for you. You’ve been caught right at the beginning of the game. This is your end, this is the end for you.”

animpossiblemarriage2A coming of age style story An Impossible Marriage tells the story of a young woman Christine, or Christie, between the wars forced to grow up a little too soon. As a young woman still in her teens, Christie lives in the shadow of her more beautiful manipulative friend Iris Allbright. Christie is sympathetically drawn, as a young girl with a lot to learn, haven’t we all been there? Iris is brilliantly awful, with her baby talk, flirting and man stealing.

As the novel opens we meet Christie more than twenty years on – arriving at Iris Allbright’s flat to see her old friend for the first time in many years, a meeting that Christie is rather dreading, and which takes her thoughts back to the time when they were young women together.

Young Christie already involved in an unsatisfactory romance with Leslie – his slightly over inflated ideas of himself hide his true naivety – longs for something more glorious. Working as an office junior, Christie as the youngest, newest member is given some of the dullest jobs to do, and has to work hard to keep herself on the right side of her boss. Her youth and inexperience is the biggest problem in her relationships, for Christie has a lot to learn in her ways of dealing with people, as we all do when young. During an awkward blind date arranged by Iris, Christie first spots Ned Skelton, a much older man, who she is instantly attracted to
Gradually, having dispensed with the hapless Leslie, Christie finds herself in a heady relationship with Ned; he has a past which includes a mistress called Wanda, sexual experience and a strangely beguiling presence. Christie has also to learn to listen to that small voice inside of us – the voice that can act as an early warning system.

“I told him that I would do whatever he said, that I would learn from him, that I would trust my life to him. When he thought I was sufficiently conscious of my errors he took me and kissed me until I was breathless with joy and on the edge of hysterical tears; but inside of me a small, cold critic sat aloof”

For the reader, there is something rather unpleasant about Ned, he’s not obviously cruel, certainly not violent, but he is quietly manipulative and when Christie meets his family she has more reason to hear faint alarm bells. Instead of being suspicious of this gauche young girl, and protective of their adored Ned, as Christie had fully expected them to be, they seem instead rather too glad to pass the responsibility of managing Ned onto Christie, asking her abruptly to ensure he sticks to his work. Christie and Ned’s engagement is not trouble free, disagreements which result in Christie running home in tears, concerns over Ned’s latest business and later the start of real doubts for Christie. Ned is quick to soothe Christie’s doubts – and the marriage eventually takes place, celebrated along the lines dictated by Ned.

“Now if many of us know the pressures of the inner critic, many of us also recognise – though not until his task has been carried out – the activities of the secret planner. We are unhappy in the prison of our lives – we want to break out. And so, without realising what we do since it is the secret planner who thinks for us, we slowly lay our schemes for escape.”

Having given up her job, Christie finds married life to be not quite all she had expected. A little older now although only twenty one Christie is soon to wonder at the choices she made, and begins to plan her own liberation.

An Impossible Marriage offers a fascinating exploration of the social expectations placed upon women at this time, well written and perceptive; this will not be the only Pamela Hansford Johnson novel that I read.


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afewgreenleaves(Thanks to Bello books for sending me this copy of a Few Green leaves)

Set in a small English village this later Pym novel, published in the year of her death – has something of the feel of one of her much earlier novels, although it lacks a little of the sharpness of those earlier perfections. Emma Horwick is an anthropologist in her mid-thirties, she moves to the village to write up her notes, and is immediately drawn into observing her neighbours. These of course are wonderful Pymish creations, clergymen, doctors, spinsters, academics and housewives. Tom is a slightly ineffectual widowed rector living with his sister in a large barn of a rectory that is coveted by the young doctor and his wife, while the old doctor also fairly ineffectual contents himself with prescribing hot milky drinks and placebos for insomnia. Elderly spinster Miss Lee reminisces about the days when the last governess of the de Tankerville family Miss Vereker and the “the girls” were still to be seen around the village. Tom concerns himself with local history particularly the de Tankerville mausoleum and the peculiar local ancient rite of burial in wool. Pym and her characters contemplate the village inhabitants of the recent and distant past – giving the village a timeless feel.

“August 1678, Tom Dagnall read in the diaries of Anthony a Wood ‘The act of buring in woollen commences the first of this month,’
While the idea of being buried in woollen in August seemed decidedly stuffy, it gave one a more comfortable feeling on this uncertain spring morning in the chilly study, looking out on to the tumbled gravestones. Daphne had placed a paraffin heater at his side but it gave out smell rather than warmth. How many of his parishioners, Tom wondered, had been buried in woollen?”

A former Anglican clergyman turned restaurant critic Adam Prince is especially proud of his wine cellar. Daphne – the rector’s sister – yearns for Greece – where she holidays each year leaving Tom to his own devices, and suddenly reveals she has always wanted a dog. The young doctor Martin Shrubsole finds the home he shares with his wife Avice, three children and mother in law just a bit too small – and casts his eyes towards the rectory, thinking a smaller house would be more suited to Tom’s needs. Newly installed in the Shrubsole home, Martin’s mother in law, finds herself no longer allowed to eat butter or sugar, and is required to take a walk from time to time.

