Posts Tagged ‘Pamela Frankau’

Well I have finished reading The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark my second book for the 1965 club, but as I am currently away, I don’t think I will get it reviewed before Sunday. So, I have taken a little look into the archives – and it does seem as if 1965 was a pretty good year all round.

A Dedicated Man by Elizabeth Taylor

Undoubtedly one of my favourite writers, this is one of four collections of stories published during her life time. As well as a gifted novelist, Taylor wrote extraordinarily good short stories too, and this collection is no exception.  In these stories Elizabeth Taylor considers the relationships between mothers and daughters, and husbands and wives, between neighbours and that terrifying creature the Englishman/woman abroad. She reveals small snobberies and the selfishness of the truly callous. Several years after reading them, I find some of these stories remain quite vividly in my mind. Taylor explores her characters with such precision that we understand them immediately – whether her characters are likeable or not – her cool observing eye is quite merciless.

The Carlyles at Home by Thea Holme

I only read this Persephone book last year – a title I had continually overlooked in favour of others. Yet it proved to a rather lovely little book, which has some delightful illustrations. Written in the 1960s, The Carlyles at Home portrays the home life of writer and philosopher Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane, during the thirty odd years they lived at Cheyne Row in Chelsea. Thea Holme; the author, wrote it while she and her husband were living in the house as custodians. She confines herself to everyday matters in the Carlyles lives, staying well away from the nature of the Carlyles marriage for example, Thomas Carlyle’s work is mentioned almost in passing. Small domestic concerns, problems with servants, home improvements and noise from neighbours. Each of the eleven chapters focus on a different aspect of the Carlyles lives at Cheyne Row.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath was someone I was fascinated by in my late teens. I bought this pretty little hardback edition so I could reread these poems a few years ago.

Ariel; published posthumously two years after Plath’s suicide – was her second collection of poetry – and it is deeply personal, often intimate, and frequently challenging. Her themes are those of marriage and motherhood, sexuality, depression, death and suicide. Plath’s poetry is lyrical and though often dark there is a strange luminosity to many of her images.

Friends and Heroes by Olivia Manning

Just the other day I forced my mother to buy the omnibus edition of The Balkan trilogy while browsing bookshelves in a charity shop – telling her it was so good I have read it twice. This is the third book in the Balkan trilogy – and this novel finds us in Greece – after the Pringles were forced with other ex-pats of their acquaintance to flee Bucharest. In Friends and Heroes, the peace that Guy and Harriet think they have found in Athens is destined to be short lived, and soon the war which is raging across Europe creeps ever close to their door. Again, Manning is superb at recreating the testing times in which she herself lived while abroad during the war. She writes so well.

Slaves of the Lamp by Pamela Frankau

Slaves of the Lamp is also part of a trilogy. It is the second book in Frankau’s Clothes of the King’s Son trilogy. The title; Slaves to the Lamp refers to those who take comfort in their belief in spiritualism, faith healing and other mysticisms. Faith healers and their followers form just one strand of this slightly unusual – though enjoyable – novel. In true Pamela Frankau style – the canvas here is large, set in both England and the South of France, Slaves to the Lamp follows the stories of several characters, which inevitably weave together. While this isn’t my favourite Frankau novel – it is enormously readable, and I have yet to read anything by her I haven’t enjoyed. The best thing about this novel is Thomas, such a lovable character.

A Little Love a Little Learning by Nina Bawden

I love Nina Bawden – regular readers will know that. A Little Love, A Little Learning was published more than ten years into Nina Bawden’s long publishing career – it is a great example of all she does well. She understands the dynamics and difficulties, and here she brings her knowledge of step-families to this revealing portrait, which shows just how fragile happiness can be. This is one of those novels where in a sense not a huge amount happens – and yet it remains very compelling, and perfectly told. I think Bawden is at her best when portraying middle-class families, especially children within those families.

Three more recommendations from 1965 – books I don’t have copies of it would seem.

Stoner by John Edwards Williams

Well everyone seemed to be reading this at one time. A novel which enjoyed a huge renaissance a few years ago. In my mind I categorise Williams with writers like William Maxwell – and of the two I prefer Maxwell. Stoner is a beautifully written, poignant novel, a novel about love and the disappointments dished out by life. Stoner – is the story of an unremarkable man – and yet he is a kind of hero. This is a story of love – but it is not a love story, but about the love William Stoner has for the women in his life, for literature and the university, and the great love he had for his job. Stoner’s life is just like that of most of us – we have our loves, disappointments sadnesses those daily routines that go unremarked for years and years. William Stoner enjoys some small quiet victories in his life, but after he is gone there remains little to prove that he ever lived.

