Reading Books: Past, Present & Future

I have to do this from time to time. I have to celebrate the books I’ve read, organise the books I’m reading, and think about what might come next.

Past present and future …

The past …..

R.I.P VIII ended at Halloween and, though I didn’t read many of the books I lined up at the start of the season, I was very pleased with the eight books I did read.

RIP8main1My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart
The Misbegotten by Katherine Webb
Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield
Treveryan by Angela Du Maurier
Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll
The Unforgiving by Charlotte Cory
Hell! Said the Duchess by Michael Arlen
The Blackheath Séance Parlour by Alan Williams

I’ve nearly finished Burial Rites by Hannah Kent too, and I’ve made a start on Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night.

Two of my RIP books – Treveryan and The Unforgiving slotted into my Century of Books, and I passed the 80% mark in the middle of last month.

The present …..

I have a few books in progress.

I spotted a beautiful 30th anniversary edition of The Sunne in Splendor in the library a few weeks ago, and that made up my mind to re-read it for my Century of Books. I loved it years ago, I love it now, and I’m into the final act.

winters-night-jpgI was warmly recommended Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller to fill a difficult year – 1979 in my century of books – I was intrigued, I ordered a copy from the library, and then I discovered a readalong. Clearly I was meant to read this book, I started to read last night, and I am already smitten.

I’m re-reading Angel by Elizabeth Taylor too, in a lovely new hardback edition. It won’t fit into my century, but it was too lovely to resist and I have books that will fit lined up. Books like And Then You Came by Ann Bridge for 1948, A Little Love, A Little Learning by Nina Bawden for 1965, High Rising by Angela Thirkell for 1933 ….

I had a few books to choose from for 1933, but when I learned that Christmas at High Rising was on the was my mind was made up.

AusReading Month badge1901, on the other hand, was a tricky year. In the end I decided to re-read My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, and again it seemed to be meant, because I discovered that this was Australian Reading Month.  A survey of my shelves found books by Eleanor Dark, Kathleen Susannah Pritchard and Henry Handel Richardson that I’d love to read. Or I could re-read Oscar and Lucinda or The Thorn Birds, either of which I could slot into my Century of Books ….

More books than I could hope to read, but it’s good to have choices!

The future …

I can’t think much beyond finishing my century at the moment. I’m clearing the decks as much as I can to get that done – no more book-buying and no more library reservations this year, because I need to focus on the books I have already.

But I bought The Luminaries and The Goldfinch, before the I put those restrictions in place, and they are going the first books of  my new project – of a year of reading the books that call me …

Treveryan by Angela Du Maurier

An elegant manor house, set on the wild Cornish coast; a house that captures the hearts and souls of those who live their. A story of love, secrets, and their consequences, with wonderful gothic overtones.

It might be Manderlay but it isn’t, this is Treveryan. The creation not of Daphne Du Maurier, but of her elder sister, Angela. Two sisters, and two very different writers; but, of course writers with the same background, and with many of the same influences.

Angela’s writing lacks the subtlety, the nuances, that made her little sister’s books so special, but her storytelling has such passion, such conviction, and she had a wonderful way of catching changing gear and really grabbing the attention with the final sentence of a chapter.

Treveryan is by no means great writing, but I loved it, and I found it very, very difficult to put the book down.

TreveryanIt tells the story of Bethel.  Her idyllic childhood at Treveryan, her growing up, her falling deeply in love, are painted in such vivid colours. But Bethel’s dreams were shattered when her father died, suddenly, unexpected, in mysterious circumstances. It was then that the terrible secret of Treveryan is revealed to Bethel and her brother, Veryan.

Bethel and Veryan know what they must do, that they must live rest of their lives together, in the Cornish home that they love. Their sister, Lerryn, was too young to understand, but it time they would have to draw her into their plan.

And though Bethel’s heart was broken, she knew that she was doing the right thing, and she gave her heart to her siblings, and to her beloved Treveryan.

But one sibling broke ranks, and their relationships, their lives, their world, fell apart.

