I’m halfway through my 20th Century Reading Project!
Which is great, but I’m behind schedule and I’ve had the mid-project blues.
I’ve been focusing on the 20th century for so long, and there was still quite away to go, so I needed a little break. But last week a book from the 1980s caught my eye, I discovered a pile of project books I’d pushed into a corner quite some time ago, and now I’m enthused again.
And I was hit by the news that my library will be moving to new, smaller premises. Admittedly that won’t be happening for two years, but I’m thinking I need to read the books from reserve stock that I have my eye on now, in case that’s downscaled too.
Expect to see books by Winifred Holtby, Jon Godden, Evelyn Waugh and Edith Wharton in my next round-up in a few weeks time.
I won’t be reading long or difficult books, because I still plan to finish my century by the end of the year.
Allowing just one book per author is great for the list, great for making me read widely, but there are a good few authors I’d like to get back to.
But enough rambling, this is a 10% report, so here are another ten books:
1906 – A Pixy in Petticoats by John Trevena
“Some people look at a hedgerow and see just that. A hedgerow. But others see more: a network of different plants, signs of the wildlife that live there, evidence of what the weather had been doing. John Trevena saw those things and he was able to bring that to life on the page, to pull his readers into his village and over the moors.”
1909 – The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy
“I must confess that, until quite recently, the only thing I knew about Baroness Orczy that she gave the world The Scarlet Pimpernel. But I learned that she gave the world much more than that. She gave the world The Old Man in the Corner, who might just have been the world’s first armchair detective.”
1950 – Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym
“Harriet and Belinda Bede lived together in a village in the English countryside. they living quietly, serving their church, knitting industriously, reading studiously, and making sure that they got the small details of life right. Questions of how one should dress, of what should be served at dinner, of how guests should be entertained. Small things, but important things, that fill up lives. Barbara Pym understood that and she painted the picture beautifully, taking it seriously but still able to smile at sillinesses.”
1954 – Yew Hall by Lucy M Boston
“I was held first by the wonderful evocation of the house and then, as the story shifted by a very subtle undercurrent that told me something was going to happen. Wonderful, wonderful writing, and there was a lovely touch near the end that would have told me, even had I not known, that this was a debut that would be the precursor to greater things. The characters and the relationships were simply drawn, but I could believe in them. The plot was slight, but it was enough.”
1956 – The King of a Rainy Country by Brigid Brophy
“In grey, rainy, post-war London Susan found a job with a slightly shady publisher. And she moved on with Neale, who might have been a boyfriend, or might have been a friend who was a boy. They lived in a way that some would call bohemian but I’d be more inclined to all post-student. One day at work, quite by chance, Susan saw a striking photograph of Cynthia. She and Susan had been at school together, they were classmates, and they might have been friends or they might have been rather more to one another. Susan decided that she must find Cynthia, and Neale showed an interest in finding her too. They discovered that she was in Venice, and decided that they must find a way to get there.”
1966 – This January Tale by Bryher
“History records that in 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, defeated and killed Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings to become King of England, but it has less to say about what that meant to ordinary people. ‘This January Tale’ tells their story, tells what it was like to see a foreign army invade and drive across the land, what it was like to live in fear of losing what little they had, the only way of life they knew.”
1975 – Lord of the Far Island by Victoria Holt
“Ellen Kellaway, was alone in the world when she was just five years-old. Her mother’s wealthy cousins took her in, and raised her alongside their own daughter, Esme. But they never let her forget that her every advantage was owed to the charity of others. And that while Esme was destined for a great marriage, she would have to go out into the world when she came of age, and earn her living as a governess. Ellen didn’t like that at all. She appreciated what was being done for her, but she had no intention of being a governess. She knew that the world had far more to offer.”
1978 – A Five Year Sentence by Bernice Rubens
“Miss Hawkins’ plans were thrown into disarray when she was presented with a retirement gift. A five year diary. She saw that as an instruction to live, and she decided that her diary would direct the rest of her life. So she didn’t record what she had done, she recorded what she was going to do. And when she did it she happily ticked it off in red crayon.”
1985 – The Suspect by L R Wright
The story is propelled by Karl’s growing suspicions about George, his attempts to prove his guilt, and his digging into the past to prove that the two men had history and that the motive for murder lay there. It’s very well done, if a tiny bit predictable. But the real strength of the book comes from other things. From the perspective, completely free of any questions about who or how. From the setting, on Canada’s ‘Sunshine Coast’, an area known for its temperate climate and beautiful coastline. It felt a little like Cornwall, a little like home. And most of all from perfectly drawn characters, well handled relationships, that offered a lovely balance of intrigue, humour, and real life.
1987 – Who Saw Him Die? by Sheila Radley
“There really was no case to answer, but after the inquest the dead man’s sister called in the police. She said that the man driving the car wasn’t telling the truth. He said he was a newcomer to the town and that he hadn’t known Clanger. She said that as a child he had spent holidays with his grandparents, who kept a shop in Breckham Market. That he had played with Cuthbert, until something happened – she could not or would not say what – her father had thrashed the boys, and stopped them seeing each other. And that he had come back and murdered her brother. It seemed unlikely, it seemed impossible to prove one way or the other, but the police had to investigate, and so they set about interviewing anyone who might cast more light on events.”