A Backward Place by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

I borrowed this book from Liz I think, and really loved it. I am reminded I haven’t read Prawer Jhabvala for ages – and there is plenty of her work I have never read. A Backward Place is a kind of comedy of manners centred on a group of westerners living alternative life-styles in Delhi. Judy an Englishwoman is married to Bal – living in a small house and courtyard with his family. Clarissa is a dishevelled artist, claiming to appreciate a simpler life, while Etta is an ageing Hungarian beauty determined to keep hold of her Parisian chic and mysterious allure. Dr and Mrs Hochstadt are a German couple on an extended though temporary visit to experience India.

The Red and the Green by Iris Murdoch

It’s eleven years since I read The Red and The Green so my memory of it is a bit shaky, so not linking to my review as it only amounts to a few sentences – though I do know I loved it. The setting is Dublin in 1916 as rebellion looms. An Anglo-Irish family provide all the main characters, the relationships between all these people are complex and frequently unorthodox.

Have you read any of these? What have you been reading for the #1965club?

Read Full Post »


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

Read Full Post »


One of the best things about social media is how it allows us to share our enthusiasms and discover new ones.

Over on Twitter just lately I have been very much enjoying the #NeglectedLadyNovelists tweets from writer Judith Kinghorn – and the conversations resulting from them. Now I do like a good bit of Twitter banter.

I found the World cup of #NeglectedladyNovelists particularly good fun. Several rounds and a semi-final have come and gone – with Twitter folk having to vote for who they consider the most neglected of the lady novelists in each round. Now, I have always taken my democratic responsibilities very seriously – and so I naturally thought very carefully over my choices. For women writers of a certain period – whether neglected or not – are very much my thing. It was really, really hard – and sparked a bit of debate – for instance in group 1 we had Elizabeth Taylor pitted against Anita Brookner, Jean Rhys and Rosamond Lehmann, while in group 3 the choice was between Sylvia Townsend Warner, Flora Mayor, Storm Jameson and EM Delafield, to me it seemed quite impossible to choose. In each group there were at least two writers I wanted to vote for. In all seriousness I want all these writers to enjoy a resurgence in popularity, that is why I love Persephone books and the VMC publications of the 1980 and 90s so much.

I began to wonder how people were voting – surely if we were looking for those women writers who have become truly neglected then I would have expected the likes of Flora Mayor, EH Young or May Sinclair to have made it through to the final. May Sinclair made it to the semi-finals but neither of the other two did terribly well. It’s hardly surprising that people ended up voting for writers they loved most – and I was guilty of this myself. I couldn’t help but vote for Sylvia Townsend Warner and Rosamond Lehmann as I love them so much. I do, also consider them to be rather neglected, however in truth some of their novels are still in print. Virago still publish three or four Rosamond Lehmann titles – and Selina Hastings’ biography of her is also available. VMC print on demand editions of some Sylvia Townsend Warner novels are available – as well as some NYRB editions (though why they felt it necessary to change the title of Mr Fortune’s Maggot is a mystery) – so are these writers truly neglected? Knowing all this I cast my votes – perhaps wrongly. In truth it is perhaps those writers who work is only to be found on second hand book sites, and on the shelves of (very good) second hand bookshops that are truly neglected – so in some rounds I voted with my heart and not my head. I do feel a little guilty – but at least it has got us all talking about these wonderful women writers, and that can’t be a bad thing. I didn’t vote for Elizabeth Taylor despite my great love of her writing because I can’t honestly say she is as neglected as she once was – that is definitely a good thing. How many of these writers’ works can be found in high street bookshops though is another matter – easily bought from a certain online seller perhaps – but how many times do readers get a chance to idly pick up Sylvia Townsend Warner or Rosamond Lehmann in their local branch of Waterstones I wonder?

When I start thinking about the list of #Neglectedladynovelists I would compile – it begins to get very long. Two writers I have been enjoying during this past week would definitely be on the list; Pamela Frankau and Pamela Hansford Johnson, both very good writers and excellent storytellers.

