Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Welcome, Spring.

"Blossom by blossom the spring begins." Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Remarks on Recent Reads: A Look Back at February

Hello, Bookish Friends! I wanted to jump in with a bit about my February reading. I enjoyed these books with the exception of Patricia Highsmith's People Who Knock on the Door, and as you'll see below, I have a lot to say about Highsmith's novel. 

I wrote a review about what was my favorite read of February, the story of a marriage in crisis, deftly told by Elizabeth Jenkins in The Tortoise and the Hare (1954).

Winter seems the perfect time to fall into some psychological suspense, and Sophie Hannah doesn't disappoint in A Game for All the Family (2015). In this stand alone novel, the plot is complex, and at the heart of the story has to do with what is truth and what is fiction. Justine leaves behind her high powered, stressful job as a television producer in London. She and her family move to a large house in Devon. Then, the anonymous threatening phone calls start. Justine's teenage daughter has written a story about the murderous Ingrey family who live in a house very much like the one they actually live in. When Justine learns that her daughter's best friend, George, has been unfairly expelled from school, she takes action, only to learn that the school says there is no such student as George. Hannah brings these strands together in a highly inventive way for a spectacular and shocking ending. 

Mary Shelley by Muriel Spark (1988) is my first foray into Muriel Spark's nonfiction. Last year, I took part in #ReadingMuriel2018 and thoroughly enjoyed reading many of Spark's novels. Mary Shelley showed me that Spark is just as adept at nonfiction. The book really brought Shelley to life and showed the challenges she faced as a woman in a man's world, trying to survive, especially after her husband's violent death at sea. With a child to support, it was writing that kept her going financially as well as spiritually in the face of her husband's stingy relatives who were extremely unfair with money. The second part of the book contained critical pieces that Spark wrote having to do with Shelley's writings. This biography is a well-rounded and compelling look at the life of Mary Shelley and her writing.

People Who Knock on the Door by Patricia Highsmith (1983) is a departure from Highsmith's psychological suspense. Instead, the novel is a family drama which I've read was Highsmith's response to Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority of the 1980s. Richard Alderman, a small town insurance agent and born again Christian, belongs to a fundamentalist church, whose members get far too involved in the Aldermans' lives. Richard's particularly hard on his oldest son, Arthur, who's bound for Columbia University and whose girlfriend wants to have an abortion. Robbie, the younger son at fourteen years old, ascribes to his father's religious beliefs, while Mrs. Alderman tries to remain neutral. When the father falls off his pedestal, a tragedy occurs. 

I found Highsmith's People Who Knock on the Door an odd book. I had a hard time figuring out exactly when the story's taking place. Many of the situations and especially the dialogue feel like the 1950s, but then there's a mention of a cassette in one scene. Also, a lot of drinking and smoking occurs. Not that I'm a prude, but I can't recall being seventeen and my mother meeting me at the door with a drink. Wherever Arthur goes, adults shove a drink into his hand or tell him to help himself to the liquor cabinet. In addition, the novel never follows through on its promises as there are several situations in the plot where there's foreshadowing of something sinister, but then nothing happens. If you've never read any of Patricia Highsmith's work, this uneven novel is not the place to start.

The Lost Traveller by Antonia White (1950) is a sequel of sorts to Frost in May, which I loved, but The Lost Traveller is also the beginning of a trilogy. Clara Batchelor has unhappily returned home from the convent school in which she felt a certain protection and excelled in the discipline the nuns imposed. Now, she's at a girl's school, trying to find her way and feeling adrift. I loved the characters Clara meets and her experiences in this bittersweet coming of age story that takes place against the backdrop of World War I.  

My March reading has gotten off to a good start. I started out with Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark which I absolutely loved (review coming soon), and I'm currently reading Good Behavior by Molly Keane which I'm also enjoying.

I hope that you're having a great week. What are you reading?     

Friday, February 22, 2019

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins (1954)

One of my reads of February is The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins. I heard about Jenkins several times last year, and then Backlisted Podcast did an episode about The Tortoise and the Hare, so I decided it was time to read some of her work. 

The story of The Tortoise and the Hare tells about a failing marriage. The novel is simple but complex at the same time. It's also a bit deceptive in that it seems like nothing much happens, but then the novel kind of sneaks up and takes hold.

Imogen Gresham is in her thirties. She's beautiful and devoted to her husband, Evelyn, the the handsome and successful barrister who's fifteen years older than she. He's become a bit disenchanted with her and begins to spend more time in the company of their neighbor, fifty-year-old spinster Blanche Silcox.  

Imogen's a bit slow to understand what's happening because she can't get past the fact that Blanche is a dowdy woman who wears ill fitting tweed suits and ghastly hats. How could Evelyn find someone like her attractive? Blanche spends her days managing her family's money, but she has pursuits that attract Evelyn such as hunting, riding, and fishing. By the time Imogen finally catches on to what's happening, it's too late.

As I read the novel, I wanted to be sympathetic to Imogen, but I found myself at different times being sympathetic to Evelyn and Blanche. Imogen certainly deserved a husband who loved her, but it was maddening that she couldn't see what was in front of her eyes. Evelyn behaves abominably. At a certain point, one could hardly blame him for wanting to be with Blanche, especially since Imogen and Evelyn have nothing in common, and Imogen didn't try to take any interest in what he enjoyed. 

Then there was Blanche's persistence in finding various ways to become more important to Evelyn. It would be easy to hate her for that, but there was something a bit moving about how she thought she'd lost her chance at love only to find it with Evelyn. Evelyn's love for Blanche transformed her and rounded out her rough edges. Her taste in clothes changed for the better, and Evelyn's influence could be seen in the more tasteful decor in Blanche's house. 

Jenkins' writing is exquisite. She portrays an upper middle class family living in a big house by the river where life has a certain rhythm. I especially enjoyed the lovely writing describing the colors of the seasons and nature. There are also tea parties by the river, dinner parties, and cocktail parties that were fun to read about.

I highly recommend The Tortoise and the Hare. This novel makes me want to try more of Elizabeth Jenkins' writing.

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019

Happy Wednesday to you, Reading Friends! 

I'm taking part in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019 hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate. I'm excited about reading these books, many of which have been gathering dust on my bookshelves for too long. Here is my tentative list:

 1. 19th Century ClassicLady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862) 

 2. 20th Century Classic. Here Be Dragons by Stella Gibbons (1956) 

3. Classic by a Woman Author. Seraph on the Suwanee by Zora Neale Hurston (1948) 

 4. Classic in Translation. Indiana by George Sand (1832)

 5. Classic Comic Novel. Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford (1934)

 6. Classic Tragic Novel. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

 7. Very Long Classic. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848)

 8. Classic Novella. In the Cage by Henry James (1898)

 9. Classic from the Americas (includes the Caribbean). The Orchid House by Phyllis Shand Allfrey (1953)

10. Classic from Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (1925)

11. Classic from the Place You Lived. The Wind by Dorothy Scarborough (1925)

12. Classic Play. The Lamp and the Bell by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1921)

Are you familiar with any of these books? Are you taking part in a reading challenge this year? 

I hope that you're having a fantastic week in reading!