10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I’m so pleased that I picked up my 100 Years of Books project and began again.

I’ve read two and a half books since my last update; I’ve rediscovered the joy of digging up books to fit difficult years; and I already have ten ore books to present to you, because I found a good number of books to match up with years that needed them from my reading in the time between putting down and picking up this project.

Here they are:

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1853 – Bleak House by Charles Dickens

“The stories told by the two narrator overlap and characters move between them. The story of the consequences of the chancery suit and the story of the illegitimate child, a story that had been buried but will be disinterred, work together beautifully, although they are linked only by a small number of characters who are involved in both. I loved the diverse elements, I loved the wealth of detail; and although I can’t sum up the plot and the relationship I had no problem at all understanding all of the implications, and I was always intrigued.”

1878 – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“I might have loved Anna if I had met her when I was younger, but I am afraid that I found her infuriating. I loved her spirit, I loved her vitality, but I could not accept that she was so oblivious to anyone else’s feelings and while it might be wonderful to want everything – to live with your lover, to have your child with you always, to hold a high position in society – it is not always possible to have everything you want; life sometimes demands compromises.”

1884 – Jill by Amy Dillwyn

“Jill was the much loved daughter of a prosperous squire, but her life changed when her mother died and when a gold-digger succeeding in luring her father to the altar. She hated her step-mother’s new regime, especially when she realised she wouldn’t be allowed to come out until her two step-sisters had been found husbands. That was why she decided to run away and to earn her own living in London.”

1887 – The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

“The Canterville Ghost haunted Canterville Chase for more than three hundred years, but things changed when his home was sold to an American family. Lubricating oil was proffered when he clanked his chains, detergents were deployed when he left bloodstains, and young children aimed their peashooters whenever they caught sight of him. He deployed every trick he had in his armoury, but nothing worked. One final, desperate act had unexpected consequences, and led to exactly the right ending. There’s so much here – gentle but knowing satire of English and American attitudes, real pathos in the plight of the ghost, and a lovely thread of romance – it all works together beautifully.”

 1893 – In the Vine Country by Somerville & Ross

“There is much to be enjoyed here: accounts of travel by train and by boat; observations of people, places and so many things that the ladies see long the way;  time spent at vineyards, where they saw the harvest and the treading of the grapes; visits to chateaux, where they were most impressed by the great barrels that lay maturing. Along the way they sketched, and they were very proud of their Kodak wherever they went.”

1895 – The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler

“It’s heart-breaking, watching two grown-ups – three when the governess arrives – getting things so terribly wrong. Thank goodness that the children had each other, that they were resilient, that in their innocence it didn’t occur to them that anyone could ever have anything other than good intentions, however inexplicable their actions might be. I couldn’t help thinking how wonderful their lives might have been in the hands of the right grown-up; somebody with the wisdom to gently guide them, to tactfully explain things, to understand the magic of childish imagination and play.”

1912 – Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather

“I must confess that I didn’t really remember ‘Alexander’s Bridge’, Willa Cather’s first novel, from 1912; but I did remember that she hadn’t written a book that she didn’t like. Now that I’ve read it again I have to sat that it isn’t her finest work. The story is a little underdeveloped, a little contrived; the writing, though lovely, is sometimes a little less than subtle. But it is a very accomplished and very readable first novel. Her understanding of character, her skill in evoking places was there; I could see so many signs of the fine novelist she would quickly become.”

1915 – I Pose by Stella Benson

“At the beginning I felt that Stella Bowen was presenting a puppet show; later I felt that she was staging a production at the theatre, but by the end of the story I had been drawn into a very human story. It was a story that explored the relationship between the poses we present to the world and our real concerns in all of its complexity with wit and with such understanding. I don’t know what Stella Benson did, I don’t know how she did it, but she did it quite brilliantly.”

1937 – Enchanter’s Nightshade by Ann Bridge

“The story is of a family that has grown so big that it has become  a community, spending the summer months in the country. Days drift by as they exchange visits, go on picnics, and make trips to places of especial interest. The young are kept busy with lessons in the mornings before that are given their freedom in the afternoons and evenings. One family has a Swiss governess of many years standing who is wise and capable, and who has tactfully and effectively managed the household since the death of its mistress. Another family is awaiting the arrival of a new governess from England.”

 1938 – The Wild Geese by Bridget Boland

“Britain and Ireland were ruled by the House of Hanover, but the throne was contested by Jacobite rebels, supporters of the descendants of the deposed King James II. Catholics were repressed by their Protestant rulers: they could not own land, enter many trades and professions, educate their children in their faith, or worship as they chose. Many could not live with those laws, and this story tells of the implications of those laws for one family. It’s a story told entirely in letters.”

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The full list of what I’ve read is here and my first three 10% reports are here, here and here.

