Classics Club Spin #26

CCSpin

It’s Classics Club Spin time again – number 26. I only have nine books left unread on my list so I’m having to double them up.

1. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
2. Montaigne
3. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
4. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
5. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
6. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
7. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
8. The Trial by Franz Kafka
9. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
10. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
11. Montaigne
12. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
13. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
14. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
15. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
19. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
20. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott

The Classics Club number will be chosen on Sunday the 18th of April. I’ve been meaning to get around to reading Dorothy Whipple’s High Wages for years now so I’m hoping that this one will come up, which is why it features three times!

Are you taking part in the spin this time?

# 1936 Club – Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome

 Pigeon Post cover

I read Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome as my first book for the 1936 Club, it’s the sixth book in his Swallows and Amazons series and I can’t say that it was a favourite of mine. To be fair the the Swallows and Amazon children aren’t enjoying themselves much to begin with. It has been a dry summer and the ground is parched so there’s no water near the camping ground they intended to pitch their tents. This means that they’re having to camp out in the back garden and because of the fear of a camp fire setting the whole area on fire they aren’t even allowed to cook for themselves.

Nancy and Peggy’s Uncle Jim is on his way back home to the Lake District, he’s been having an adventure of his own in South America, searching for treasure unsuccessfully. The children hear a rumour of a long forgotten old gold mine in the nearby mountains and set about looking for it, they know it is in a cave with some heather nearby. But they’re upset by the appearance of a suspicious man that they name Squashy Hat. He’s roaming all over the hills and daubing paint on stones, they’re sure he’s also looking for the gold.

Things improve when Titty discovers that she’s able to dowse for water and they manage to dig a well which gives them good water, so they are able to camp out after all, and they can communicate with Mrs Blackett by using some carrier pigeons.

Other readers seem to have really liked this one, and it did win the Carnegie medal, but I was never going to enjoy the subject as the children went off every morning, all armed with their hammers, merrily attacking the Lake District mountains with them and crushing up loads of quartz. Even as a child I had an aversion to mines and quarries, especially quarries due to my beautiful local mountain being completely hollowed out for use as hard core for road building! I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series though.

The 1936 Club

1936 Club

The 1936 Club which is organised by Simon and Karen will be running from the 12th to 18th of April. That year was a very good one for publishing and I’ve already read quite a lot of books from that year as you can see from the links below. Of course I’ll be reading more during the fortnight starting on Monday, there are a lot to choose from!

Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson

Prefects at Springdale by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude

Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham

In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck

Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston

Behold, Here’s Poison by Georgette Heyer

No Place Like Home by Beverley Nichols

August Folly by Angela Thirkell

The Island of Sheep by John Buchan

Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes

The Deadly Truth by Helen McCloy

The Deadly Truth

The Deadly Truth by Helen McCloy was originally published in 1941 but was re-printed by Agora Books last month. It’s a Dr Basil Willing mystery, he’s a psychiatrist who works in New York. Unusually for him he’s spending the summer on Long Island, renting a cottage on an estate which belongs to Claudia Bethune. She’s a wealthy socialite, three times married and she loves throwing parties. It seems that she gets most of her joy from being cruel and nasty to her guests though.

Dr Roger Slater is a research scientist who is infatuated with Claudia, so when she visits him in his laboratory he can’t stop himself from boasting about a new truth serum that he has developed. But when Claudia leaves the lab he realises that she has stolen a small aluminium tube of the serum. He’s furious, he’ll get into a lot of trouble from his employers if they find out. It looks like Claudia intends to have fun with her guests by doctoring their drinks with the serum.

Things don’t go quite the way Claudia plans them to, she’s in for a very big surprise. Dr Basil Willing gets involved and his investigation uncovers blackmail and jewellery theft, it seems that just about everyone had something to hide.

I really enjoyed this one, not only for the mystery and investigation but I appreciated the author’s descriptive abilities. I like to know where I am when I’m taken into a room by an author and I think you can see from the description below that Helen McCloy was interested in painting the scene for the reader.

The curtains were satin brocade of buttercup yellow. The walls were washed a pale primrose, the ceiling a sour cream colour, and two mantelpieces of tawny ochre marble faced each other at opposite ends of the room. The parquet was blond, the woodwork ivory white, and the chairs were covered with petit point in the same faded buff and blue as the Chinese rug. There was a Chinese cabinet of brilliant black lacquer with a procession of mandarins eternally wending their diagonal way across its double doors picked out in tarnished gilt.

