Bookish Thoughts as the Year Ends

Try as I might I can’t distill a year of wonderful reading into lists.

But I can answer a few questions from The Perpetual Page Turner

Best Book of 2011

I have read some wonderful books this year, but if I have to single out just one, the book closest to my heart is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

Worst Book of 2011

Oh dear. It has to be What They do in the Dark by Amanda Coe. It started beautifully, it had so much potential, but good ideas were ruined as things were taken much, much too far.

Most Disappointing Book of 2011

I have loved Susan Hill‘s crime novels in the past but I was disappointed in her most recent, The Betrayal of Trust. The plot and the characters came a very poor second to themes that the author clearly had strong feelings about but pushed much too hard for me.

Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2011

The idea of a novel in verse scared me, but Lettice Delmer by Susan Miles was a Persephone Book, it had appeared in a library sale, and so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. And I found a troubling story quite brilliantly told.

Book Recommended Most in 2011

I found Ten Days of Christmas by Gladys Bronwyn Stern in a bargain bin. It had no dust jacket, no synopsis, and so I did a few searches to try to find out more, but I couldn’t find anyone who had written about it. So I read, I wrote , and I’ve noticed a good few people have ordered copies and a couple more reviews have appeared. I really am thrilled.

Best Series You Discovered in 2011

I read and loved The Return of Captain John Emmett last year, and so I was eager to read Elizabeth Speller‘s second novel, The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton. I was surprised, and delighted to meet Lawrence Bartram again, to see his story progress, and to notice some very interesting hints about where his story might go next.

Favourite New Author in 2011

I’ve found a few new authors I want to keep tabs on, but if I’m going to pick out one I think it must be Rachel Hore. I read The Gathering Storm, I fell in love with her writing, and now I have an intriguing backlist to explore.

Most Hilarious Read in 2011

I am not a great lover of comic writing, but there’s something about Molly Keane, Time After Time was dark, sad, grotesque, and yet very, very funny.

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book of 2011

I was intrigued and confounded by True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies. I just couldn’t work out who this woman was, why she did the things she did.

Book Most Anticipated in 2011

Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple was surely the most eagerly waited reissue of 2011. And it more than lived up to some very high expectations.

Favourite Cover of a Book in 2011

Most Memorable Character in 2011

Oh, Miss Ranskill! I shall never forget you, and I shall never forget The Carpenter. Barbara Euphan Todd told your story so well in Miss Ranskill Comes Home.

Most Beautifully Written Book in 2011

That would be a book I’m still reading. Vanessa Gebbie’s novel, The Coward’s Tale, uses words – their meanings, their sounds, their rhythms – quite brilliantly. I even find myself reading with a Welsh accent …

Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2011

I was intrigued from the first moment I saw No Surrender by Constance Maud. A suffragette novel! I realised how little I really knew, and this book has inspired me to find out more – The Virago Book of Suffragettes is now sitting on the bedside table.

Book You Can’t Believe You Waited until 2011 to Read

I can remember seeing Mary Stewart‘s books on the library shelves years ago, when I moved up from the junior to the adult library, but it wasn’t until this year that I read one. It was Thunder on the Right, and I loved it …

… a wonderful year of reading … and now it’s time to start another …


Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd

My Dear Miss Ranskill,

I am not often moved to write to a literary character, but I was so taken with your story that I felt I must.

I was, I must confess, a little surprised to first encounter a Persephone heroine digging a grave in sand, using only her hands. But as I learned more I came to understand that you were doing the right and natural thing.

How extraordinary that you were swept overboard when all you were doing was chasing your hat after it was caught by the breeze. And how lucky you were to be washed ashore. Even more so to be washed up on a shore that was already home to another castaway.

Wasn’t The Carpenter a wonderful man?! He was practical. He was optimistic, but not foolishly so. He was wise. And, most importantly, he was a good man.

I loved watching the relationship that grew between you, the way you worked together, supported each other, and always observed the proprieties. It is said that a crisis can bring out the best in people, and it certainly did in both of you.

Persephone Endpapers

I felt your heart breaking when he died, and you had to dig him that grave. Thank goodness you managed to finish the boat you had worked so hard to build, that you were able to sail away, and that a British naval vessel picked you up just in time.

But how England had changed in the four years you were away. You returned in 1943 to a country at war. A country where you couldn’t buy clothes without coupons you knew nothing of. A country where travel was not so easy as it had been when you left. And even if you had been able to travel you wouldn’t have been able to go home, as it had been taken over by the military.

England couldn’t understand what had happened to you, and you couldn’t understand what had happened to England.

Your entirely proper relationship with The Carpenter was misunderstood, but I was so pleased that you could still feel his support, draw on his wisdom. And that you took such trouble to see his widow, to try to tell his family of the great love he had expressed for them.

You coped with everything wonderfully, and I am so pleased that, in the end, you found a new place in the world. And that it was just the right place for you.

Reading your story gave me a new perspective on the war, and it said so much about the human spirit and about what makes a true English lady. Not tradition and etiquette, but acting for good and standing up for what is right. Understanding what is important, and what is not.

Miss Ranskill, you are the very best kind of English lady!

Barbara Euphan Todd has done a magnificent job recording your story. She has made it so readable, and she has drawn out the emotions, the pathos, the humour, the absurdity quite beautifully.

And, of course, it has been quite beautifully presented by Persephone Books.

A great compliment, and you are more than worthy.

With kind regards,

Fleur Fisher