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 …


Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple

Persephone Endpapers

A few months ago, at a library talk, the Persephone Books reissue of Greenbanks was mentioned, and the delight in the air was tangible.

Some had read and loved the book, and all were thrilled at the prospect of another Whipple novel reappearing.

And now I have been to Greenbanks.

While I was there, I watched the story of an extended family, and the story of their family home, from the years before the Great War, through the years of that war, and into the years that followed.

I came to understand their lives, their characters, their relationships, their hopes, their regrets, their emotions …

Dorothy Whipple illuminated their lives quite perfectly, and I was completely captivated.

At the centre of the story is Louisa Ashton, a woman raised with Victorian values and who has found great happiness raising her family and running her home.

And at first her life seemed quite idyllic. The story opened on Christmas day, snow had fallen, and Louisa’s grown children and grandchildren had all gathered at Greenbanks for the festivities.

But I soon saw that Louisa’s life wasn’t perfect. It was real. Louisa loved and supported her family, but they sometimes took that for granted. Her husband was charming, but he was also a philanderer. Her children were caught up with their own lives.

Louisa doted on Rachel, her youngest granddaughter. As she grew Rachel spent much of her time at Greenbanks with her grandmother, and the two formed the closest of bonds.

Rachel’s own home was less happy. Her father, Ambrose, was rigid and controlling, and quite unable to understand that others might not see things in the same way that he did. And Letty, her mother, quietly subverted his wishes where she could, wishing that she could shake off her domestic responsibilities.

But Letty wasn’t brave enough to do anything about it. Maybe that was because she knew what happened to Kate Barlow …

Now, this is the point at which I would love to say much more, about characters, about stories, about themes. But I mustn’t.

Because one of the things I loved about this book was that sometimes stories played out just as I expected them to, but at other times they played out quite differently, and yet in ways that were completely natural and right. Such clever writing.

I’d hate to spoil that for anyone else by giving too much away.

And such beautiful writing. It is cool, it is calm, and it picks up every detail. Every emotion too, without ever being sentimental. Because the author stands back and allows her readers to see, oh so clearly, the humanity she sets before them.

Humanity captured perfectly. With every side of every relationship gently illuminated. With such understanding of marriage, of motherhood, of sibling bonds, of friendship.

Understanding too of how communities work, for good and for bad.

And an era captured perfectly. An era of change, much of it wrought by war, and an era when the lives of women, the possibilities open to them, changed hugely.

One of the great joys of Greenbanks was watching the evolution. From Louisa, who accepted the values instilled by a Victorian childhood. Through Letty and Laura, who saw other possibilities but were each, to some degree, held back. To Rachel, who saw even more possibilities, and reached for them.

There really is so much here, much more than I can express.

Because, through a quiet family saga, Dorothy Whipple has said everything that needed to be said, and she has said it queerly and beautifully.

And although I have left Greenbanks, I know it will stay with me for a long, long time.

At the bottom of the wave …

… I’m going through an unhappy end to what had, until recently, been one of the happiest periods of my professional life. … but, of course,  there’s so much more to life than work … time for a change … I’ll escape, and soon I’ll rise again with the tide …

It’s just as Dorothy Whipple wrote:

“Life is like the sea, sometimes you are in the trough of the wave, sometimes on the crest. When you are in the trough, you wait for the crest, and always, trough or crest, a mysterious tide bears you forward to an unseen, but certain shore.”

(from Someone at a Distance)

Isn’t it wonderful what difference the right words can make?

Do you have a favourite quotation for times of trouble? Or maybe a book or a poem that you turn to?

Books Off Shelves and Knitting Off Needles

Now books off shelves may not sound that newsworthy, but bear in mind that I had to move in with my mother because she’s reached a point where she can’t manage alone, and I really don’t want her to have to leave her home, in the same street where she grew up.

What that means is that most of the bookshelves in the house are double banked and a lot of my books live in boxes. I use my LibraryThing catalogue to note where books live, and I am pleased to report that the system works.

I’ve had The Mermaid’s Child by Jo Baker for ages, and I decided that it was the perfect book for this year’s Once Upon a Time challenge. So I found it in my catalogue, went straight to the right shelf, and there it was! I’ve read the first couple of chapters, and I’m very impressed.

Pulling out Persephone Books is even easier. They have their own shelves, too shallow to double bank, and I even have the books arranged in series order. Today I pulled out two for group reads on GoodReads.

I’m very bad at group reads, but I’m determined to reform. How do you do with group reads? Any tips?

I’m having a library ordering embargo for the month of April whick should help. I was supposed to have one in March, but first I forgot and then I was swayed by the Orange Prize longlist. This month it’s serious!

To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski is for the Persephone Group. I ‘ve loved Marghanita Laski’s other three Persephones and the subject of this one – the effect of WW2 on lives and relationships – is one that intrigues me.

And The Priory by Dorothy Whipple is for the Between the Wars group. Now how could I resist that?!


I always have at least two pieces of knitting in progress. One interesting bigger project, and one smaller simple project for when I only have a little time and for when I need to knit as a stress-buster.

Today I finished a very simple project.

A Montego Bay scarf in Cherry Tree Hill Supersock. It was so easy, and the yarn was just right for the pattern. So now I have a lovely spring scarf. And a good excuse to rifle through the yarn boxes and the pattern folders for my next simple project.

Then, with my library pile and my reading and knitting works in progress, I’ll have a pretty good reading and knitting plan for the month!

How about you?

Teaser Tuesdays / It’s Tuesday, where are you?


Just quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences the book you’re reading to tempt other readers.

Here is mine:-

“As she stood on the cobbles of the empty market-place, a beam of light struck suddenly from the right to her very feet. She looked up and saw that an obscuring eiderdown hanging in Chadwick’s shop window had been pushed aside and that a small man had stepped into the window and was affixing a piece of paper low down in the right-hand side of the pane.”

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB


Hello, I’m Jane. It’s my half-day off, and so I have come to Tidsley to look at the shops. And I’ve just seen this notice put into Chadwick’s window:

Wanted: a young lady to assist in the shop.
Apply within.

I haven’t come to Tidsley for weeks and on the very day I come in that notice appears.

Chadwick’s is the best draper’s shop in the town. Cars draw up outside, and I have even seen Lady Farnborough going in.

It would be wonderful if I could get into Chadwick’s. I am going to go in and enquire. Wish me luck!

 It’s Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3.

This all comes courtesy of High Wages by Dororthy Whipple.

A lovely book that has been out of print for a long time. Copies have been both rare and expensive. And so it is wonderful that there will be a new Persephone Books edition in October!