Many of the other novelists considered under that hashtag however – are exceptionally good writers, women who really did have something to say – they were not merely the tellers of good stories – although they did that too. When I consider the likes of Rebecca West, Olivia Manning, Antonia White and Winifred Holtby and others I am reminded what amazing, varied lives, they all lived. They each had so much to tell us – worlds to show us, so much to say – of course I want more people to read them.

I have wondered before how it is that some writers fall out of favour – while others endure – fashion and tastes change I suppose, and new writers come along. It is sad how many wonderful writers get forgotten during that process – when it comes to books I might sometimes be swayed by a pretty new edition, but I don’t much care about fashions. It is probably unrealistic to expect lots of these writers to be re-issued in shiny new editions – the cost for a publishing company would I suspect be prohibitive.

Still no reason why we who love these #NeglectedLadyNovelists shouldn’t continue to scour the bookshelves of second hand bookshops and celebrate our finds on our favourite social media sites. That way these wonderful voices will still be heard – at least by some of us.

Should you still want to get involved in the chat – the final of the world cup of #NeglectedLadyNovelists is at the end of the week. Make sure you are following @Judithkinghorn if you don’t want to miss it.

The original list has now been whittled down to Sylvia Townsend Warner and Jean Rhys – both truly wonderful writers – but I wonder if you can guess where my vote will be going? If neither of them take your fancy (and why wouldn’t they) who would be your choice of most NeglectedLadyNovelist?

(Incidentally, Sylvia Townsend Warner will be the Libraything Virago Group’s author of the month in December – and I am going to be re-reading Lolly Willowes as I have persuaded my very small book group to read it in December.)


Read Full Post »


Slaves to the Lamp is the sequel to Sing for your Supper the novel which begins the Clothes of the King’s son trilogy. The novel could be read as a standalone novel, as there is only passing reference to events in the first novel, though naturally I would recommend beginning with the first instalment.

The title; Slaves to the Lamp refers to those who take comfort in their belief in spiritualism, faith healing and other mysticisms. Faith healers and their followers form just one strand of this slightly unusual – though enjoyable – novel. In true Pamela Frankau style – the canvas here is large, set in both England and the South of France, Slaves to the Lamp follows the stories of several characters, which inevitably weave together.

At the end of Sing for Your Supper – Thomas Weston, the youngest of the Weston children, elected to stay in England as his older brother and sister, his Pierrot star father and new stepmother Paula set out for America. Despite only being ten, Thomas was allowed his own way, cared for by his grandmother, and his beloved nanny Blanche Briggs – Brigstock as the Weston children call her. Now it is 1937, Thomas is twenty-one – and is working for Romney Butler’s advertising agency. Romney Butler is a wealthy man, but he has been suffering badly from arthritis in his hip, and has only recently returned to London following treatment. Thomas is living in a small flat above a shop – though dear Brigstock still takes care of mending his clothes. Weekends are spent with Carola Toyne, the twenty-eight-year-old daughter of faith healer William Toyne. One of William Toyne’s greatest believers is Robert Macintyre, a wealthy, successful osteopath.

As a child, Thomas had begun to realise he had inherited his grandmother’s gift (or curse) of E.S.P, and – following an incident when his sister Sarah was unwell – of healing. Since that time, Thomas has vowed never to use these talents. So, when Romney Butler’s secretary Queenie, asks Thomas to attend a spiritualist meeting she can’t, to ask a question on behalf of her boss – who she is slavishly devoted to – Thomas is torn.

“ ‘My control,’ said Mrs Swinburne, ‘is a doctor and philosopher who lived in the reign of the first Pharaoh. He will probably begin by telling you something about yourself. Please ask him anything you like. People usually prefer to write down the more confidential questions and hand them to me.’ Here Thomas decided he had lost Queenie’s questions, and began to fish for it agitatedly. ‘If you are wondering how my guide can read English, you needn’t. You will find a full explanation in Harry Masterson’s Facts from the Unknown. You can buy a copy for a shilling at the desk downstairs…”

Thomas’s brother Gerald who has begun to make his name as an actor in America, his sister Sarah, twenty-five and a marriage already behind her their father Philip Weston and his wife Paula are on their way back to England. Sarah has decided to stop off in the South of France – in the place the entire family holidayed together eight years before. Thomas thinks fondly of this time, when he last spent time with the whole family – the twenty-nine summer – seems to exist in his mind as a time of absolute perfection. Thomas revisits this perfect summer when he takes a short break to join Sarah in France. Here he also reconnects with Rab – Paula’s daughter – with whom he was so close as a child in Devon before the Weston family left for America.

