Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Remarks on Recent Reads: June Edition

It's been kind of quiet here on the blog, but I've been reading. I've a stack of books waiting for me to write about them, and I thought I'd start with five classics that I've read recently.

Sisters by a River by Barbara Comyns (originally published in 1947), written in epistolary style, attracted me because of my interest in the Mitford sisters. These five sisters in Comyns' book grow up beside the River Avon. The ancestral home is badly in need of repair, the adults are horrible people, and the children are left to raise themselves. Governesses and household help come and go. The father is an abusive alcoholic, the mother is deaf and appears only interested in herself and her past lovers, while the grandmother rules her own part of the house and is also a bit wacky. The story contains moments of humor along with some gruesome times and even a flood. I couldn't put the book down.

Last year, I obtained several of Winifred Holtby's novels. The Land of Green Ginger (1927) is the first of her novels that I've read. Joanna Burton, daughter of missionaries, meets Teddy Leigh and marries him after a whirlwind romance. The hurry to marry is because Teddy's on his way to fight in World War I. He returns from the war in poor health, and Joanna and Teddy must move from the city to a Yorkshire farm in hopes that the air there will be beneficial to his health. Joanna finds herself a farm wife with two small children. She is unprepared for the challenges of what such a life entails, and it's not the life Teddy promised her. I enjoyed this novel, and I loved the way Joanna dealt with her challenges. I also loved the ending of the novel. 

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey (1932) is a lovely short novel. I picked it up on a Friday afternoon, intending to take it with me on a trip, and read a few pages. Needless to say, after a couple of hours, I'd finished the book and loved every word. The events of the story take place over one day, the wedding day of Dolly Thatchum. Dolly is upstairs in her bedroom with a bottle of rum and a secret while chaos reigns downstairs as wedding preparations are underway. This novel contains vivid writing and a cast of quirky characters. I highly recommend this novel.    

The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold by Evelyn Waugh (1957) is a look at a successful writer struggling with his work and his health. It could also be seen as a cautionary tale about what happens when Gilbert Pinfold persists in combining a cocktail of various prescription drugs along with alcohol. Gilbert decides a change of scenery is what he needs, so he boards a ship for a much needed vacation. He begins to hear voices and believes his cabin is wired in such a way that he can eavesdrop on what's going on all over the ship. What Gilibert hears are plots and schemes, some having to do with himself. The story is sometimes comical and sometimes dreadful. While I understood what Waugh tried to do with his narrative, the story became a bit tedious after awhile. I wouldn't recommend this novel for someone who has never read any of Waugh's work before. 

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1961) is a beautifully written bittersweet story of Frank and April Wheeler who by all accounts are living the American dream. They are attractive and appear to be in love. With their two adorable children, they live in a charming house in a nice neighborhood. The reality is that Frank's job for a company in New York City doesn't challenge him, but it leaves him plenty of time to have affairs with the secretaries there. April once aspired to become an actress instead of a suburban housewife performing in community theater productions. She dreams of living in Paris and has an idea that Frank could write the great American novel there. While she makes plans for them, an unexpected roadblock appears which will change everything forever. I loved this novel and want to read more of Richard Yates' work.

Have you read any of these novels? What are you reading this week?


  1. I love Richard Yates' novels and, although they tend to be a little depressing, I read several in a row a few years ago. Then I followed up with an amazing biography, A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates
    by Blake Bailey, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Check out The Easter Parade when you're in the mood for another Yates novel... it's excellent and, sadly, quite autobiographical.

  2. Ooh, all of these sound good. Especially Sisters by the River and The Land of Green Ginger. I'll have to see if I can get copies to read. :)