Posts Tagged ‘Gertrude Trevelyan’

It’s the last day of the month and I won’t finish another book before midnight. It’s been a good month of reading for me, and despite not being very well, I wanted to share it with you all. February has been #ReadIndies month, hosted again by Lizzie and Karen, it’s a month that seems to perfectly suit my kind of reading, and I have really enjoyed this month’s books. #ReadIndies has become one of my favourite reading events. Honestly, where would we be without these brilliant, independent publishers?  

Unfortunately, I just won’t get around to writing about everything, hopefully I will write in more detail about a couple more of these in the coming days or weeks. One of the review copies I received is actually not out until April, so that gives me plenty of time to write a proper review of it. Three of these have been reviewed previously.  

My first read of the month was a collection of stories Other Worlds (edited 2021) by Teffi (NYRB Classics) translated from Russian by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler & others. Focussing on other worldly themes, the collection comes from across a forty-year period in Teffi’s life.  

Maud Martha (1953) by Gwendolyn Brooks (Faber) is a book I only heard about from other bloggers. The only novel by the celebrated poet and first Black author to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. Told in a series of poetic vignettes, this is the story of Maud Martha Brown who grew up on the South Side of 1940s Chicago.  

Cold Enough for Snow (2021) by Jessica Au (Fitzcarraldo Editions) a tender, delicate little novella about a mother and daughter visiting Japan together. This was my first of two visits to Japan in my February reading. The two meet in Tokyo, share meals in restaurants, walk around the city, visit galleries and talk. It’s an exploration of their pasts, memory and their understanding of each other.  

Bird of Paradise (1914) by Ada Leverson (Michael Walmer) a wonderfully bright, witty novel, that gently satirises a society in which love, and money go hand in hand.  

Appius and Virginia (1932) by Gertrude Trevelyan (Abandoned Bookshop) I was so looking forward to reading this, Gertrude Trevelyan’s first novel. I wasn’t disappointed – though it often made me sad and a little angry. It tells the story of Virginia Hutton who embarks on an experiment – to raise a new-born Orang-utan as a human child. She names him Appius and buries herself in a cottage with no servants and over the course of about a decade goes about the business of teaching Appius how to talk, read, play and daily become more and more like a real boy. There are one or two uncomfortable comparisons between Appius and people Virginia considers inferior – which for me went hand in hand with the character’s attitudes. Throughout the novel there is a conflict between nature and nurture, and what happens when Appius becomes aware of his true origins. A fascinating, thought-provoking novel, in which the reader is firmly on the side of Appius. 

Latchkey Ladies (1921) by Marjorie Grant (Handheld Press) set around the end of WW1 this is the kind of novel I love, a novel about women, living and working independently at a time when that was less usual.  

A Summer with Kim Novak (1998) by Håkan Nesser (World Editions) translated from Swedish by Saskia Vogel. Nesser is a very successful, well-known Swedish crime writer, who I hadn’t heard of. I read about this novel on another blog and wanted to read it. Although there is a crime in this novel – generally referred to by the narrator as the incident – it is in fact much more of a coming-of-age novel – and that’s what initially appealed to me most. Fourteen-year-old Erik and his friend Edmund spend the summer of 1962 by a Swedish lake, swimming, riding their bikes and daydreaming about a young schoolteacher called Ewa who looks just like Kim Novak. When Ewa’s boyfriend is found dead, Erik’s older brother is initially the prime suspect. Many years later, Erik looks back on what happened that summer. 

How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart (2023) by Florentyna Leow (Emma Press) is a collection of essays about the author’s time living in Kyoto. Florentyna takes up the offer of a house share in the hills of Kyoto. She starts a new job as a tour guide, falls in love with Kyoto, becomes a regular at a tiny, jazz bar. Meanwhile her relationship with her house mate becomes intense, and eventually begins to break down. This collection is a meditation on place, and the loss of friendship.  

In the Belly of the Queen (2023) Karosh Taha (V&Q books) translated from the German by Grashina Gabelmann. A novel about class, race and gender this novel is told in two parts. One runs from front to back – the other part (turn the book over) runs back to front – like Ali Smith’s How to be Both apparently. You can read which ever part you like first – I started with the slightly longer section first. As this novel – which I really enjoyed – isn’t out until April I will save my thoughts for nearer the time.  

Foster (2010) by Claire Keegan (Faber) another small novella which was lovely to read in one sitting. Set during a hot summer, a child is taken by her father to stay with relatives on a farm in rural Ireland. In the house of the Kinsellas the young girl finds an affection she has never known. Gradually in their care she begins to blossom. Only, there is something not talked about in this household, and summers have to end. A slight novel perhaps but one of absolute perfection.  