Comfortably ensconced in her academic mother’s cottage, Emma is surprised to see her former lover Graham Pettifer on a late night discussion programme, and impulsively writes to him, inviting him to lunch. Emma imagines Graham will bring his wife Claudia with him – however when Graham does arrive he is alone, apparently estranged from his wife. Emma and Graham strike up a somewhat half-hearted relationship, Graham is frankly a bit dull, but when he decides to take up residence in a deserted woodland cottage on the edge of the village to finish his work, he and Emma are thrown together. Emma seems rather more interested in observing her village neighbours from a sociological point of view than she is in Graham however. Meanwhile, Tom, whose sister has moved to Birmingham, also starts to cast on eye in Emma’s direction.

A Few Green Leaves won’t be a favourite Pym novel for me, but it is gentle and engaging and very readable, there is a lovely mix of Pymish eccentrics and some amusing scenes of village life. It is interesting to note how Pym has updated her village to the modern (1970’s) world, the garden party has been replaced by a hunger lunch, and I was delighted to see patterned toilet roll holders at the bring buy sale. I had somehow forgotten about bring and buy sales. Overall A Few Green Leaves is simply charming, and that after all is no bad thing.

Barbara Pym

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the sweet dove died(Thanks to Bellobooks – for  another  of their lovely editions)

“I had a dove, and the sweet dove died;
And I have thought it died of grieving;
O, what could it grieve for? Its feet were tied
With a single thread of my own hand’s weaving.. ”
(John Keats)

The Sweet Dove Died does feel quite different to other Pym novels I think; there are I felt, touches of Elizabeth Taylor at times. There is less cosiness and rather more sharpness to this novel -and although there is mention of a jumble sale there are not the usual collection of either clergymen or anthropologists.
At an antique fair the ageing elegantly dressed Leonora Eyre meets antique dealer Humphrey and his nephew James. Leonora is fragile and flirtatious with a love of Victoriana and beautiful things. Humphrey is instantly attracted to Leonora – while she is far more interested in James, despite the big age difference between them. Although Leonora’s intentions never progress beyond a small chaste kiss on the cheek – having done with “all that sort of thing” – she quickly places herself at the centre of James’s life.

“Leonora had had romantic experiences in practically all the famous gardens of Europe, beginning with the Grossner gardens in Dresden where, as a schoolgirl before the war, she had been picked up by a White Russian prince. And yet nothing had come of these pickings up; she had remained unmarried, one could almost say untouched. It was all a very far cry from the dusty little park where she and James now walked.”

thesweetdovediedLeonora takes it upon herself to help James manage the storing of his furniture, buys him expensive gifts – and contrives to evict her tenant so she can move James into the vacant flat above her, upon his return from Spain. However unknown to Leonora, just before James leaves on his Spanish trip, he meets the young and bookish Phoebe, young, badly dressed and sexually liberated, Phoebe is a very different kind of woman. When Leonora realises that in order to keep James under her spell she needs to dispense with young Phoebe, her critical eye appraises her as being no threat. However Leonora has not reckoned on wicked young American, Ned, who follows James back from Spain, and who is also quite adept at weaving a spell.

Leonora is a wonderfully dreadful character, self-absorbed and blind to her own faults, she judges all other women against herself and under her gaze they just don’t measure up. Leonora is unaware how really quite like her friend Meg she is, Meg nursing an impossible affection for her friend Colin – who is gay. Old fashioned, slightly fussy Humphrey’s romantic intentions continue, although he is not unaware of Leonora’s preference for his nephew – and Leonora is quite happy to use Humphrey for a pleasant evening out.

I really enjoyed my re-reading of this Barbara Pym novel – I actually fairly gulped it down this time. Leonora is not totally unsympathetic – although there were moments when I wanted to slap her slightly – she is hard to like. Many of the characters in this novel are manipulative or deluded, and it is in this that we see Pym’s superb sharpness. Those lines of Keats – quoted at the start of the book and even referred to by Ned, give the story real poignancy.

Barbara Pym

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Quartet in Autumn

(This edition from Bello books)

When I first read Quartet in Autumn I think I found it a little sad – veering towards depressing. Maybe this is the kind of book that one needs to be in the right frame of mind for. This time I found I really loved it. Although this novel does seem to be a bit different from other Barbara Pym novels, there are still plenty of Pymisms to be found. This was the novel that was published in 1977 after Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil had both separately and independently of each other, named Barbara Pym as the most under rated novelist. It was also the novel which found her nominated for the Booker Prize. There certainly is a more melancholic feeling to ‘Quartet in Autumn’ – focusing as it does, on four lonely people as they approach retirement from a dull unimportant office job.