I’m well on my way to my next 10% already. It may take me a while to get there but that doesn’t matter, I’m enjoying the journey.

Enchanter’s Nightshade by Ann Bridge

Many – maybe most – of Ann Bridges novel’s draw on her experiences of living overseas when when she was the wife of a diplomat, but ‘Enchanter’s Nightshade’ is a little different. It’s a period piece of Italian provincial society, set  in the early years of the twentieth century, years when the author was still a girl. I have to believe that she visited that world then, because she captures it – the place and the people – quite beautifully.

The story is of a family that has grown so big that it has become  a community, spending the summer months in the country. Days drift by as they exchange visits, go on picnics, and make trips to places of especial interest. The young are kept busy with lessons in the mornings before that are given their freedom in the afternoons and evenings. One family has a Swiss governess of many years standing who is wise and capable, and who has tactfully and effectively managed the household since the death of its mistress. Another family is awaiting the arrival of a new governess from England.

Enchanters NightshadeAlmina Prestwich was Oxford educated and, because her father’s death had left his family ill provided for, she was setting out on a career as a governess. Her home and her family, her packing and her concern that she properly prepared for her new life, and her parting with her mother and her younger sisters were so beautifully drawn.

Everything in this book is beautifully drawn; every character, every scene, every room, even the furnishings in those rooms are carefully described. That might make the story sound slow, and it is a little, but it felt right. I loved watching the older governess managing her household, and I loved watching the younger governess taking in every detail of her new world.

Ann Bridge wrote with assurance and with finesse Every detail was right, every element of the story was beautifully realised, and the tone was so right. I’d describe it as teacherly in the very best of ways; Ann Bridge had the knack of making things interesting, her love and understanding shone, and I loved that she was prepared to accept that, though tradition was a wonderful thing, the old ways weren’t always the best, and that new ideas were something that should always be taken on board.

She drew me in, and she made me care.

Had she not married a diplomat she might have been a wonderful governess!

She manages a large cast very well. There is Marietta, Miss Prestwich’s bright young charge who is delighted with her new governess. There is her mother, Suzy, who is charming and indolent. There is her cousin, Guilio, who is studious and sensitive, and his sister Elena who is clever and clear-sighted. There is her Aunt Nadia, who is struggling to cope with her husband’s philandering. There is her Uncle Rofreddo who is charming, well-intentioned, but terribly thoughtless. There are two elderly spinster great-aunts, the Contessas Roma and Aspasia …..

Rofreddo charms the new governess and Suzy, used to being the centre of attention, is put out. One thoughtless act will lead to a long chain of consequences. The story becomes a little melodramatic but it works, because the foundations were laid in the early chapters of the book, and because everything is driven by the characters and their relationships to each other.

The story speaks thoughtfully about marriage; considering what might be its basis – romance or arrangement – and what differing expectations husbands and wives may have.

There is a tragedy, and not everything can be put right.

Some things can though, and it is the three elderly ladies, the two Contessas and the family’s matriarch, the Vecchia Marchesa, on the eve of her hundredth birthday, who will do what needs to be done.

They are of their time and class, they do not expect their world to change, and yet, unlikely though it may seem, some of their attitudes will make a 21st century feminist cheer!

I’d love to explain more, but I can’t without setting out almost the entire plot.

That plot is wonderfully dramatic, its world is beautifully realised, its characters are so real and engaging; and all of that together makes this book a lovely period piece.

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 …

I Found a Heroine to Cherish … and I Share Her Taste in Books …

I picked up my copy of ‘The Lighthearted Quest’ by Ann Bridge in a second-hand bookshop some time ago. It looked wonderful, but when I learned that it was the first in a series of eight, and that all were out of print, I decided that I must track down the other seven before I began to read.

There are few things more infuriating than getting part way through a series and coming to a grinding halt!

I found three more books with ease, two more with a little difficulty, but the last two remained elusive. Why does that happen so often when I try to collect a series or an author I wonder?

But luck was on my side – Bloomsbury is about to reissue all eight books, and so I will be able to fill in the gaps.

A couple of days ago I picked up that first book, and I finally met Julia Probyn. I found her to be such an engaging heroine, with charm, vitality and intelligence, and I am having a lovely time following her through Morocco.

I shall endeavour to write more before too long but here, by way of a teaser, is that passage illuminating Julia’s taste inliterature:

“… In many if those houses they came across small round baths, six feet or more across and around the depth of a modern bath, cemented within, their raised rims decorated with designs in mosaic: one of these bore a pattern of gold-fish. Julia was instantly reminded of Linda’s bath, with the swimming gold-fish in its side in ‘The Pursuit of Love’, and was ravished; she drew Mr. St John’s attention to this resemblance, and he gave his dry prehistoric chuckle. They had to explain the joke to the airman, who had not read Nancy Mitford, and was less amused …”