“Standing in front of him there was a girl; but a girl who looked more like a boy. She was wearing a blue-and-white striped singlet with blue trousers. He saw the short, silky hair, pale as his own; the tanned face; the wide blue eyes above the bumpy cheekbones, the square, smiling mouth. This catalogue seemed to take him a long time: Rab was exactly as he knew her to be; but he found it hard to understand that he was seeing her.”

When Sarah eventually arrives in London she meets Thomas’s now former boss Romney Butler who is instantly smitten – and soon Thomas finds himself connected with Romney in a way he wasn’t expecting. Gerald has a part in a play – he is surrounded by theatre people, juggling contracts, trying to make his way in a competitive world of easily hurt feelings.

The thing that drives this novel for me is Thomas’s voice – although a third person narrative, the majority of the novel is told from his viewpoint – and Thomas is a very lovable character. He is an unusual character, not least because of his supposed ‘gift’. There are times when the adult Thomas reminded me strongly of the child Thomas in the previous novel – but then in so many ways shows us he is anything but a child. While working for the advertising agency – Thomas find his conscience will not allow him to work on campaigns where he feels lies are being told – his colleagues are puzzled – but Thomas happily shrugs his shoulders and walks out. He takes a job in the shop beneath his flat – and seems very happy. Pamela Frankau’s characterisation is as good as ever in this novel, these people are all fully rounded and explored in depth. There are some unexpected moments, tragedies and dramas – in a novel a little more than 400 pages there is a lot going on.

There were moments when I was a bit discombobulated with these three worlds, spiritualism, the theatre and advertising. In the end, it does all work – everything comes together – and we begin to see the deceits that exist within these different – and yet oddly similar worlds.

Overall I enjoyed this novel – mainly because Frankau writes such compelling stories and her characters are people I like spending time with. This is not such a good novel as Sing for your Supper – but still a really good read, and as I have the third in the series I am looking forward to seeing where the Weston family takes me next.

If you haven’t read Pamela Frankau before I would recommend starting with either The Willow Cabin or A Wreath for the Enemy.

pamela frankau

Read Full Post »


Some of you may remember reading my previous reviews of Pamela Frankau novels, for me she became one of those novelists you discover by chance and then want to read everything they wrote. I was given The Willow Cabin as part of a gift – the author was a new name to me – but The Willow Cabin become one of my favourite Virago titles ever. A Wreath for the Enemy is the fourth Pamela Frankau that I have read, prompted by Simon’s recent post about it.

It is a novel told in three sections, characters moving in and out of view – with some brilliantly plotted connections which make this a wonderfully clever novel. The opening is immediately captivating – Pamela Frankau knows how to get her readers hooked.

“There had been two crises already that day before the cook’s husband called to assassinate the cook. The stove caught fire in my presence; the postman had fallen off his bicycle at the gate and been bitten by Charlemagne, our sheepdog, whose policy it was to attack people only when they were down.
Whenever there were two crises my stepmother Jeanne said ‘Jamais deux sans trois.’ This morning she and Francis (my father) had debated whether the two things happening to the postman could be counted as two separate crises and might therefore be said to have cleared matters up. I thought that they were wasting their time. In our household things went on and on happening. It was an hotel, which made the doom worse: it would have been remarkable to have two days without a crisis and even if we did, I doubted whether the rule would apply in reverse, so that we could augur a third. I was very fond of the word augur.”

Our narrator is Penelope Wells, one of several voices that tell this story of non-conformity, friendship and family. As the novel opens Penelope is a precocious fourteen-year-old compiling an anthology of hates (this alone made me love her). She lives in a small hotel on the French Riviera with her poet, father and her stepmother. The hotel is often empty, Francis Wells having a somewhat relaxed attitude to business he is as likely to refuse entry to his establishment as he is to welcome visitors. The walls of the bar are adorned with the photographs of famous guests, and those guests who do arrive are generally eccentric, bohemian types.