So, that was February, I don’t have any concrete plans for March – but I do hope to join in with Read Ireland month. I might read a William Trevor collection of stories and I have a couple of books I had meant to read this month that I ran out of time for. I have started reading The Fawn (1959) by Magda Szabo translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix – only fifty pages or so into it, but it seems promising so far. 

I would love to know what your highlights of February were – and what if any your plans are for March.  

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With thanks to Neglected Books and Boiler House Press for the review copy 

I am failing still to review the majority of books that I am reading, this month feels worse than ever. However, there is one recent read that I really wanted to tell you about. Two Thousand Million Man-Power by Gertrude Trevelyan is being re-issued by Boiler House Press on the 30th of November – so you’ve not long to wait, and it’s definitely one I recommend looking out for.  

Two Thousand Million Man-Power is an extraordinary novel. The title I would suggest, doesn’t immediately make one want to grab it off the shelf, though it is at least intriguing. Gertrude Trevelyan herself and her literary legacy has almost completely been wiped from history – funny how this always happens to women writers! During her lifetime she was very well regarded and published eight novels. Trevelyan was a very political and socially aware writer, and in this novel, she shows an extraordinary understanding to all that was happening around her in the later 1930s. However, as the introduction to this new edition explains Gertrude Trevelyan’s name has been completley excluded from all indexes of inter-war literature. So, it seems almost miraculous that Boiler House Press should have even heard of this novel, much less decide to re-issue it, a novel after more than eighty years in the wilderness brought back for a new generation of readers. So, if like me, you enjoy inter-war literature, especially that which highlights ordinary life in a realistic and unsentimental way, this is absolutely the novel you’ve been waiting for.  

The novel concerns Robert Thomas and Katherine Bott from New Year’s Eve 1919 until the funeral of King George V in 1936. Throughout these years they change and grow, experiencing youthful radical idealism, economic boom and bust, terrible poverty, unemployment and comfortable middle-class life in the suburbs with all the trappings. What Trevelyan does brilliantly however is to set her novel and place her characters very much in the context of everything that was happening in society and the wider world. Robert and Katherine move through their world in London against a backdrop of newspaper headlines, radio broadcasts and advertising slogans. The world of the 1920s and 1930s is realistically laid before us.  

“In streets of crowded tall houses and in wider streets of lower houses and on broad high-roads with houses spaced out by gardens and out in Surrey where new red villas were dropped among the pines, and down in the farms and manors of the West Country, and up through the Midlands and North in sudden huddled stacks and unexpected farmsteads, and in the crofters’ cottages and tumbledown castles of the Highlands and in solid Lowland homes and in grey Yorkshire towns and moorland farms and in fishing colonies down the coast, and on the flats of Essex, and in the small new houses beginning to sprout on the extreme northern edge of London, and in the brick and stucco villas, behind tight curtains, and in streets of crowded tall houses, the greater number of the forty-seven million one hundred and thirty-three thousand inhabitants of the British Isles slept or listened to the sounds of sleeping. The Reparations Conference had broken down in Paris: Allied proposals; over in Dublin police were potted at from doorways; civil war in Russia was practically over; Poland was making a defensive alliance with Rumania; in London the Reparations Conference was at it again: German counter proposals. In the early hours of the morning, down off Ladbroke Grove where a coster’s barrow here and there was on the move, Robert opened an eye and saw the room was still half dark and shut it again.”  

When we first meet Robert and Katherine, they are young and single each pursuring their own career, each living in rented rooms. They are both high minded individuals, full of idealism, they meet at an evening lecture after their day’s work. Robert is a research chemist with a cosmetics firm, Katherine is a London County council schoolteacher, with little affection for the children in her care. They begin a relationship, with all the ups and downs of most relationships, it will be several years before they actually marry and set up home together.  

The couple’s fortunes wax and wane – as do some of their youthful ideologies. They move to better, then worse properties, lose and gain employment. Acquire all the modern trappings of successful living, a car, a radio, modern furniture and then sell them again when times are hard.  

I am wary of giving too many spoilers here, but Trevelyan shows us how personalities and relationships are affected by economic changes. She also satirises rather beautifully the suburban bourgeoise life. This is no cosy, love story, it is a realistic portrait of a very believable couple living a very believable life. Robert is easily the most likeable of the two – Katherine is changed too much by her experiences of difficult times, but even as a young, single schoolteacher, she seems more pragmatic than Robert.  

Gertrude Trevelyan is a name which deserves to sit alongside the other literary giants of her generation, and it is good news indeed that this novel is being made available again.  

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