Pied Piper by Nevil Shute

 Pied Piper cover

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute was first published in 1942 and the subject is World War 2, I generally love books about the war that were written at the time, and I loved this one.

The story begins in a London club where an air raid is in progression. Two members get into conversation, John Howard is 70 years old and he tells the much younger club member – a naval officer – of his recent exploits in France. John Howard had gone to France to have a fishing holiday but to his horror the Nazis began their unbelievably fast march through European countries and before long they were in France. John had to get home to England – fast. But a couple of English guests in his hotel ask him if he could take their small children with him when he goes back home, they think that will be much safer for them. The children’s parents are diplomats and intend to travel to Switzerland on their own.

Things start to go awry almost immediately when one of the children falls ill and so begins a suspenseful journey with John Howard gathering more children along the way and having to join the vast numbers of refugees on the roads as the Luftwaffe bombed and strafed them. What should have been a simple train journey home to blighty turns into a complete nightmare when the trains are unavailable as the French army runs from the advancing German army.

Considering the subject matter I can hardly believe that it has taken me so long to get around to reading Pied Piper, I think I enjoyed this one even more than The Chequer Board which had been my favourite. I now want to tread his book Most Secret (1945) as it also has a wartime plot. Have any of you read that one?

I had to laugh at the author’s portrayal of the French rural/country people as being money grabbing and avaricious – nothing changes, that has been exactly our experience of them over the years on various holidays.

Classics Club Spin – # 24

spin

It’s Classics Club Spin time again – number 24. The spin number will be chosen on Sunday the 9th of August and I’ll be writing about whichever book I have to read by the 30th September 2020.

My spin list is:

1. Montaigne essays
2. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
3. Coot Club by Arthur Ransome
4. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
5. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Parrot by Hugh Lofting
6. Summer Half by Angela Thirkell
7. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
8. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
9. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
10. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
11. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
12. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
13. The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade
14. The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
15. Sing for Your Supper by Pamela Frankau
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant
19. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
20. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison

I’ve read quite a few chunky books recently so I’d really prefer to avoid reading some of the heftier books on my list, such as Salem Chapel and The Corn King and the Spring Queen, actually there are quite a few hefty books on this list, the odds might be against me!

The Rescue by Joseph Conrad

1920 club

The Rescue cover

As we have a complete set of lovely Folio Joseph Conrad books I decided to read The Rescue by Joseph Conrad for the 1920 Club, apart from that, it was slim pickings on my bookshelves for that particular year.

Prior to reading this one I had only ever read one other book by Conrad – Lucky Jim – and I wasn’t too thrilled by that one as I recall although it was probably at least 15 years ago that I read it. Anyway, I must admit that I found the first two thirds of The Rescue to be a bit of a turgid slog. I consoled myself by reminding myself that not every book can be as non stop-action packed as a Dorothy Dunnett book, so I ploughed on.

Eventually things did speed up. The setting is the Malay Straits where Tom Lingard is sailing his ship The Lightning, he makes a good living trading in the area. The Lightning is approached by a boat seeking help. Their yacht has run aground on a mudflat and when Lingard boards the yacht he meets with its owner Mr Travers, he is obviously a snob, very rich and is suspicious of Lingard. He’s sure he’s some sort of pirate and is rude towards him. But Mrs Travers who is much younger than her husband is very attractive as far as Lingard is concerned, the feeling seems to be mutual. When Travers and his guest d’Alcacer leave the yacht to stretch their legs on the sandbank they are stranded on they end up being kidnapped by a local tribe. There’s been trouble among the tribes, and in the recent past Lingard had befriended the chief of another tribe, and had sold him arms.

Travers and d’Alcacer are in danger of being murdered and Lingard goes to where they are being held captive in an effort to get them released, despite the fact that he’s completely smitten by Mrs Travers, and her husband is such an unpleasant man. Mrs Travers is tasked with delivering a message to Lingard but for some reason she fails to do so. It all gets very messy.

There’s an introduction by Captain Richard Woodman at the beginning which of course I read after finishing the book. It enlightened me as to why The Rescue felt almost like it had been written by two different writers. Apparently Conrad began to write the book in 1900 but half-way through it he came to a standstill and just couldn’t progress with it. He gave it up and went on to concentrate on The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ which was a huge success, but he didn’t go back to The Rescue until 1915, and only then as his agent had nagged him to finish it. He still couldn’t do it and it was only in 1918 that he tried again and eventually saw his way around the writing problem he had – by then it was TWENTY years after he had given up on it half way through. That’s obviously why the pace picked up two thirds through the book, really he should have gone back and re-written the parts that were twenty years old.

This book is very much of its time and the ‘n’ word appears quite a lot. All the way through the book though I was amazed by the writing as Conrad wrote his books in English, a language that he didn’t even begin to speak until he was in his 20s. His first language was Polish, but he must have had a real talent for languages, he even uses a Scots word in this book.

I might read another of his books at some point in the future, but not anytime soon.

Classics Club Spin # 23

It’s Classic Club Spin again – number 23 – how time flies. The spin number will be announced on Sunday, April the 19th and the corresponding book must be read by the 1st of June.

My list isn’t very different from the last one.

spin book
1. Montaigne essays
2. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
3. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
4. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
5. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Parrot by Hugh Lofting
6. Summer Half by Angela Thirkell
7. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
8. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
9. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
10. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
11. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
12. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
13. The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade
14. The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
15. Sing for Your Supper by Pamela Frankau
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant
19. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
20. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison

I’m not too bothered about which number turns up although having read a few chunksters recently a slimmer volume would be nice.