Penelope; who calls her father and stepmother by their first name, – has this wonderfully unique way of speaking – her conversation is a delight. Quite obviously, a child who grew up surrounded by adults and her nose in a book – she speaks like the characters she has come up against in fiction. With her powers of imagination and observation, Penelope is ripe to be swept up in a childish infatuation for an English family staying next door to the hotel. The Bradleys are middle-class well behaved, conventional, their meal times run to a predictable timetable – their lives are ordered, unlike Penelope’s life at the hotel. It seems – from a distance to be an ideal life. Francis – much to Penelope’s irritation calls them The Smugs – it’s a pretty perfect name.

“They laughed when I shook hands with them, and Don made me an elaborate bow after the handshake. Then they laughed again.
‘Are you French or English?’
That saddened me. I said, ‘I am English, but I live here because my stepmother is a Frenchwoman and my father likes the Riviera.’
‘We know that,’ said Don quickly. ‘He was shot down and taken prisoner by the Germans and escaped and fought with the Resistance, didn’t he?’
‘Yes. That is how he met Jeanne.’
‘And he’s Francis Wells, the poet?’
‘And the hotel is quite mad, isn’t it?’
‘Indubitably,’ I said. It was another of my favourite words. Eva doubled up with laughter. ‘Oh, that’s wonderful! I’m always going to say indubitably.’

It is the Bradley children; Don and his sister Eva, thirteen, who Penelope is particularly charmed by. Their lives are so well ordered that Penelope is able to predict exactly when they will appear in the garden. It isn’t long before the three meet – and Penelope delights Don and Eva with her unusual conversation, and tantalising tales of the hotel. Just as Penelope starts to get to know her new friends, the hotel welcomes one of its most colourful and frequent guests; the Duchess – who Penelope doesn’t much like – though the Duchess seems to adore her.

French riverieraHowever, childhood, as we know is full of small betrayals, and Penelope’s fledgling friendship is doomed when the Bradley parents declare the hotel to be an unsuitable place for Don and Eva – who are not so used to such grown up surroundings. The disappointments and betrayals of childhood and adolescence are so formative, they direct so much of what comes next – and how we build relationships.

In the second and third parts of the novel we move forward four and five years respectively, and hear from Don Bradley in England, and other characters. At seventeen, at boarding school, Don is straining against his father’s rigid conventionality – his greatest friend a middle-aged man in a wheelchair who owns the estate where Don goes to ride and mess around happily with horses. Deeply affected by events in France four years earlier, Don is in need of counsel, and in this most unlikely of friends Don had found the friend he lacks in his own father. Crusoe is a straight-talking breath of fresh air to Don – his easy unconventional way of life is attractive. Crusoe challenges Don’s way of thinking – and so there’s bound to be tensions when Don’s parents meet Crusoe.

In the final section of the novel, another year has passed, and we’re are back with Penelope – among others. I’m certainly not going to say too much about this section – but here we meet Cara – another superb creation from Pamela Frankau, brittle, damaged and potentially damaging – whose life is destined to collide with that of Penelope’s.

I still have two other Pamela Frankau novels waiting to be read – but she was pretty prolific – and although out of print – some of her books are available – and I have two more winging their way to me from a rash ebay purchase the other day.

pamela frankau

Read Full Post »


Having recently read and loved The Winged Horse by Pamela Frankau I was determined to read more by this once popular and prolific writer. The Willow Cabin remains one of my favourite ever Virago reads. A commenter on that previous post recommended Sing for Your Supper to me – and I immediately went in search of a copy, I was rather delighted with the edition which arrived.

Spending a few days away with family in Devon – this novel seemed a great companion with its Devonshire setting. Sing for Your Supper is the first book in the Clothes of a King’s Son, trilogy  – and I already have the third, and just ordered the second.

The summer of 1926 and as the novel opens Blanche Briggs is preparing to rejoin her beloved Weston children. Fourteen years earlier Blanche was employed as the family Nanny, now Blanche exists looking after wealthy London ladies in between summer seasons when the children return from school. The three children, Gerald (15) Sarah (13) and Thomas (10) are the children of Phillip Weston a widowed gentleman Pierrot star and owner of the Moonrakers troupe; who do the summer seasons in Devon and elsewhere, with diminishing success. The children are well aware of their father’s hopelessness with business, resigned to fairly constant genteel poverty. Even poor Blanche is not paid for her much longed for summers. Gerald is particularly obsessed by the question of money.

“Money, money, money. Without it the world was against you. He seemed to have known this for a long time, to have been making  – for years – a cold, practical assessment of the family fortunes. Misfortunes rather. He saw them now with his routine mixture of pity and scorn. The struggle had endured since he could remember: even in his mother’s lifetime.”

