Mugby Junction by Charles Dickens and others

Mugby Junction“Guard! What place is this?”

“Mugby, Junction, sir.”

“A windy place!”

“Yes, it mostly is, sir.”

“And looks comfortless indeed!”

“Yes, it generally does, sir.”

“Is it a rainy night still?”

“Pours, sir.”

“Open the door. I’ll get out.”

Right from that opening exchange, you know that Dickens is having fun with this work. Not one of the big books, but a serial launched in the Christamas edition of All The Year Round in 1866.

Interesting though that Dickens should choose to make trains his theme less than two years after the Staplehurst Disaster, when the train he was travelling in fell from a viaduct into a river. He and his party escaped injury, and he made efforts to assist the many who were injured and dying. The incident clearly left mental scars.

But Dickens, of necessity, continued to travel. And, of course, trains and the possibilities that they opened up were still relatively new.

The story opens at with an unnamed traveller descending onto an empty, dark platform at Mugby Junction. He took the train to try to escape from his old life and with the intention of alighting at a random station and leaving his future open to chance.

He first strikes up a relationship with Lamps, the station porter, and then with his invalid daughter Phoebe. And he decides to stay in the are a few days, talking to the inhabitants of Mugby about how they came to be there and where they hope to go, as he attempts to reach a decision about which of the seven lines in and out of Mugby Junction he might travell down. Ultimately though, he decides to stay in Mugby.

This framing story is told by Dickens. The small community centred on the station is comes to life, and the prose is peppered with railway rhythms and and expressions. A simple tale packed full of details, and so cleverly executed.

Six short tales follow – two from Dickens and four from other writers – testimonies from the people of Mugby representing the possibilities of the six other routes out of Mugby.

The stories are quite a mixture, covering a wide range of themes but drawn together by the ever-present theme of the railways. The quality is variable, but there is one gem among them – Dickens’ own The Signalman.

The signalman of tells of a ghost that has been haunting him. He receives ghostly signals that nobody else can hear. They foreshadow deaths on the railway, ultimately the signalman’s own. A simple concept but it is perfectly constructed, brilliantly executed and oh so spooky. I read it twice, picking up new things on the second reading, and would be more than happy to go back for a third reading.

Definitely the highlight of an intriguing period-piece.

short story peril

The Virago Book of Food edited by Jill Foulston


Subtitle: The Joy of Eating

Virago have published some wonderful anthologies over the years, and this is a wonderful addition to their list.

It opens with Banana Yoshimto contemplating her kitchen and closes with Pierette Brillat-Savarin quoting her great-aunts final words – on the subject of dessert. In between there is a wonderful journey through food writing.

You will find an extraordinary rage of writers: lots of Virago authors, food writers going back through centuries, literary giants, wonderful authors of biography and memoirs.

They cover a wide range of subjects – every angle you could think of: festive food, housekeeping tips, holy food, lack of food, and much, much more.

They will take you to all four corners of the globe and across many centuries.

A wonderful book, but a very difficult book to review. So here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to select nine contributors to invite to an imaginary dinner party and a quote from each to give you a taste of this wonderful book.

(I’d love to invite more, but I haven’t enough seats.)

Here they are:

Jane Grigson (1920 -190)

“In the Middle Ages – and until reently in some parts – the cherry fair was a great festival. People wandered about the orchards,; the fruit was picked and sold; there was dancing, drinking and making love (a few years ago there were still people in our Wiltshire village with birthdays nine months after the Clyffe feast, which took place every year at cherry time). the poignancy, colour and glory in lives which were normally brutish had by the thirteenth century turned the fair into a symbol of the passing moment.”

Hildegarde of Bingen (1098 – 1179)

“The will is like a fire baking every action in an oven. Bread is baked in order to feed people and strengthen them so that they can live. The will is the force behind the whole of the action. It grinds the action in a mill, it adds yeast and kneads it firmly and thus carefully prepares the action, like a loaf of bread which the will bakes to perfection in the heat of its zeal.”

Sarah Waters

“Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster? If you have, you will remember it. Some quirk of the Kentish coastline makes Whitstable natives – as they are properly called – the largest and the juiciest, the savouriest yet the subtlest, oysters in the whole of England. Whitstable oysters are, quite rightly, famous. The French, who are known for their sensitive palates, regularly cross the Channel for them; they are shipped, in barrels of ice, to the dining-tables of Hamburg and Berlin. Why, the King himself, I heard, makes special trips to Whitstable with Mrs Keppel, to eat oyster suppers in a private hotel; and as for the old Queen – she dined on a native a day (or so they say) till the day she died.”