She has one character saying:
If I may be permitted to paraphrase Aaron Burr: Truth is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained.

The politicians of the moment seem to have adhered to that one well!

I was sent a digital copy of this book by Agora Books via NetGalley. Thank you.

The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon

The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon was first published in 2011 by Faber and Faber. The setting is London’s British Museum to begin with, but it isn’t in a Britain as we know it because Christianity has never taken over from the Norse religion, Thor, Woden et al are still worshiped. It’s a Wodenist culture.

Freya is a twelve year old girl whose parents have split up and have joint custody of her, she’s having a tough time coping with living in two different locations – and with her father’s work patterns. He has a new job as a guard at the British Museum and Freya is having to stay at the museum during his shift. While wandering about on her own she’s drawn to the display of the Lewis Chessmen, most of which were taken to London despite being discovered on the Isle of Lewis. The room houses treasures from a Viking silver hoard, and when Freya fiddles with one of the exhibits she’s catapulted into an adventure which features the Norse gods and the chess pieces which have come to life.

Oh, Mum, if you could see me now, thought Freya, as she stepped off the trembling rainbow into the realm of the Gods.

This was an enjoyable adventure, written by the author of the very popular Horrid Henry series (which I’ve never read). The book has some lovely illustrations by Adam Stower, some of which you can see here.

You can see images of the Lewis Chessmen here.

I love the Berserker, he’s the one chewing on his shield, he just makes me laugh!

berserker

Guardian links

In this week’s Guardian Review section Henry Eliot reflects on his favourite literary locations, you can read the article here. It’s the hottest literary locations to visit – when lockdown ends.

Lucy Jago has gathered together books about female friendship but the piece isn’t on the website. The only one that I’ve read on her list is Vera Brittain’s Testament of Friendship, but she also mentions Sula by Toni Morrison, Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, Sebastian Barry’s Annie Dunne and Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe. For some reason this article isn’t appearing on The Guardian website so I can’t link to it. Have you read any of these books?

There was an article in the main newspaper about John le Carre who took out Irish nationality a while before his recent death. It was Brexit which pushed him to take the decision. You can read about it here.

Tom Gauld’s cartoon below gave me a laugh – I so agree!

gauld.

New Books

I’ve had to resort to buying books online so here are my recent acquisitions.

Books Again

Escape from Loch Leven by Mollie Hunter is obviously about Mary, Queen of Scots. Loch Leven Castle, which is close to where I live is one of the several places she managed to escape from. This one is aimed at those aged over 11 – I come into the category!

Evelyn Finds Herself by Josephine Elder is a girls’ school book, one of the best of the genre apparently. I certainly enjoyed reading it recently, it’s unusual that it’s set in a fairly ordinary day school, rather than a posh boarding school.

Val Forest in the Fifth by Evelyn Smith is another school story, I have hope that this one will be good, the author taught at Glasgow High School until 1923.

The remaining three are all by Elizabeth Goudge.

Smoky House
The Valley of Song
Henrietta’s House

I’ve never read any of her books for young people so it’ll be interesting to see what they’re like anyway

The last book I bought for all of £1 and it was bought in an actual shop when the lockdown was lifted briefly last summer. I bought Every Woman’s Doctor Book just for the charm of the cover. It has no publication date on it but going by the woman’s hat and hair I think it must have been around the 1920s. It says in this book that women in labour should be lying on their side, that is obviously where I went wrong!

I think that bookshops will be opening again on April 26th, so not long now.

In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman

I read In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman because it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2014 and I have a personal project to read all of the winners, which I’m never going to complete I’m sure, but I’ll have a good go. It pushes me to read some books that I never would have thought of reading otherwise, this one comes under that category. I had a wee look at the reviews on Goodreads and noted that several people had abandoned the book, that’s something that I rarely do, but I can see why people would do so, this is a very wordy book at 554 pages, actually it seemed longer. I can’t say that I disliked it, but at the risk of seeming sexist I think this one might be appreciated more by male readers. This is partly because a lot of the book is conversations between two men who have been friends since they met at Oxford University.

The narrator is an investment banker of Pakistani origin, it’s 2008 and he suspects that he is going to get the blame for the mess his bank is in, they need a fall guy and he’s the youngest partner, but to be fair – he did have the idea of selling sub-prime mortgages, which caused all the trouble. He comes from a very wealthy background so losing his job is not a great worry. He has lost sight of Zafar over the years since they were at university, and when Zafar turns up at his front door he doesn’t even recognise him. Zafar has been in Afghanistan which as we know had become a hellhole.

