Beyond Eden Rock


Almost as soon as I hit ‘post’ last week, I realised that I didn’t really want to say goodbye.

I didn’t want to let go of this lovely community of people who love books.

What to do?

Well, I decided that what I needed to do was to let go of the things that of the things that were weighing me down – the years of history, the multiplicity of projects, the pseudonym, the record keeping, and my own expectations of what this should be.

And so I’ve picked up the things I want to keep – my books, my knitting, my 100 years project – I’ve called my dog, and we’ve moved to a new home.

I don’t intend to lose my history, but I need a new beginning in a new home.

You’ll find me Beyond Eden Rock; where some things will be the same and some things will be quite different.

It would be lovely to see you there …..


The Continuing Story of a Girl Who Loves Books: Untying the Knot

This is the post that I didn’t want to write, that I’m still not quite sure that I should be writing, but I think I have to write ….

The Girl Who Loves Books discovered them when she was very, very small, and as he grew up she found more and more to love. Longing” ~ Heinrich Vogeler

There were so many worlds in explore, in the past, in the present, and in the future. There were so many fascinating people to meet; real people and fictional people. There were stories, there were adventures, there was so much to learn. And it was lovely to step out of the real world sometimes.

She knew that lots of other people liked books, but, maybe because she came from a very small town, she didn’t know anyone who loved a lot of the books she loved. It was lovely to be able to talk to them, to recommend books, and to dicover so many new books, new publishers, new possibilities …

One of those possibilities was a book blog. She started writing about books and bookish things on a blog of her very own. And in time she found more places to write her book thoughts. Just to celebrate the books and tell more people about them. Because some people don’t use LibraryThing, or read book blogs. It was lovely, but it grew and it grew and it grew.

In the end it became too much – there were too many books, too many projects, too many places to be, too many people to keep up with.

She decided that the only thing she could do was walk away. So that she could do other things, so that she could read a book without worrying about what she would say about it, and so that she wouldn’t spend so much time wondering if she was Jane or if she was Fleur.

She’ll probably come back one day; maybe here, but more likely in a new home where things will be rather different.

So I don’t think this is goodbye.

But it is goodbye for now.

The Reading of Books: Looking Back at May and June

I can’t quite believe that we’re half way through the year, but I know that we are.

The sun is shining, the town in full of tourists, and it’s almost time for bed but it’s still light outside.

It’s time to think about this years sixes.

It’s time to pick up my first book for Paris in July.

But I should look back first; and, because I was distracted at the end of last month, I have two months of books to consider.

These were some of my favourites:


And there were other books that I loved. Enough that I’d find it easier to pull a few weaker books from that bottom of the heap found it pulling a few favourites from the top.

So I’ll do is make a few little lists.

I won’t ramble, because I’ve had two good reading months and there are rather a lot of books to go on those lists.

I’ll just say – here they are!

Two very different pieces of narrative non fiction:

Becoming Queen by Kate Williams
This House of Grief by Helen Garner

The first fiction published by one of my most beloved authors:

Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot

Three lovely Victorian novels:

 The Romance of a Shop by Amy Levy
Policy and Passion by Rosa Praed
The Vicar of Bullhampton by Anthony Trollope

Two contemporary stories of mystery and suspense that didn’t work for me:

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers by Louise Candlish
Disclaimer by Renee Knight

A not as good as her others – but by no means bad – book by a writer of traditional mysteries:

Lonesome Road by Patricia Wentworth

An excellent edition to one of my favourite contemporary crime series:

River of Souls by Kate Rhodes

Two very different books that I’d read before, and were just as good as I remembered:

Cashelmara by Susan Howatch
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Four fine novels by 20th century authors:

The Far Cry by Emma Smith
Modesta by G B Stern
The Meeting Place by Mary Hocking
Vain Shadow by Jane Hervey

Two promising first novels:

Clay by Melissa Harrison
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

One wonderful one-off:

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

Two very good contemporary novels:

Flight by Isabel Ashdown
The Red Notebook by Antoine Lauraine

And one shiny new gem:

The Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull

* * * * * * * * *

Now tell me – how has your reading been? – what do you have planned?