Christina Rosetti (1830 – 94)

“Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries-
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries–
All ripe together
In summer weather–
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy;
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye,
Come buy, come buy.””

Claudia Roden

“Oriental New Year meals end with fresh dates, figs, and above all pomegranates – all of which are mentioned in the Bible – as the new fruits of the season. In Egypt, we thought pomegranates would cause our family to bear more children. We ate the seeds sprinkled with orange-blossom, water and sugar.”

 Rumer Godden (1907-98)

“The greengages had a pale-blue bloom, especially in the shade, but in the sun the flesh showed amber through the clear-green skin; if it were craked the juice was doubly warm and sweet. Coming from the streets and small front gardens of Southstone, we had not been let loose in such an orchard before; it was no wonder we ate too much.”

Della Lutes (1872 – 1942)

“It was a tedious job, making apple butter, but less so, it seems to me, when brewed out of doors, especially on an October day with the sun beating warmly down on your neck, and crimson leaves drip, dripping from the maple trees – sometimes straight into the huge pot itself, like some jocose gamester flipping cards into a hat.”

Louisa May Alcott (1832-88)

“”It’s time for lunch girls, and I bought mine with me, it’s so much jollier to eat in sisterhood. Let’s club together and have a revel,” said kate, producing a bag of oranges, and several big, plummy buns. “We’ve got sardines, crackers and cheese,” said Bess, clearing off a table with all speed. “Wait a bit, and I’ll add my share,” cried Polly, and catching up her cloak, she ran to the grocery store nearby.”

Celia Fiennes (1642 – 1741)

“In most part of Sommer-setshire it is very fruitfull for orchards, plenty of apples and peares, but they are not curious in the planting the best sort of fruite, which is a great pitty; being so soon produced and such quanteteyes, they are likewise so careless when they make cider, they press all sorts of apples together, else they might have such good cider as in any other parts, even as good as the Herrifordshires …”

My only problem now ……… what on earth do I give them to eat?!

Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs: The Left Bank World of Shakespeare & Co by Jeremy Mercer


“If you ever come to Paris
On a cold and rainy night
And find the Shakespeare store
It can be a welcome sight

Because it has a motto
Something friendly and wise
Be kind to strangers
Lest they’re angels in disguise”


Shakespeare & Co in Paris is one of the world’s most famous bookstores. The original store opened in 1919 and became known as the haunt of such literary heavyweights as Ernest Hemingway, George Bernard Shaw, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The shop was forced to lose in 1941 – allegedly after owner Sylvia Beach refused to sell the last copy of “Finnegan’s Wake” to an occupying Nazi officer.

A decade later another bookstore with a similar free thinking ethos opened on the Left Bank and 1964, with the agreement of Sylvia Beach, its owner George Whitman resurrected the name “Shakespeare & Co.”

The shop was the principal meeting place for a new generation of writers, and would become renowned for its run ins with the authorities, its cluttered but captivating interior and its open door policy to visitors – even providing beds for those of a literary mindset who found themselves down on their luck.

That tradition continues still and Canadian Jeremy Mercer was one of those who found shelter in the bookstore. He had a career as a crime reporter but, when information from a criminal source that he had promised to hold back was published, he thought it wise to flee. He went to Paris with a vague idea of studying French to complete an unfinished college course.

Jeremy Mercer reveals a world inside the bookstore that seems utterly unbelievable at times. Residents are required to write an essay for admission, evict the previous occupant of their space, read a book a day and help out

Misadventures and anecdotes abound. The most interesting concern owner George Whitman, a man who regards money with disdain, sets fire to his hair in order to give it a trim, and dreams of his estranged daughter taking over his empire. He accommodates an ever-changing group of residents, who rise and fall in his favour.

The story in a reporter’s style and while the book is readable it also has some serious flaws. Jeremy Mercer as a central character is not that engaging and some of the stories are tied up a little too tidily, to the point where I had to seriously consider whether they had been somewhat embroidered.

This isn’t a bad book – I’m glad I read it – but Shakespeare & Co is worthy of better. Maybe there’s another book out there …..