Blanche’s excitement at the prospect of another summer with her children is infectious, leaving her sister’s house earlier than she need clutching a string bag containing presents for the children.

” As she walked to the barrier at the head of Number Three platform she was looking out for Gerald. There he was. No, he wasn’t. Another boy in grey flannels, with something of Gerald’s look, a neat dark- haired boy walking with a swagger: a forecast of Gerald . ‘Mind your back miss…’ A porter pushing a barrow with a mountainous load: there was a new spade and bucket perched on top: an iron spade, bluish- black, with a white wooden handle: the bucket was red with a gold band round it. Gerald and Sarah and Thomas were too big to care for spades and buckets anymore. But these things were still stamped with a trademark of rightness; she smiled upon them.”

Blanche can’t help but be astounded by the first class ticket sent by Philip Weston for her and the children, something which has never happened before. The children are equally surprised, travelling first class with their darling Brigstock, they each – unknown to Blanche – have their own secrets and concerns as they contemplate the summer with their father and the Moonrakers. The family will be occupying Roseclay, a large Edwardian house they’ve taken before, it’s like going home, though this time without the presence of ‘the grandmother’ and aunt and uncle who usually make up the household. Roseclay, first class train travel suggest to the children that their father is again living outside his means. Either that, or he has suddenly come into money.

Upon arrival, there are signs of a new prosperity, and both the elder children begin to suspect their father has a secret, or at the very least something to tell them. Sarah suffering from neuralgia headaches, fancies herself a great actress, Gerald is carrying his carefully hoarded secret stash of money and Thomas is the subject of a letter sent by his headmaster which speaks of his ungovernable rages. Thomas is a wonderful character, loyal, vague and loving, he will fly into  rage if someone he loves is threatened. It would also appear he has inherited his grandmother’s clairvoyance, though none of his family believe it to be anything other than a trick.

They all love Nanny, who runs a pretty tight ship. Blanche has her way of doing things which until now has always gone unchallenged. She knows swimming can bring on Sarah’s headaches, and has a particularly close relationship with Thomas, understands Thomas, defends him and loves him best. Gerald meanwhile seems headed for his own special brand of trouble. This summer change will come to the Weston family, changes which Blanche might not be ready for.

Everywhere there are posters advertising the new show; Moonrakers 1926, and the two elder children are expected to see the show on their first evening in Devon, Thomas will attend the matinée the following day. Other members of the Moonrakers troupe are frequently at the house, late night parties and behavior resulting in what Thomas thinks of as Brigstock’s Sunday face. Gwen, Philip’s long time co-star is sporting a flashy ring,  everyone else is much the same, and Gerald finds he still dislikes Leo Clyde.

Before the show the next day Thomas meets Rab, an American girl, a little older than himself, a bit of a tomby with whom he immediately allies himself. Rab is  installed at a local hotel; unusually in the care of her chauffeur Miles, her mother Paula is in Paris and will soon be arriving. Rab tells Thomas all about Martha’s Vineyard, the home she is nostalgic for. Rab it appears already knows all about the Weston family, viewing Gerald and Sarah as little gods, is delighted to find Thomas quite ready and wiling to do her bidding. They become fast friends. Rab is keen to be drawn into the heart of the Weston family, cared for by Nanny with a more regular routine. Unknown to his own children, Philip is already very familiar with Rab – she worries him a little.

” A child of twelve, who had never been to school; who was a world- traveller and could mix a dry Martini: a child of divorce: a child who had, despite these dooms, no appearance of sophistication and few graces. A wild one: farouche was the word that came to his mind. The worry-tune skirled and screamed  ‘what will Nanny think?’ He turned it off. Rab was a darling and all would be well.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Sing for your Supper and can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy. Pamela Frankau is a superb novelist, there is great interplay between the characters, fabulous storytelling from multiple perspectives and in this novel a quite marvellous ending.


Read Full Post »


Pamela Frankau is the author of one of my favourite ever Virago books – The Willow Cabin. I have been meaning to read more of her novels for ages, but only recently managed to acquire a couple. Pamela Frankau was a popular and prolific writer once upon a time, and I find it sad that she is read so much less now, her novels out of print (except for a few POD VMC editions two of which I snapped up the other week). I wasn’t sure which of the two to read first – so I went for the fattest.