I can’t say more that that.

But I can say that Treveryan is a wonderful story of a heroine and a house, with everything you could want in a gothic novel. A little slow to start, but the story soon hit its stride; it was over the top, but in a very good way.I didn’t always find Bethel sympathetic, but she was captivating, and I understood that she was what her life and her situation had made her.

I’m afraid that not all of the characters were so strong. And I could pick out other flaws. The dialogue is a little flat, writing is a little uneven, and there are times when the story lurches into melodrama. But I found more to love. Angela Du Maurier brought Cornwall to life, and I never for one moment doubted that she knew, loved and understood. The story was dramatic, it was emotional, and, for all that it was over the top, it rang true.

I’ve seen it suggested that the success of Rebecca inspired Treveryan, and maybe it did, but they are very different stories. And Treveryan has less in common with Rebecca than Rebecca has with Jane Eyre . Rebecca is the better book, but, for all that Treveryan has a similar setting, there is much more to set it apart. It harks back to a much older gothic tradition, and it really should be allowed to stand or fall on its own merits.

The final chapters are wonderfully unexpected and dramatic. There was an easy way out, and it is to Angela Du Maurier’s great credit that she didn’t take it.  Because the path that she took was quietly heart-breaking, but it was the right ending.

Ten Authors Whose Books I Seek

I’ve spotted a few lists of ‘must buy’ authors today, inspired by a meme at  The
Broke and the Bookish
. Now I could come up with a few, of course I could, but the thing is, I know new books and mainstream reissues will go on being there, maybe not for ever but for long enough that I can pick them up when I’m ready.

My true ‘must buy’ books are out of print and hard to find titles by authors I have come to love, and books I know I must seize as soon as I see, because if I don’t the chance may never come again.

It seemed like the moment to pull out ten authors whose books I seek:

The Ten

Oriel Malet: I spotted a book called Marraine by Oriel Malet in the library and I recognised her name from the Persephone list. That book was a lovely memoir of her godmother, the actress Yvonne Arnaud. Once I read it I had to order Margery Fleming from Persephone, and it was even lovelier; a perfectly executed fictional biography of a bookish child. Her other books are out of print and difficult to find, but I found one and I was thrilled when my Virago Secret Santa sent me another, all the way across the Atlantic.

Margery Sharp: I read much praise for The Eye of Love in the Virago Modern Classics group on LibraryThing and so I picked up a copy. I loved it too – romance with a hint of satire and a hint of subversion. I was so disappointed that her other books were – and still are – out of print. But I’m slowly picking them up, used copies and library books, and I’m hoping for more.

Leo Walmsley: Looking back, it’s strange to think that when I picked up Love in the Sun in the library it wasn’t with the intention of reading the book. I remembered a local family called Walmsley and I was simply looking to see if there was a connection. But once I had the book in my hand I fell in love with the cover and with a warm introduction by Daphne Du Maurier. And I fell in love with the book, thinly veiled autobiography written with such honesty and understanding. The library fiction reserve provided copies of the three that follow chronologically from this one. The Walmsley Society has recently bought these books back in to print, and others too, but I was thrilled when I stumbled across lovely old editions of Phantom Lobster and The Sound of the Sea.

Angela Du Maurier: Talking of Daphne Du Maurier, did you know that her sister was a successful author too? I didn’t until I found two novels and one volume of autobiography that Truran Books have in print. It was the anecdote that gave the autobiography its title that made me love Angela – she was stopped by a woman she didn’t know who was convinced that she knew her. As she spoke Angela realised she had been mistaken for Daphne, and when she explained the woman said loudly to her companion, “It’s only the sister!” and stormed off. Angela treated the incident as a great joke, and though it wonderful that her sister was held in such regard. And she wrote of her family and her life with such love and enthusiasm that I had to look out for her other books. They’re out of print and its hard to find out much about them, but I liked the one I found in the library fiction reserve – The Frailty of Nature – and I’d love to find more.