“That day the four of them went to the library, though at different times. The library assistant, if he had noticed them at all, would have seen them as people who belonged together in some way”

Edwin, Marcia Norman and Letty – work together in an unspecified office. They have worked together for a number of years – and although they are a similar age – they don’t socialise out of work or have any kind of personal relationship. Letty and Norman each live in bedsits – while Marcia and Edwin each live alone in what were family homes, Edwin in the home he shared with his wife, Marcia in the house she lived in with her parents. Edwin likes to visit churches in his lunch hour; Letty sometimes goes to the library. Marcia remembers with fond nostalgia her time in hospital, where she under- went ‘major surgery’ under the auspices of Mr Strong for whom she nurses tender feelings. In the shed in her over grown garden Marcia hoards empty milk bottles, just as she hoards tinned food – although barely eats anything. When Letty finds the house she lives in is sold to a new landlord, a pastor of an obscure African church, she is nervous of the noisy lively family he brings with him and with Edwin’s help re-locates to a new room in the home of octogenarian Mrs Pole.
Marcia and Letty retire before Edwin and Norman (remember the days when women retired five years earlier than men?) – and while Marcia and Letty need to adjust and find ways of filling their days, Edwin and Norman occasionally wonder how “the girls” are getting on. Marcia is annoyed by a medical social worker who keeps trying to call, while Letty settles into a new routine with Mrs Pole.

“In Mrs Pole’s house the telephone rang just as she and Letty were settling down to watch television. They quite often did this now, and although it had started by Mrs Pope suggesting that Letty might like to watch the news or some improving programme of cultural or scientific interest there was now hardly an evening when Letty did not come down to watch whatever happened to be on the box, whether it was worthy of attention or not.”

The story of these quiet sad, lonely people is not entirely dispiriting though, while Marcia becomes more obsessive and secretive – Letty at least shows she is able to remain positive and move forward in her life, even beginning to reach out a little to the people around her by the end of the novel.

A novel of four ageing lonely people who have out lived their usefulness – whose jobs, when they retire will not be re-filled – is understandably poignant, but it is also shot through with Barbara Pym’s sharp humour. In ‘Quartet in Autumn’ Barbara Pym seems in part to have been examining the fate of single elderly people, who is it that will look out for them? Whose responsibility is it to see that someone is taking the necessary care of themselves? The system (as Pym must have seen existing in the 1970’s) is seen to fail Marcia – who seems to slip through the social care net.
These characters who I once found so sad, spoke to me in a completely different way this time. Barbara Pym’s minute observations of people, are quite brilliant, the humour and pathos are handled deftly and saved this from being overwhelmingly sorrowful.

Barbara Pym

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the other man

I recently became aware of Bello books through the medium of twitter. They are an imprint of Pan Macmillan providing print-on-demand and ebooks and reviving many classic and out of print works. When I recently saw a tweet about Francis Durbridge books – I thought “ooh who’s that then?” Finding out Francis Durbridge was an old fashioned mystery writer –I could resist downloading one to try. A day or two later I realised this was just the kind of book I was in the mood to read during the weekend. A quick and involving read awaited me, as well as the discovery of a new to me author. Considering the size of my TBR I am rather alarmed at how many books there are by Francis Durbridge – including a series about a detective and a journalist side kick, which I rather like the sound of. The Other Man is a stand-alone novel- and one I found hard to put down.

“The houseboats on the river at Medlow have an idle and carefree elegance that is all their own. Nothing disturbs their serene anchorage. At weekends tired City businessmen find that they are not so tired as they thought they were – tiredness manifests itself on Monday morning; the young and not so young frolic discreetly; illicit friendships flourish. There is always love and laughter in plenty on the river at Medlow and the few permanent houseboat residents regard the junketing with aloof tolerance. It is almost impossible to imagine anything sinister happening in this little flesh-pot of the Thames which one of the more enterprising of the houseboat- agents describes as a ‘natural paradise’.”

The body of Paul Rocello is found on a river houseboat owned by a man named James Cooper who seems to have vanished. Just before the body is discovered, a local public school housemaster, David Henderson is seen on the houseboat by the the other man2visiting niece of the local doctor. Inspector Ford, whose young son has a scholarship to Rockingham College where Henderson teaches, is put in charge of the case. What was Henderson doing on that houseboat? Where and who exactly is Cooper, and why did Italian Paul Rocello end up murdered on his houseboat? Henderson proves to be less than helpful to Inspector Ford as the investigation gets underway. On another houseboat lives Billie Reynolds, something of a good time girl, who it would appear is another potential witness to events on the night Rocello was murdered. Billie is quite capable however, of turning all situations to her own advantage.
I thoroughly enjoyed this quick light mystery that is very much in that traditional mould that I enjoy. It isn’t gory or gratuitously violent – like so many modern thrillers, the characters speak properly and with respect, I do rather like that old fashioned politeness. The canvas is small and while the plot is clever with plenty to keep the reader guessing and surprised, there aren’t so many characters that it ever gets confusing. I also really liked the character of Inspector Ford, a nice ordinary honest policeman and would enjoy reading more about him, but I think he must be a stand- alone character. I will certainly be reading more by Francis Durbridge – and I am also very glad to have discovered Bello books.


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