The Winged Horse – like The Willow Cabin, takes place in both America and England, it is a brilliantly Compelling novel of power, truth and dishonesty.

It is 1949 and English newspaper tycoon J. G Baron is a tough no nonsense, charismatic businessman with interests on both sides of the Atlantic. His adult children appear to lead charmed lives at the family house in the English countryside. Favoured employees get invited for weekends, and J.G absolutely believes in the perfect world he has created there with his family. However, while his son Tobias is conscious of never quite measuring up, and his youngest daughter Liz is young, unsure and often afraid, it is only Celia his eldest daughter who recognises J.G for what he is. For J.G is something of a tyrant – his hypocrisy and self-deceit know no bounds. His power is not the bellowing, red faced bully-boy type – but of a quieter more insidious kind that casts a long, dark shadow.

“ ‘My daughter, the late Mrs. Valentine West,’ Baron said. Baron’s family jokes did not vary, they were the clichés of a lifetime; they could be distinguished sharply from his public words, his coarse or his agile phrases; they were stock, paterfamilias stuff, oddly out of date. She could remember his using this worn example when her mother was unpunctual.’ “

As the novel opens, Celia is in the process of separating from her American husband, and travelling by ship with J.G and his entourage back to England, with her young son. J.G has just enticed cartoonist Harry Levitt away from his employers, to work for him, and Harry is aboard ship too. Levitt is drawn to Celia, but Harry is a practised dissembler, and despite connecting briefly, Celia recognising him as such is more interested in going home, seeing her brother and sister again. Harry was stationed in England during the war, and carries a dream of a life there with him, his main reason for accepting J. G’s offer.

Back home at Carlington, Celia sets about settling herself and her son into the newly refurbished nursery wing. Levitt is drawn further into the circle which includes family friend and neighbour; Anthony Carey for who Liz harbours deep feelings. Tobias loves to fly, has been hanging around in France with a much older married actress – much to J.G’s disapproval, his happy go lucky attitude hides his sense of never making his father happy. It is Anthony Carey – sometimes called ‘thank God for Anthony’ or ‘that poor Carey’ by Celia, Liz and Tobias – who J.G favours.

“Downstairs in the green library, Tobias glanced at his watch; it was worn on the right wrist, face inwards, so that he could look at it unobserved. Many people, he reflected, wore their watches this way; there was no need to feel that it was a special anti-J.G device.”

When a tragedy rips through the family, Harry Levitt is on hand to help, and while J. G’s most audacious self-deceit conceals his pain – other members of the family struggle to cope. Traumatised, Celia decides to take a house in London, and her father goes on a trip. Harry Levitt continues to draw cartoons for J.G’s newspapers, spending more and more time at Carlington, seeing Celia in London rarely, he begins to get closer to Liz.

When Harry is sent back to America by J.G for ‘a couple of months’, he understands that it is the beginning of the end for his association with the Baron organisation. He leaves a much sadder man than he arrived. What he unwittingly leaves behind will inspire a betrayal and lead to the slow destruction of a once happy man. Around the same time Celia gets word that her estranged husband has helped himself to some of her money, and travels back to New York to sort it out. Finally, here, Celia and Harry come together again, Celia makes Harry a better man, but J.G does not approve. Stuck in the States trying to sort out the financial mess her estranged husband has caused her, it is not long before J.G turns up like the bad penny he is, and offers to sort everything, as long as she ditches Harry. Celia is not that kind of girl – and so she and Harry resign themselves to having no money (luckily she does still have a small house on Martha’s Vineyard – like you do).

“Celia carried the toy aeroplane out on to the rough lawn and pointed it into the wind. It was a fragile hollow thing of aluminium, attached to a rod and a reel; now the wings revolved frantically, with a spinning, humming noise; they turned into two blurred lines and she could let it fly. The wind took it; she reeled out the line and let it go.”

The title of the book comes from a song, a song the siblings sang as children and particularly associate with Tobias. It is a song to be bellowed, a song of happiness and that feeling of running down a hill with the wind at your back. It is also the name of a piece of art work, which is inspired by a lie, one lie leading to another as they always do.

I’m conscious, that in trying to avoid spoilers, I’m perhaps not making The Winged Horse sound as good as it is, but it really is excellent. Frankau is superb at building relationships between her characters, her characters are not all perfect, they are real people, living within a recognisable world, even if it is one of sixty pus years ago. There is compassion and understanding in her writing, and even J.G Baron is dealt with, with some sympathy.