Edith Olivier: I had no idea who Edith Olivier was when I picked up my copy of The Love-Child, but it was a green Virago Modern Classic and I have great faith in those. It is a wonderful tale of an imaginary friend, and I’m afraid I really can’t find the words to do it justice. The library gave me a two wonderful works of non fiction, and there are some diaries I plan to borrow one day, but I would love to find another novel. Sadly though, they seem as rare of hen’s teeth.

Elizabeth Goudge: My mother mentioned four authors she though I’d like when I first moved up to the adult library: Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Goudge. I only picked up me first Elizabeth Goudge  – The Scent of Water – last year, and when I did I realised that she had been right about all four authors. It was simple story but it was so very well told, with both emotional and spiritual understanding. Her books all seem to be out of print, but I have tracked down copies of the Damerosehay novels that I have heard so much good about, and I found one or two others in a charity shop a while back.

Elizabeth Jenkins: I found The Tortoise and the Hare thanks to Virago. I found Harriet thanks to Persephone. I found A Silent Joy and her autobiography, The View from Downshire Hill in the library. I found used copies of Doctor Gully and The Phoenix’ Nest on my travels. I’ve been lucky I know, but I also know that Darlene and Anbolyn both found copies of Brightness and I so want to find one too. And, of course, there are others.

Sylvia Townsend Warner: I first met Sylvia Townsend Warner in a Virago anthology years ago. I forget which anthology and which story, but she stuck in my mind and a picked up Virago’s collection of her short stories. I loved it, and I still think there are few authors who hold a candle to her when it comes to short stories. One fortunate day I found six of her original collections of short stories and a couple of biographies in a second-hand bookshop. I’m looking out for the others, and for her letter and diaries too.

G B Stern: A couple of years ago I spotted a book called  The Ten Days of Christmas in a second-hand bookshop. I picked it up, because I recognised the name G B Stern as belonging to a Virago author and because I wanted to know why there were ten days of Christmas rather than the more traditional twelve. It looked lovely, and so I bought it. It was lovely, and when I picked up Monogram, a sort of memoir, I really warmed to the author. Since then I’ve picked up The Matriarch and A Deputy Was King in Virago editions and Debonair as an orange numbered Penguin, and I’d love to find more.

Francis Brett Young: Last year I spotted a book called White Ladies by Francis Brett Young in the very same second-hand bookshop. I knew the author’s name, because one of his books was in a list of titles readers had suggested to Persephone that Nicola Beauman included in a Persephone newsletter. It looked wonderful, but I couldn’t justify the price – it was a signed first edition. But when I arrived home I checked LibraryThing and I found that Ali and Liz both came from the same part of the country as Francis Brett Young and they loved his books. I found White Ladies in the library’s fiction reserve, and fell in love with rich prose, wonderful characters, and good old-fashioned storytelling. I’ve ordered a couple more books from the library, I’ve picked up a trio of old out of print titles, and I’m hoping to find more.

And that’s ten!

So now tell me, whose books are you hoping to find?

The Frailty of Nature by Angela Du Maurier

I thought I’d found out who Angela Du Maurier was.

NPG x101370; Angela Du MaurierAn actress. A traveller. A country woman. A dog lover. A warm and sociable woman.

And a capable writer of gothic/country house type books who was rather over shadowed by her oh so famous and successful sister.

But the out of print title that I ordered from the library revealed that she was something more than that.

She also wrote a novel of the Church of England. A very good novel.

I was taken aback when it arrived – I’d known nothing about it when I placed my order, because I had faith in the family name – but a little research uncovered the fact that Angela had been a devout Anglican all of her life.

The Frailty of Nature reflects that, and it reflects a clearsighted understanding of humanity.

Alix tells the story, looking back over her life.

“I am over sixty now and I realise that someone I loved for over fifty years has gone from my life. He was a little boy of six and I was sixteen when we met. I married his grandfather, who I loved so dearly, and Julian became part of our life together. I suppose I clung to him in my fashion because of Arthur? Not entirely, he was precious in his own way to me.”

