Wednesday, March 21, 2018

#ReadingMuriel2018: The Character of Dougal Douglas in The Ballad of Peckham Rye

The more I read of Muriel Spark's work for #ReadingMuriel2018, hosted by heavenali, the more I'm having the experience of enjoying each novel more than the last. For The Ballad of Peckham Rye, I'd like to talk about Spark's brilliant creation, the Scotsman and main character of Dougal Douglas, or as he's sometimes known, Douglas Dougal (a bit of a running joke in the novel).

People either love or hate Dougal. He's described as someone with a twinkle in his eye but who has a hump on one shoulder. He's much more than this. In a short time, Dougal becomes involved in many people's lives, wielding quite a bit of influence. His short presence in Peckham Rye turns the place upside down, sometimes with hilarious results and sometimes with horrifying results. 

What brings Dougal to the London suburb of Peckham Rye, initially, is his research for a book about the life of one of the locals, Miss Cheeseman, an older woman who was once an actress. Dougal also manages to talk himself into a job with the textile firm of Meadows, Meade & Grindley. He's hired to conduct research to determine how best to motivate the workforce. Almost immediately, he charms his way into the same kind of position with a rival company. He rarely shows up at either job, explaining that he's conducting sociological research. 

While Dougal charms many people and gets to know them well enough to advise them in their personal problems, having so many balls in the air comes with its challenges. He's being blackmailed by a thirteen year old boy, and Dougal becomes the target of a local gang.

While The Ballad of Peckham Rye is a fairly short novel, there's a lot happening. The characters are interesting, and the situations never dull. Spark's delivers a masterful tale, showing the gritty and somewhat seedy side of life in Peckham Rye. What kept me reading was Dougal and wanting to see how he'd get himself out of difficult situations. I have to admit that I came away from the book with some affection for Dougal although I wondered how he'd get out of Peckham Rye alive.

Have you read The Ballad of Peckham Rye? Who was your favorite character?

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Century of Books: The Mini Reviews

Happy Monday, bookish friends! I wanted to share what I've read for A Century of Books, not in any particular order:

A Murder of Quality by John le Carré (1962) is le Carré's second novel. Last year, I read le Carre's first novel, A Call for the Dead and really enjoyed it. A Murder of Quality is a bit different in that it doesn't have anything to do with George Smiley, the spy. Smiley meets up with a colleague from his World War II days who works at a religious magazine. She's concerned about a letter she's received from a reader about the possibility of murder. When Smiley makes inquiries, he find the writer of the letter has indeed been murdered. Smiley finds himself at an elite public school where the murder took place and is asked to solve the crime. I found this novel to be fine as a murder mystery but a bit ordinary compared to le Carré's other work. A Call for the Dead ended with a bit of a cliffhanger involving Smiley's personal life, but this wasn't really addressed in A Murder of Quality. I would recommend this novel to the serious fans of le Carré.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie (1927) is a convoluted mystery of unbelievable twists and turns in the world of international intrigue, involving Hercule Poirot and Colonel Hastings as they attempt to discover the identities of the Big Four, a group intent on taking over the world. In several parts of the novel, I found it hard to suspend my disbelief over the goings on. 

Back Story by Robert B. Parker (2004) has been on my bookshelf for years, and reading this Spenser novel reminded me of Parker's great writing. Always economical with words, his writing is sparse in regards to dialogue and description, and it works, giving his novels a certain rhythm. Back Story deals with a thirty year old unsolved murder of a woman whose daughter enlists Spenser's help. Reading about Spenser, Susan Silverman, and Hawk was like seeing old friends. 

Some Lie and Some Die by Ruth Rendell (1973) is the second Inspector Wexford novel that I've read, and the eighth in the series. The plot involves the discovery of a woman's dead body against the backdrop of a rock festival, and there is a truly original twist in the story having to do with a red dress that the dead woman's wearing. Some Lie and Some Die is an entertaining read that makes me look forward to my next Ruth Rendell novel. 

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926) is a delightful novel about a woman, unmarried, who lives a dutiful life as the spinster Aunt Lolly, taking care of children, always thinking of others. One day, Lolly shocks her family and moves to a small village in search of solitude. Lolly has a secret, unknown even to herself, and it's in her new life that she discovers who and what she really is. The writing is wonderful, and I highly recommend Lolly Willowes

Precious Bane by Mary Webb (1924) grabbed my attention with Mary Webb's lovely writing. The story of Prue Sarn takes place in Shropshire in the 1800s. Prue is a young woman from a farming family who has a harelip, which sets her apart and also causes her much insecurity. Webb has created a tale of a different time filled with lore, compelling characters, and a wonderful love story. I look forward to reading more of Mary Webb's work.

What are you reading this week?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Wishing You A Lovely Weekend.

Sir George Clausen, R.A., R.W.S., R. I. (1852-1944), 
Window of Possibility, Date Unknown

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Classics Club Spin #17

It's been awhile since I've taken part in a Classics Club spin. When I noticed that a spin is coming up soon, I wanted join in.

The task is to make a challenging list of twenty titles on my list of Classics Club titles I'm planning to read. On Friday, March 9, the spin will take place.