This House of Grief by Helen Garner

A few years ago I read a novel by Helen Garner that was so vivid and so real that I had to remind myself that it wasn’t real, it was fiction. I picked this book up on the strength of her name. It’s a work of non fiction, telling the story of a tragedy and the court cases that ensued, and it is so very well written and ‘plotted’ that I could have quite easily believed that I was reading a very fine work of fiction

On a spring evening in 2005, a car veered across the Princes Highway in Victoria, Australia, crashed through a fence and plunged into a farm dam. It filled with water and sank to the bottom. The man who had been driving the car freed himself and swam to safety, but his three passengers — all young children — couldn’t escape and they all drowned.

22814793Was it an terrible accident, or was it a deliberate act. Did Robert Farquharson intentionally drive into the dam in to kill his three young sons, who he was returning to their mother – his former wife after a Father’s Day visit?

His wife believed him when he said that it was an accident. He said that he had suffered a coughing fit so severe that he lost control of the car. He said that her had tried to save their sons, but everything had happened so quickly and been so traumatic that his memory was gone.

She supported him when he was arrested and charged with three counts of murder. Her family and his own family stood behind him too.

Helen Garner followed the story in the news, and she was drawn to the trial, at the Supreme Court of Victoria in August 2007. ‘This House of Grief’ sets out the court proceedings, and her observations, experiences and reactions, clearly and precisely.

It’s difficult to read the story of such a terrible family tragedy; but it’s more difficult to look away. The arguments were so very finely balanced, and I would see from the start that no matter which of the arguments prevailed there would always be some points, important points, that could probably never be explained. As the court case unfolded I began to lean to one particular argument, but I knew that I didn’t know, that I couldn’t now.

The pace is stately, and there are pages of details about technicalities: the trajectory of the car, the marks on the road, the medical condition known as cough syncope …. it was mind-numbing but it was compelling, because so much hung on it.

The author’s observations were lucid and intelligent; she understood that so many lives had been touched and changed. The two men who arrived at the scene, who did their best to help, but who felt they might have handled things better; the divers who struggled too recover the car and the bodies from the depths of the dam; the woman who passed the car before it reached the damn, who had looked across and seen the passengers in that car; the jury who had so much to evaluate.

Her own thoughts and reactions, her emotional journey through the court proceedings are there too; real and vivid. I never doubted her honesty; I appreciated her intelligence and sensitivity; and I understood her desire to understand what had happened and to see justice prevail.

The writing is lovely; the story is compelling; and I turned the pages very quickly.

This true story is going to haunt me for a very long time.

Two Months in Book Shopping; or How I Tried to be Moderate but Didn’t Entirely Succeed ….

I said at the end of April that I needed to slow down my bookish acquisitions, and I succeded for a while. So much so that I didn’t issue my usual month-end update at the end of May.

I bought just five books that month.


Three were the result of a single visit to the Oxfam Shop:

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder came home because I remembered Lisa writing very warmly about the author, and because when I opened it I was imediately smitten.

Storm Ahead by Monica Edwards was on the same shelf, it had a lovely cover, and so I picked it up to keep the other book company. I know that the author is much loved, I know my books is part of a series, and I hope that someone will be able to tell me if I can start in the middle.

The Piano on the Left Bank by T E Carhart caught my eye too, and I remembered that someone once told me that it was their favourite book set in Paris.

I went looking for two other books:

Moths by Ouida is on my Classics Club list and I’d planned to read an Open Library copy, but the quality of the scan was poor and so I went looking for a reasonably priced used copy. And I found one.

When I read The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler I knew that I would have to look for her other books, and when I spotted as signed copy of The Professor’s Children I couldn’t resist.

