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 …


No Surrender by Constance Maud

I was confounded when I first read about No Surrender on the Persephone Books website. “A suffragette novel” it said. As if that was something remarkable!

And remarkable it was. For all the woman writers, all the books about women’s’ lives I have read I couldn’t think of anything I had read about the suffragette movement.

I must confess that the only fictional creation that came to mind was Mrs. Banks from Mary Poppins!

Clearly I had a great deal to learn.

And I have learned a great deal from No Surrender, a novel from the very heart of the movement that strove to give women votes and voices.

The first thing I learned was that it cut across all classes.

I met Jenny, a mill hand whose dark family circumstances illuminated horrible inequalities.

Her mother worked in the mill and her father spent the pittance she earned on drink and on gambling. Her money was his by right. Her sister was beaten by a brutal husband who took her children away from her. She had no right to divorce her husband and no right to even a say in what happened to her children.

It was easy to see why Jenny was drawn to the suffragette movement. Because it wasn’t just about giving women votes. It was about giving them rights at work, and a say in what happened in their families.

That drew Mary too. She was a mill-owner’s daughter, she had a privileged life, but she saw the injustices that so many women faced, and she wanted to do something about it.

Jenny’s and Mary’s paths crossed, and both were drawn deeper into the suffragette cause.

I watched as they did everything they could to forward that cause. They went to meetings and rallies. They made banners. They ambushed MPs and public figures. They drafted women who had votes in other countries to support them.

I heard the stories of so many women. And I saw them winning hearts and minds with passionate and reasoned arguments.

They won mine. I was caught up, and I was swept away.

But the suffragettes had many opponents. Some who were happy with what they had and saw no need for change. Some who were fearful of change. And some who were wary of the responsibilities that would come with rights.

I understood, but I wanted to shake them.

And the establishment moved against the suffragettes. They would be imprisoned for trivial, trivial things. And when they protested, when they were driven to hunger strikes they would be brutally force-fed. It was appalling and it was heart-breaking.

But they fought on …

I have to say at this point that No Surrender in not a great novel. The prose is dull, the characterisation is simplistic and one or two elements just don’t work.

But it illuminates an era and it makes the case for women’s suffrage quite magnificently.

That’s why I’ve been struggling to write about it. because No Surrender is all about that era and that case, and nothing I can write can convey that as the author can. She does it brilliantly.

I was moved by the suffragettes’ stories. I was impressed by their conviction and their courage. I was infuriated by their opponents.

I was educated. And I thought about what they had achieved, about how long it had taken for many of their aims to be achieved, about so many inequalities that still exist. So much to think about.

For all of these reasons, No Surrender should be required reading.

Still Book Counting : 1 2 3 4 5

I never could resist the chance to make a list, and so Simon’s Five Book Meme is completely irresistible …

1. The book I’m currently reading

The story of the 20th century told through snapshot of one family – a family saga like nothing I’ve read before, and I am loving it.

2. The last book I finished

A wonderful addition to the Persephone Books list: a long out of print novel from 1911 that captures the heart and soul of the struggle for female suffrage. I’m still gathering my thought, and I’ll write a little more soon.

3. The next book I want to read

Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth by Chris Priestley

I’ve saved this one for a while, torn between really wanting to read it and not wanting to run out of Chris Priestley’s spooky short stories. But I think Halloween is the time …

4. The last book I bought

Speaking of Love by Angela Young

I spotted this one on a low shelf in a charity shop. It rang a bell, and I placed it when I looked at the back cover and saw:

‘If you like Maggie O’Farrell, You’ll Love Angela Young’  STUCK IN A BOOK

5. The last book I was given

The Yangtze Valley and Beyond by Isabella Bird

My fiance is a trained Virago spotter, and he bought this one home for me last week.

So those are my five books – what are yours?