The narrator mainly sits back and listens to Zafar as he does a lot of ‘mansplaining’, pontificating on varied subjects that he seems to be an expert on however, he’s not an expert on the one thing that I know about – the design of the Union flag/jack which he says most people think is symmetrical, when we all know that it certainly isn’t symmetrical and anyone putting up that flag has to be careful not to fly it upside-down! But the narrator also points out that Zafar is wrong about some things.

Otherwise Zafar tells the story of his life, from his conception in Bangladesh and poverty stricken childhood to his disastrous relationship with Emily and her wealthy entitled family in London.

Although this is a well written book, sometimes beautifully written, it was in dire need of an editor, and I’m left just hoping that the author has fewer problems with women in his own life than his characters have in the book. The women are all portrayed as being ghastly.

Evelyn Finds Herself by Josephine Elder

Evelyn Finds Herself by Josephine Elder was first published in 1929 but my copy is a modern paperback which has been reprinted by Girls Gone By, actually although it’s a paperback (I prefer hardbacks) it’s still a lovely book and there are 46 pages of very interesting information at the beginning. There’s some history of education in England and Scotland which had/have very different systems. Scotland’s system was way ahead of the English one which only really got into gear for ordinary children in the 1930s. It was the 1920s before commissions recommended that secondary education should be available free to all children in England. In contrast in Scotland education was sponsored by the state from the 18th century. There are also some interesting photographs of the original book covers, and some old schools and teachers.

Unusually this book is set in an ordinary girls’ secondary day school rather than a boarding school so the reader sees the girls at home as they visit each other to do homework together and also as they enjoy each other’s company outside school and socialise with their families.

Evelyn’s best friend is Elizabeth but when they meet up at school after the summer holidays they haven’t seen each other for eight weeks. It’s evident from the beginning that although they’re great friends they’re quite different characters. Elizabeth is always thinking ahead, such as planning to get what she thinks will be the most interesting seat locations in their new classrooms. Evelyn is altogether more serious about her studies.

When Elizabeth seems to be more interested in being friends with another girl Evelyn is surprised, she can’t see the attraction and the girls grow apart somewhat. There’s no animosity, just a coolness but Evelyn is hurt. It’s all character forming though, and all so familiar to anyone looking back on their own schooldays. I particularly enjoyed the way the girls were disdainful of the ‘Home Life’ department and the girls who were too stupid to do anything else – it felt so true to life. I just remember being astonished that anyone would need lessons on such things as washing clothes! I had been doing all the housework in my family home since I was ten years old.

This book is so well written and observed with the teachers also coming across as human beings with a life outside their workplace. This is a really enjoyable read so I’ll definitely be looking for more books by the author.

The Spanish Letters by Mollie Hunter

 The Spanish Letters cover

The Spanish Letters by Mollie Hunter was first published in 1964 but my copy is a Puffin book dating from 1972.

The setting is Edinburgh and the year is 1589, the end of January. Young Jamie Morton is a caddie in the city – that means he earns his living by doing messages for people, whatever is needed, maybe delivering a note to someone, a sort of odd job person who has to know the city inside out. He has been trained up by ‘the Cleek’ a much older caddie. There are a few hundred such males of all ages in Edinburgh, it might be a bit of a precarious living but Jamie likes it because he’s his own boss. He isn’t so keen on being starving half the time though.

When a young well known musician goes missing Jamie is asked to help track him down and so begins a tale of adventure, murder and kidnap with the Earl of Huntly – a favourite with King James involved.

There’s a ship from the Netherlands docked at Leith, Edinburgh’s port, and there’s a suspicion that it has Spaniards on board. Is there a Spanish plot afoot? A second Armada attempting to topple Queen Elizabeth. For once the Scots and the English are on the same side, well most of the Scots are.

This was a really enjoyable read, my first by the author but I’ve recently bought a couple of others. Her writing reminded me of Dorothy Dunnett’s adventures which is high praise indeed, but obviously not as convoluted (or long) as Hunter’s writing is aimed at youngsters. Her books are apparently all well researched so it seems like a painless way of learning history.

For anyone who has already read this book you might be interested in this blogpost that I wrote earlier, when I visited Huntly Castle in Aberdeenshire.