I was pleased with that month: I cherry-picked the books I saw on my travels and I bought home only the ones that I really, really wanted.

I backslid a little in May, partly because I still had my birthday book tokens and I decided to spend them before I forgot them. That was sensible, but I forgot to put my decisive head on and I spent rather more than I intended.



The British Library Crime Classics were heavily discounted, and so I picked four to join to the three I already own. I didn’t mean to start another collection, but I think I might have.

I read The Plantagents by Dan Jones on holiday, I wanted to follow that up with The Hollow Crown, so that one came home.

The book that I shouldn’t have picked up was Peking Picnic by Ann Bridge. I already have the book in a Virago edition but I picked up that Daunt Books edition and I should have put it down again. But I didn’t.

That was a lapse, but I have been reasonably restrained.

I bought just three books online.



I’ve been waiting for Honno to reprint Betsy Cadwaladyr: A Balaclava Nurse and I a delighted that I have a copy now.

“Elizabeth Davis – known in Wales as Betsy Cadwaladyr – was a ladies’ maid from Meirionnydd who travelled the world and gained fame as a nurse during the Crimean War. She was a dynamic character who broke free of the restrictions placed on women in Victorian times to lead a life of adventure. Journeying to many exotic parts of the globe, she came into contact with international events in the horrors of the field hospital at Balaclava, where she served under Florence Nightingale.”

Leadon Hill by Richmal Crompton has been on my list for a while and I noticed that it had fallen off the Greyladies list of books in print, so I looked to find a reasonably priced copy and when I did I snapped it up.

I was intrigued by The Shelf by Phyllis Rose when I read about the book and the project behind it.

“Can you have an Extreme Adventure in a library? Phyllis Rose casts herself into the wilds of an Upper East Side lending library in an effort to do just that. Hoping to explore the real ground of literature, she reads her way through a somewhat randomly chosen shelf of fiction.”

When Simon enthused about the book I checked the library  catalogue, and when I didn’t find the book I ordered a copy.

And that was very nearly it for the month.

I went to the Morrab Library summer fete this morning and I came away with three books.


Dark Quartet by Lynne Reid Banks – her novelisation of the Bronte story – is another book I remember being recommended.

I was delighted to find another book by Francis Brett Young I don’t have: The House Under Water looks very, very good.

And I looked at a whole line of books by Howard Spring and I couldn’t remember which ones I had. I picked out the ones that were nice editions, I looked at them closely, and the only one that I didn’t recognise was Winds of the Day. Sadly when I got home I discovered that I did have a copy, but the one I bought today is a much better copy.

I won’t be going anywhere else where there are books for sale before the end of the month.

And I think I’m beginning to get the hang of this ‘only buying books to build my personal library’ thing; and the ‘only buying books I really want to read’ thing.

Now, tell me how are you doing with book buying?

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

This is a veritable chocolate box of a novel.

It’s it looks gorgeous, it’s full of lots of different lovely things, it’s almost too much, but its completely irresistible.

I thought for the first time in years – of a particular box of chocolates that my father bought for my mother when I was a very small girl. I remember that it was large, it was casket shaped, and it was covered with pictures of ladies in long dresses. I was smitten with that box, and my mother gave it to me in the end, to use as a jewellery box. I kept that box for years and years, even after one of my aunts gave me a proper, grown-up jewellery box as an eighteenth birthday present ….

9781408862445I looked for an image, but I couldn’t find anything remotely like it.

It’s strange and lovely that a book can pull out a memory like that.

‘The Improbability of Love’ could do that because its so vivid and because it was so clearly written with love and about things the author loved.

Now, back to the story

‘The Improbability of Love’ is a lost masterpiece; a painting by Antoine Watteau, the celebrated 18th century French artist. It had a fabulous provenance, it had been owned by the great and the good, but it had been lost and somehow it found its way into a London junk shop.