Support Your Local Library Challenge – The Book Lists

  1. Mothernight by Sarah Stovell
  2. Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans
  3. Sanctuary by Edith Wharton
  4. The Coroner by M R Hall
  5. Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran – W
  6. The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
  7. Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins – W
  8. Pastworld by Ian Beck
  9. Angels of Destruction by Keith Donohue
  10. True Deceiver by Tove Jansson
  11. The Peachgrowers’ Almanac by Elaine di Rollo
  12. Snapped in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho
  13. Demobbed by Alan Allport
  14. The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark
  15. Twisted Wing by Ruth Newman
  16. Bell Farm by M R Barneby
  17. Talking About Detective Fiction by P D James -W
  18. The Missing by Jane Casey
  19. Archelaus Hosken’ Dilemma by F J Warren
  20. Martha, Eric and George by Margery Sharp – RW
  21. The Tin-kin by Eleanor Thom
  22. Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida
  23. The Gourmet by Muriel Barbery
  24. Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley
  25. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips
  26. Roots and Stars by C C Vyvyan
  27. Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni
  28. A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah – W
  29. Paperboy by Christopher Fowler
  30. Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor
  31. Secret Son by Laila Lailami
  32. The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran
  33. Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal – R
  34. The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers
  35. Sarah Strick by Randle Hurley
  36. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
  37. Cold Earth by Sarah Moss
  38. Savage Lands by Clare Clark
  39. This is How by M J Hyland
  40. Haweswater by Sarah Hall
  41. Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö
  42. The Wilding by Maria McCann
  43. Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin
  44. The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
  45. The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale
  46. Inside The Whale by Jennie Rooney
  47. After The Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld
  48. The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin
  49. Trespass by Rose Tremain
  50. I Coriander by Sally Gardner
  51. The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill
  52. The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini
  53. The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller
  54. Nimrod’s Shadow by Chris Paling
  55. Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido
  56. The Green Child by Herbert Read
  57. The Ninth Wave by Russell Cellyn Jones
  58. Florence and Giles by John Harding
  59. The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott
  60. The Man Who Went Up In Smoke by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö
  61. The Thornthwaite Inheritance by Gareth P Jones
  62. Dancing Backwards by Salley Vickers
  63. The Herring in the Library by L C Tyler
  64. The Lessons by Naomi Alderman
  65. Tatty by Christine Dwyer-Hickey
  66. Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
  67. The Man Who Disappeared by Claire Morrall
  68. The Dinner Club by Saskia Noort
  69. Forgetting Zoe by Ray Robinson
  70. White Ravens by Owen Sheers
  71. The Opposite of Falling by Jennie Rooney
  72. The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell – W
  73. Room by Emma Donoghue
  74. Manna From Hades by Carola Dunn
  75. Faithful Place by Tana French
  76. Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty
  77. Paradise Creek by Leo Walmsley
  78. Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany Murphy – WR
  79. The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown – W
  80. A Colourful Mystery by Carola Dunn
  81. Rendezvous by Esther Verhoef
  82. The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn
  83. The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr
  84. The End of the Alphabet by C S Richardson
  85. Meeting Monsieur Right by Muriel Zagha
  86. Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor by M C Beaton
  87. The Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson -WR
  88. The Burying Beetle by Ann Kelly
  89. An Unsentimental Journey Through Cornwall by Mrs Craik -W
  90. The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley
  91. Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M C Beaton


