Call for the Dead by John le Carre

 Call for the Dead  cover

Call for the Dead by John le Carre was first published in 1961 and it’s the first book in his George Smiley series. I’ve really enjoyed his Smiley books in the past but I really wish I had started to read them in the correct order. I had always been puzzled by Smiley’s strange marriage to the wildly unfaithful Lady Ann, so I was glad to discover from this book some of the history behind the couple.

As soon as I started reading this book I realised that it had been made into a film and I had seen it fairly recently, it didn’t go into the details of the marriage though so I did learn more from the book.

George Smiley had been given the job of questioning one of the British Intelligence staff members who has come under some suspicion, he’s supected of spying for the East Germans. Smiley takes him to a park to have an informal chat with him but despite the low stress venue and laid-back style, the suspect soon ends up dead, supposedly at this own hands, but Smiley isn’t convinced, it just doesn’t add up to him. His bosses in the ‘Circus’/ British Intelligence seem keen to blame Smiley for the death, but soon Smiley himself is attacked.

This is a suspenseful read, but if you’re a James Mason fan you might want to seek out the film which is called The Deadly Affair.

Girl With Green Eyes by Edna O’Brien

Girl with Green Eyes

Girl With Green Eyes by Edna O’Brien is the second book in her trilogy featuring Caithleen Brady and her old schoolfriend and sometime bully Baba. It was published in 1962 and is sometimes titled The Lonely Girl. At the end of the last book – The Country Girls they were expelled from their convent school and amazingly they’ve been allowed to leave their homes and move to Dublin where Baba is to attend college while Caithleen is working in a grocery.

The girls are determined to make the most of the freedom from their families and scrimp and scrape to get the money to go to dances. It isn’t long before Caithleen is again involved with a much older man – as happened in the first book. He isn’t a Catholic and is already married with a child, but his wife has gone to America to get a divorce. When Caithleen’s father hears of her behaviour with a married man he goes to Dublin, determined to rescue his daughter from mortal sin and the fires of hell. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone that Caithleen is over 21 and entitled to do what she wants with her life. It’s a very paternalistic society with the Roman Catholic priests and bishops at the top of the tree.

This is another enjoyable read with quite a lot of humour in it but it also rings so true about how women in Ireland were treated by men, and the church still thinking that it’s their right to treat them like mentally subnormal children if they didn’t obey priests and bishops. At one point I feared that Caithleen was going to end up incarcerated in a convent – as that did happen to some poor women even in the 1960s when their family thought they might ‘give the family a bad name’. Ironic really since so many of the men had a serious problem with drink and abused their wives. I well remember the singer Sinead O’Connor saying in an interview that her Granny had warned her never to marry an Irishman!

These books caused such a furore in Ireland when they were first published, they’re so autobiographical but the locals didn’t appreciate her honesty. You might be interested in watching the interview with Edna O’Brien below.

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita cover

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden was first published in 1963 and I have to admit that although I really enjoyed this book it does seem very dated now. In fact I suspect that the book seems quite unbelievable to younger readers.

The story begins with two children who have made their way to Italy on their own. Their parents are newly divorced and the father who is a Queen’s Messenger – some sort of diplomat I think – has got custody of the three children who are aged between almost 12 and 16. The 16 year old girl is off on holiday in France when her younger siblings decide to track their mother down to take her back to the family home and their father, they just can’t accept that she won’t be living with them any more.

The mother (Fanny) was quite an ordinary woman, not the sort to wear make-up, perfume or fancy clothes and she was seen by her so-called friends in the village as rather drab and uninteresting. When some film-makers appear in the village to make a film it’s Fanny that the director is drawn to and given that Fanny’s children are away at boarding school and her husband is often away from home for work purposes, it’s inevitable that she’s very flattered by his attention, which of course leads to the divorce and the children’s attempts to get her back.

It’s a piece of social history now as the mother almost always gets custody of the children in divorce cases but back in the 1960s a woman who chose to leave her husband for her lover was deemed to be an unfit person to bring up children – how times have changed!

Quite a few women around the internet seem to be quite angry about this book probably because they just can’t get their heads around the fact that the mother doesn’t get custody, but she did abandon them and her unobjectionable husband for a bloke she hardly knew.

This is a good read but not my favourite by Rumer Godden.

Mrs Harris goes to New York by Paul Gallico

I read The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico way back in the year dot, I really enjoyed it but then never got around to reading any more by him for some reason. Anyway, when I was in Aberdeen not long ago Mrs Harris goes to New York was one of my charity shop purchases. It’s an old book from 1960 and at some point over the years the title has been changed to Mrs ‘Arris goes to New York for some reason. There’s a series of four Mrs Harris books and I hope they’re all as amusing as this one was, daft but entertaining.

Mrs Ada Harris is a cheerful, courageous cockney charwoman. She has the ability to get on with just about everyone, no matter how high or low born they are. However she cannot get on with her next door neighbours, the Gussets, for one thing they have informally adopted a small boy called Henry whose mother placed him with them when she went off with another man, they heard no more from her and no money was forthcoming from her to feed and clothe Henry. Her American husband had been a GI and she had refused to go to America with him and contact with him had been lost over the years.

The Gussets have a large family of their own and poor Henry is bullied, beaten and starved by them all. Mrs Harris can’t stand listening to him getting thumped any more so she determines to go to America and track down his father who goes by the name of George Brown, so it isn’t going to be an easy task.

Ada ‘does’ for a wealthy American couple called Schreiber and when Mr Schreiber is posted back to the US they ask Mrs Harris and her friend Mrs Violet Butterfield to go over to the US and help them settle in to their new home. It’s the perfect opportunity for Ada and Violet and they manage to smuggle Henry on to the ship bound for New York with them.

It’s only when she is told about having to go through very strict security to get to New York that she realises what a difficult spot she is in. She’s in fear of being dragged off to Ellis Island with young Henry and deported before she even has a chance to look for George Brown.

Over the years a lot of people have been quite sniffy about Paul Gallico’s writing, it may not be high literature but it is highly entertaining, and sometimes that’s just what you need. Especially if you’ve been stuck in the house for days on end, looking out on grey skies and seemingly endless rain. This one hit the spot so I’ll be looking out for the others in the series.

Two of Gallico’s books were made into films – The Snow Goose and The Poseidon Adventure.