That was how it came to be owned by Annie McDee, a young cook who was nursing a broken heart.  She liked it, she was interested to find out a little more about it, but she had no idea just how special her painting was or just what an extraordinary story was about to unfold.

Actually, it’s not just one story, it’s a wonderful melange of stories:

  • A bittersweet romance, and a touching story of a mother and a daughter.
  • A sharp satire of the London art scene; the decadence and the desperation.
  • The story of one family’s entanglement with art theft on Nazi Germany.
  • History that the painting lived through.
  • Luscious gastro-porn.
  • Quests for the painting; an art-world mystery-thriller.

It’s a cornucopia of delights;  underpinned by a lovely depth of knowledge of art, history and the art world. I was wonderfully entertained and I learned a lot along the way.

The writing is smooth and natural, and it swings through a lovely, diverse range points of view and voices, including ‘The Improbability of Love’ himself.

The painting spoke fondly of his creator, proudly of his glorious history, and with concern about its present situation and its fears of what his fate might be. It was a wonderful creation, and I could have spent many happy hours listening to him. I even wondered how he might get on with the armchair who told her own story in Memoirs of an Armchair ….

I was so impressed with the richest and depth that Hannah Rothschild gave to the life and history of this particular artwork, and I had to remind myself from time to time that ‘The Improbability of Love’ was fictional.

The whole cast of characters was very  well drawn, and  I felt so many different emotions as I reacted to different characters and different elements of the story in so many different ways.

It isn’t subtle and it isn’t a book to analyse; it’s a fabulous entertainment and it’s terribly easy to keep turning the pages.

If anything there’s a little too much going on. There were lots of things I’d like to have had a little more of, but there wasn’t much I’d be willing to lose to make more space.

Towards the end things get a little rushed and a little silly, but the grand denouement was exactly right and the ‘what happened next’ was the perfect way to bring this story – a real one-off – to its final conclusion.

The Continuing Story of a Knitting Resolution

I made a knitting resolution last year– to use up odd balls of yarn that had been hanging around the house for far too long – and I passed my target of knitting up half of the dozen little bags of yarn I photographed.

There was no resolution this year, because at the start of the year I was re-working the Man of the House’s Aran. I’d not taken account of the depth of the armholes and the sleeves were much too long. I was ready to knit something else but after putting so much work in I had to put in a little more and have it exactly right.

And I wanted to mix things up a bit more this year, to get back to knitting garment again and slowly a plan began to merge. It involves:

  • Wardrobe building.
  • Things I haven’t done before.
  • Continuing to use yarn that’s already in the house.

Not so much a resolution as a new design for a knitting life.

I had a break from knitting when the Aran was finally finished – but I’ve picked up my needles again – and I have a sweater nearly finished and a hat to show you today.

The Yarn.

I had a single skein of Merlin Aran for Eden Cottage Yarns.

The yarn is lovely. It has exactly the right balance of substance and strength, it’s developed a lovely halo now it’s knitted up,. The shade – India – is perfectly poised between red and pink, and it has just enough variation to give it depth without becoming variegated.

It was irresistible and it spoke to me – it said ‘HAT!’

The Pattern

I’d had my eye on Queenie by Woolly Wormhead for quite some time.

It’s a child’s pattern, but I loved the shape, and if you look through the projects on Ravelry you’ll see that several people have scaled it up to make an adult hat.

I was sure that I could do the same. And I did!

The Result.

It’s a lovely hat.

It fits perfectly – me and the dog!


I love it – but there’s one big problem. It doesn’t suit me at all.

I should have known – I’ve learned over the years that it’s not enough to simply love the yarn and the pattern – I know that I have to cherry-pick the things I love to find the ones that I will love to knit, that will suit me, and that I will have occasion to wear.

I was distracted by a lovely yarn and a striking pattern.

Lesson learned!

(The hat will either be a gift or a donation to an autumn bazaar.)

Next Up

The sweater that I mentioned. This one – but in quite different colours.

Then I have another one in mind. And another hat ….


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