She was the daughter of a priest, a quiet and austere man, with a plain and practical approach to his faith and his work.

Her first meeting with Julian came when she was staying with a school friend who a few miles away from her village home. Alix was struck by Julian’s pure delight in going to church to ‘see God.’

And after that meeting she was drawn into his family circle. His father was a man not unlike her own father, save that he was a career soldier stationed in India. His mother was lovely, if a little flighty, but she was torn between husband and son. It was Julian’s grandfather – Arthur Pendragon – yes really – who gave him stability.

Arthur had been a widower for many years – his wife had died when their only child was born. And he was a priest. But very different to Alix’s father; he was warm and sociable, and he worshipped his God by celebrating all that was beautiful in his world.

Alix was drawn to Arthur, and he to her. The age gap between them seemed troublesome to others but not to them. They married, and they were very happy together. Alix took on the role of vicar’s wife, and she loved it. She had found her vocation.

And the relationship between Alix and Julian blossomed. He was thrilled that his grandfather was so happy, and he loved having a young step-grandmother to bridge the gap.

Everything changed though when Arthur died. Suddenly, unexpectedly, and at no great age.

Alix mourned him, but she found a new life. She travelled to Australia to visit Freda, the same friend she had been visiting when she first met Julian. And then she settled in a new home, close to good friends, and she joined a new church congregation and enjoyed playing an active role there.

And Julian set off to theological college, following his own vocation, and following in the steps of his beloved grandfather. But he struggled, unable to balance his life as a man with his life as a priest.

Alix worried about him.

She was concerned when he became involved with Sarah, the daughter of her friend Freda. Sarah was a talented musician who was struggling to come to terms with the end of her relationship with an older, married conductor. She loved Julian but she didn’t understand what him being a vicar really meant, and she struggled with what was expected of her as a vicar’s wife. And he didn’t understand her vocation, or her struggle.

Alix tried to help, but she knew she could only offer counsel. She had to let them live their own lives. Make their own decisions. For better or for worse.

The Frailty of Nature worked beautifully as a study in contrasts. Three priests. Three wives. And three generations of one family.

Yes, it was didactic, but it was saved by the characters. All utterly real, and I believed in their relationships, I understood the choices they made. I realised that I could have cast Alix and Sarah from life. And most of the other characters, after a little thought.

Alix’s voice rang true, I loved her own story and the way she grew as she told the story of her loved ones. She held me from start to finish.

I would have liked a little more subtlety. A sub plot involving Arthur’s daughter and Alix’s father was distracting. And having a situation Julian had to deal with echoing Othello while Sarah was attending a production of that play was just plain wrong.

But still an intriguing, moving, and thought-provoking story. Sadly out of print and expensive. As are all but four of her works that Truran Books have in print.

And an author who shouldn’t be overshadowed, and who I suspect would be a little better known if only her family name hadn’t been so distinctive and her sister hadn’t been so very successful.


It was Jo’s idea – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books many I have loved. And I’ve done it!


Six Books that took me on extraordinary journeys

The Harbour by Francesca Brill
A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to the Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston
The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovieff


Six books that took me by the hand and led me into the past

The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn
The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd
The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace


Six books from the past that drew me back there

The One I Knew the Best of All by Frances Hodgson-Burnett
A Burglary by Amy Dillwyn
The Frailty of Nature by Angela Du Maurier
Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
The New Moon With the Old by Dodie Smith
As It Was & World Without End by Helen Thomas


Six books from authors I know will never let me down

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Closed at Dusk by Monica Dickens
Monogram by G B Stern
Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor
In the Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim


Six books I must mention that don’t fit nicely into any category

Shelter by Frances Greenslade
Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon
When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones
Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood


Six Books I started in the first six months of the year and was still caught up with in July

The Young Ardizzone by Edward Ardizzone
The Deamstress by Maria Dueñas
Greenery Street by Denis MacKail
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
White Ladies by Francis Brett Young


Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.