So this is the second novel by Pamela Frankau that I have loved, I have a third; A Wreath for the Enemy waiting to read, but Frankau was the author of something like thirty novels. I came across one in a second hand bookshop recently – the third in a series, it was a first edition priced at £25 – I had to sadly walk away.

pamela frankau


Read Full Post »

the willow cabin

“Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love,
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills,
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out ‘Olivia!’ O, you should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth,
But you should pity me…”
(Twelfth Night – William Shakespeare)

I saw a madcap production of Twelfth Night just recently, and yet in the midst of the madcap nature of the production those beautiful words rang out, and reminded me of a book I had waiting. – Fleur in her world had sent me this lovely copy of The Willow Cabin last Christmas as part of the Librarything secret Santa Virago gift exchange.

It’s not often I get book hangover – usually no matter how wonderful a book – or how terrible, I find myself able to move on fairly happily to the next book. The Willow Cabin may turn out to be one of my favourite Viragoes ever and I think affected my enjoyment quite adversely, of the two books I read just after it. I also find it particularly hard sometimes to write about a book I loved as much as I did The Willow Cabin – it’s almost as if I have a strange mixture of too much to say and not quite enough. I know I can’t adequately describe the true wonder of this novel, but Frankau’s characters, are beautifully explored, the women particularly, her London of the 1930’s and 40’s becoming fabulously real. The final section of the novel entitled Time Harvested, I found exceptionally poignant. Frankau builds a picture slowly of the lives of these people, as the final pieces of the puzzle are slotted together at the end of the novel, the lives of these people are revealed entirely and the reader only then understands these exceptionally drawn characters.

He came over to the chair, pulled her out of it and stood holding her hands. ‘If I were really grown-up now, I should say good-bye to you and walk out of your life. And yet I cannot bear to go. And Oh Caroline, I would give my soul to be twenty-two again, d’you see?’

The novel opens in 1936; Caroline Seward is a twenty-two year old actress whose talent shows great promise. Living in London with her mother and prosperous step-father; the-spoilers-of the-fun as she calls them – Caroline is ripe for escape. At an after show party Catherine meets Michael Knowle a surgeon in his late thirties, married, though estranged from his wife, and almost instantly Michael becomes the entire focus of her life. Caroline leaves home, moving to a small hotel, and embarks on a relationship with Michael – who is unable to get a divorce – that will last years. Caroline loves Michael completely; Michael is Caroline’s whole world. Deliberately allowing her career to take a back seat to her relationship, Caroline’s other friends and colleagues are frustrated at this throwing away of her talent, especially Dennis Brookfield who is a friend of Michael and his wife Mercedes and loves Caroline himself. Mercedes, living in France throws a shadow over Caroline’s happiness; Caroline silently calls her names, and is forever trying to understand the motivations of this woman she has never met. Mercedes as much of an obsession for Caroline at times as the man she loves.

In the years before the war, Caroline and Michael slip into an easy rhythm of life, Caroline residing in the hotel, living for the next brief meeting with Michael, half-heartedly taking a few small theatrical roles. The couple have to content themselves with carefully orchestrated midnight meetings at Michael’s London home, and the anonymity of foreign places, as Michael himself continues his brilliant work at the hospital. Their relationship appears almost legitimised on a trip to America, meeting with some friends of Michael and Mercedes Knowle – who instantly understand how matters stand between Michael and Caroline. Later Caroline meets Dorothy, Michael’s sister, who hadn’t got along with Mercedes, but who likes Caroline. However, always in the background is Mercedes, and then war comes. War brings the pain of separation, as Michael is stationed abroad, and Caroline in the A.T.S lives only to hear from him. War brings change and upheaval for many people, including Caroline.

“Now she saw that the look of Michael stopped short below the temples; the woman had large dark eyes, a short nose and a small chin. For a moment her expression did not change; the whole face seemed stony and vigilant. Then she smiled.”

In 1948 Caroline travels to America again, this time as a successful actress on tour with a play nearing the end of its long run. Still needing answers, Caroline decides to meet with Mercedes Knowle, the woman who had so obsessed her years earlier. At the home of Lee Adams – whom Caroline had met before the war with Michael, she finally encounters Mercedes, and discovers an unexpected bond with her, and begins to understand her own misinterpretations of the past.


Read Full Post »