  1. Monster Love by Carol Topolski
  2. The Haunted House by Charles Dickens and others
  3. The Finishing School by Muriel Spark -S
  4. Behind a Mask by Louisa May Alcott – W
  5. Marraine: A Portrait of my Godmother by Oriel Malet -R
  6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  7. Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs: The Left Bank World of Shakespeare & Co by Jeremy Mercer
  8. The Owl Service by Alan Garner (re-read)
  9. The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne -W
  10. Memoirs of a Novelist by Virginia Woolf
  11. Laura Knight by Caroline Fox
  12. The Great Western Beach by Emma Smith – W
  13. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (re-read)
  14. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery -S
  15. The Girl from the Chartreuseby Pierre Péju
  16. The Borrowers by Mary Norton (re-read)
  17. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  18. House To Let by Charles Dickens and Others
  19. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
  20. The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg
  21. The Island at the end of the World by Sam Taylor
  22. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley -W
  23. The London Scene by Virginia Woolf
  24. Lady Into Fox by David Garnett -S
  25. The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
  26. Knights of Loveby Jane Tozer
  27. The Paris Enigma by Pablo de Santis
  28. The Good Women of China by Xinran
  29. The Fire Gospel by Michel Faber
  30. The Preacher by Camilla Läckberg
  31. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson -W
  32. The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by L C Tyler -W
  33. Henry: Virtuous Prince by David Starkey
  34. Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery (re-read)
  35. UFO in her Eyes by Xialou Guo
  36. Unseen by Mari Jungstedt
  37. Yellow by Janni Visman
  38. What to Do When Someone Dies by Nicci French
  39. An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear
  40. An Equal Stillness by Francesca Kay -W
  41. A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy
  42. The Joy of Eating: The Virago Book of Food edited by Jill Foulston
  43. The Pyramid by Henning Mankell
  44. A Very Persistent Illusion by L C Tyler -W
  45. The Weather at Tregulla by Stella Gibbons
  46. Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe
  47. The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
  48. Without Knowing Mr Walkley by Edith Olivier -R
  49. The Solitude of Thomas Cave by Georgina Harding -W
  50. Blackmoor by Edward Hogan
  51. The Reunion by Simone van der Vlugt
  52. Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Maddern
  53. Instructions to Servants by Jonathan Swift
  54. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters -S
  55. Leaving The World by Douglas Kennedy
  56. Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli
  57. octurnes by Kazuo Ishiguro
  58. The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide
  59. Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered The World by Claire Harman
  60. Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights by Sophie Dahl -W
  61. The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy by James Anderson -S
  62. The Captain’s Wife by Eilunned Lewis -S
  63. The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
  64. The Spy Game by Georgina Harding -W
  65. Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare
  66. The Alchemy of Murder by Carol McCleary
  67. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel -W
  68. Ten Little Herrings by L C Tyler -W
  69. Hammer by Sara Stockridge
  70. Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley -W
  71. Where Shall We Go For Dinner?: A Food Romance by Tamasin Day-Lewis
  72. Gathering The Water by Robert Erdic
  73. Angels With Two Faces by Nicola Upson
  74. The Best of Men by Claire Letemendia
  75. Hold My Hand by Serena Macksey
  76. The View From Downshire Hill by Elizabeth Jenkins -R
  77. Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
  78. Ten Sorry Tales by Mick Jackson
  79. Among The Mad by Jacqueline Winspear
  80. On The Other Side: Letters To My chIldren in Germany 1940-1946 by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg
  81. Mugby Junction by Charles Dickens and Others
  82. Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon -R
  83. Puppet Master by Joanne Owen
  84. The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland -S
  85. A Bookseller’s War by Anne and Heywood Hill
  86. Kisses on a Postcard by Terence Frisby -W
  87. The Rapture by Liz Jensen
  88. The Finest Type of English Womanhood by Rachel Heath
  89. Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon
  90. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa -W
  91. Stone’s Fall by Ian Pears
  92. The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin -W
  93. Arthur Rackham: A Life in Illustration by James Hamilton -W
  94. Away From The Bombs by Ricky Clitheroe -S
  95. Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson
  96. Night Thoughts of a Country Landlady: Being the Pacific Experiences of Miss Emma Nightingale in Time of War presented by Edith Olivier and illustrated by Rex Whistler -R
  97. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffennegger
  98. London War Notes 1939 to 1945 by Mollie Panter-Downes -R
  99. The Other Elizabeth Taylor by Nicola Beauman -W
  100. Moon Behind Clouds: An Introduction to the life and work of Sir Claude Francis Barry by Katie Campbell
  101. The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw -W
  102. Thaw by Fiona Robyn
  103. Under Fire by Phil Robyns
  104. Howard’s End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
  105. Norman Garstin: Irishman and Newlyn Artist by Richard Pryke
  106. Drawn Here by Mary Fletcher

And what so the letters mean:

S = I’ve added it to my own collection now
W=I want a copy of my own
R=This is a wonderful out of print book that needs to be reissued

Support Your Local Library Challenge


J. Kaye from J. Kaye’s Book Blog is hosting the 2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge.

You can commit to reading 12, 25 or 50 library books in 2009.

I am a lifelong library lover and I am very definitely in for 50 books.

No list yet, but a few fairly random thoughts about libraries:

  • I am lucky to have a good public library service – I can order any book in the county or in a large reserve stock for just 50p.
  • I also belong to the wonderful Morrab Library. There are only 19 private subscription libraries in the UK and this one is just a few minutes walk from home.
  • I can still visualise where my favourite books were in the library when I was a child.
  • Without libraries I wouldn’t be able to read anything like as widely as I do.
  • I pass the library as I walk home from work. A little look around the shelves after a difficult day is wonderfully theraputic!
  • I like to think I can influence what the library stocks by ordering and borrowing books. I have been known to borrow under-borrowed books that I own to help their statistics.
  • Don’t book lovers have a duty to support libraries? If we don’t we can’t assume they will still be there and then how will people who can’t afford to buy books read and how will other people discover books?
  • I first met my fiancé in the library!