Here is my list:

  1. Death of the Heart
  2. Villette 
  3. The Professor's House
  4. The Longest Journey
  5. Strangers on a Train
  6. Rumour of Heaven
  7. Highland Fling
  8. A Few Green Leaves
  9. The Edwardians
  10. Blaming
  11. The Surprise of Cremona
  12. A Handful of Dust
  13. The Living Is Easy
  14. The Fountain Overflows
  15. The Children
  16. Treasure Hunt
  17. Right You Are, Jeeves
  18. The Wise Virgins
  19. The Years
  20. The Kellys and the O'Kellys

I hope that number 6 will be my lucky number. If not, I'd be happy with number 13. We shall see!

Are you participating in the Classics Club?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Wild Mary: A Life of Mary Wesley by Patrick Marnham

It's been ages since I read a novel by Mary Wesley (1912-2002). I have them all. She's probably most famous for Camomile Lawn (1984) although my favorite is Not That Sort of Girl (1987).  The themes of her novels often deal with life in England during World War II in upper class families, conflict in families, and sex. She wrote in a forthright, ironic and sometimes comical way. I was glad to find Patrick Marnham's biography, Wild Mary, because it confirmed what I've always thought about Mary Wesley--that she was a complicated and interesting woman.

Mary Wesley began her life as the the third child in an affluent British family. Mary's early years were without love. Her father was absent, and her mother reminded Mary often that she was unwanted, a mistake. Mary's siblings treated her accordingly throughout her life. Mary received no formal education. It's no surprise that she wanted to escape her family by finding a husband. She was presented at court three times and became the glamorous wife of the 2nd Baron Swinfen. 

Life moved fast for Mary Wesley during World War II. She had lots of lovers, so many that she lost count. And she worked for British Intelligence. She also met the man who would become the love of her life, Eric Siepmann.

Eric Siepmann was charming, intellectual, and volatile. He drank too much and spent lots of time generating ideas for books and plays that never came to fruition. He wrote an autobiography after the war that was successful but never could capitalize on that success.

After the war, Mary caused a scandal and divorced her first husband. The road to matrimony for Mary and Eric was fraught with drama and hardship, thanks to Eric's first wife who gave stalking a new meaning, damaging Eric's job prospects while denying him a divorce. This entire episode and how Mary and Eric were eventually able to marry would make a great novel.

Mary's greatest success came after Eric's death. (She'd dabbled at writing for years, but never had time to devote herself properly, what with children, a demanding husband, and working.) She'd been living a hand to mouth existence, doing odd jobs for people, and had to sell her house to make ends meet. She sold a manuscript in 1983, and at 70 years old, became a bestselling author. This would be the beginning of many publishing successes for her and the end of worrying about money. 

Wild Mary was written with Mary Wesley's cooperation. Patrick Marnham spent time interviewing Wesley and had access to her letters, papers, and her unpublished autobiography. Her only stipulation was that the book be published after her death.

Wild Mary is a great read about a woman who was a true original and refused to conform to convention. She made her own rules, and although she paid dearly for wanting to live her own way, Mary Wesley led a fascinating life. 

I read Wild Mary for A Century of Books Challenge for the year 2006.

Reading this biography makes me want to revisit Mary Wesley's novels and try those I never got around to reading. Have you read any of her novels?

Monday, February 19, 2018

#ReadingMuriel2018: The Early Novels

I'm excited to join in heavenali's Muriel Spark reading challenge, and this is my first post, dealing with the early novels. 

The Comforters (1957) has to do with Caroline, a young woman who has been a society girl and a recent convert to Roman Catholicism. She's been working on a novel, Form in the Modern Novel. Caroline's been plagued by sounds which she refers to as the "typing ghost" in which she hears the novel being typed as we are reading the novel. 

Her boyfriend, Laurence, is concerned about his grandmother, Louisa Jepp, who has been entertaining an eccentric group of gentleman. What are they up to? Are these men merely coming to Louisa's house for tea, or is there something more sinister going on?  

Even though I'm not sure I completely understood The Comforters, it was a fun read and quite inventive. At some point, I plan to revisit the novel.

Muriel Spark's second novel, Robinson (1958), is the story of January Marlow, traveler on a plane bound for the Azores before it crashes on a tiny island in the North Atlantic, known as Robinson. She is one of three survivors and the only woman on the island. The other two survivors from the crash are Tom Wells, an annoying and somewhat sinister American salesman and owner of a magazine, Your Future, and Jimmie Waterford, who is part Dutch and has an unusual way of expressing himself, having learned English from reading poetry. Then, there's the mysterious Robinson, for whom the island is named. He's rather eccentric and lives a rather ordered life on this small island. The only other inhabitant is Miguel, an orphan boy.  

The story is told by January after she has returned to London. Like The Comforters, Robinson deals with Catholicism but also human nature and what happens when there is a clash of personalities in a deteriorating situation. I have read Robinson referred to as a mystery, but I'd call it a psychological thriller. 

I loved Robinson and found it unputdownable.

As far as Momento Mori (1959) is concerned, I had a bit of a love hate relationship with this novel. I loved the characters, an upper class group of elderly friends in 1950s London. There's great humor in the novel, but it also deals with getting older and inevitable death. The great mystery of Momento Mori has to do with the telephone call the characters receive. In the call, there is a voice saying, "Remember, you must die." 

Unfortunately, I found the ending a bit of a let down, and of the three novels, I liked Momento Mori the least.

Have you read any of Muriel Spark's novels?