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

 The Winter's Tale cover

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare has come in for a lot of criticism over the centuries since it was first published in 1623. The problem seemed to be that it didn’t fall into a distinct category. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, part tragedy, part comedy and part romance. Plus you definitely have to suspend your disbelief at times in the story, otherwise the plot just seems to be far too unlikely.

Leontes, King of Sicilia, and Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, were great friends in childhood and after many years apart Polixenes visits Leontes in Sicilia. After nine months in Sicilia Polixenes is keen to go home to see his son Prince Florizel, Leontes is reluctant to give him up, but is unable to persuade him to stay on. Not willing to take no for an answer Leontes persuades his wife Queen Hermione to twist Polixenes’s arm – and she succeeds, presumably because Polixenes finds it more difficult to say NO to the heavily pregnant Hermione, and he doesn’t want to seem impolite.

However Leontes is immediately suspicious of this change of mind and decides that his friend and wife must have been having an affair, and that the child that Hermione is carrying isn’t his. Very quickly Leontes’s love for his friend turns to hatred and the man that he had praised to the skies becomes number one enemy and Camillo, a Sicilian lord is ordered to kill Polixenes. But Camillo warns Polixenes and they both sail off to Bohemia.

Furious at this escape Leontes turns his wrath on Hermione and ends up throwing her in prison, where she soon gives birth to a daughter. In an attempt to soften Leontes’s heart Hermione’s friend Pauline takes the baby to the king but it has the opposite effect and he orders Pauline’s husband Lord Antigonus to take the baby away and abandon her in the wilds.

Leontes had sent messengers to the Oracle at Delphos to find out if Hermione had been unfaithful to him, but meanwhile Hermione is put on public trial, during the trial the report from Delphos is read out and it says that Hermione and Polixenes are completely innocent and that Leontes won’t have an heir until his abandoned daughter is found. Leontes refuses to believe any of that, but when news reaches the court that his son and heir Mamillius has died due to the stress at the treatment handed out by his father to his mother Hermione faints. Pauline tells Leontes that Hermione is dead and he’s wracked with grief over the loss of his wife, son and baby daughter.

I would definitely say that this part of the story comes under the category of tragedy. Now for the romance.

While all this has been going on Antigonus has taken the baby to the coast of Bohemia and has given her the name of Perdita which apparently Hermione had asked him to name her in a dream he had. Perdita meaning lost. Perdita is found by a shepherd and his son and as there is a cloth bundle containing gold and jewels with her they realise that the baby comes of noble blood.

Sixteen years pass and King Polixenes’s son Prince Florizel has fallen in love with Perdita of course! They plan to get married without asking for Polixenes’s permission but the King knows what is going on and he and Camillo disguise themselves and go to the feast at which the betrothal will take place. Furious at his son’s subterfuge Polixenes threatens the old shepherd and Perdita with death and orders Florizel never to see Perdita again. The young couple run off and set sail for Sicilia, accompanied by the old shepherd and his son and helped by Camillo who then tells Polixenes where they have gone, hoping that the king will follow them to Sicilia and take Camillo with him.

Meanwhile, in Sicilia Leontes is still in mourning for Hermione. His courtiers have tried to persuade him to re-marry in order to get an heir to the kingdom, but Pauline tells him that no other wife will match up to Hermione. When Prince Florizel and Perdita arrive in Sicilia Leontes is very happy to see them, especially as Florizel claims to be on a diplomatic mission from his father. But very quickly Polixenes and Camillo arrive and it isn’t long before everyone realises that Perdita is actually the long lost daughter of Leontes and Hermione. Leontes is thrilled to have his daughter back and of course the two kings will be happy to have their offspring married to each other. Everyone goes off to Pauline’s country house where there is a newly made statue of Hermione, but while Leontes is weeping at the sight of his dead wife the statue moves – YES – Hermione is alive!

And that’s that. There is romance and some comedy and the real tragedy is the waste of time – the 16 years in which Leontes mourned for a wife he thought to be dead and of course the loss of Mamillius due to his father’s suspicious and jealous mind. As human beings don’t change over the centuries the psychological aspect of this story is one which is repeated often.

There is a certain POTUS who seems to have that problem, when people are doing what he wants them to do they are just wonderful, terrific people, but as soon as the possibilty of a perceived disloyalty is suspected – all hell breaks loose!

The Winter’s Tale isn’t a favourite of mine, but I was glad that I read it in an Oxford World’s Classic edition as it has an interesting introduction and lots of notes.

The Classics Club Spin # 22 – the result

The result of The Classics Club Spin number 22 was announced on Monday and it’s 13 which means I’ll be reading Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff.

The Rider of the White Horse cover

I’m happy about that as I enjoy Sutcliff’s writing, but such is life and my book piles the book has been languishing here unread for a long time. Previously I’ve mainly read her books which were aimed at children, but this one is for adults. The setting is the English Civil War, or as it is more accurately called nowadays, The Wars of the Three Kingdoms as it all spilled over into Scotland and Ireland too.

If you’re taking part in this spin I hope you were lucky enough to get something you’re looking forward to reading too.

Classics Club Spin #22

classics club spin

It’s Classics Club Spin time again, they seem to be coming around fast.

The rules are:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Sunday 22nd December the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 31st January 2020.

My list is:

1. Montaigne essays
2. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
3. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
4. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
5. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Parrot by Hugh Lofting
6. Summer Half by Angela Thirkell
7. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
8. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
9. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
10. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
11. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
12. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
13. Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff
14. The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
15. Sing for Your Supper by Pamela Frankau
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant
19. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
20. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison

I’m on my second list of 50 now and I only have 20 books left unread on it. I’ve been meaning to get around to reading High Wages by Dorothy Whipple for ages now so I’d be very happy if number 2 popped up as the spin number, but there’s really nothing that I’m dreading on this list – other than maybe preferring not to get a chunkster, but I think that most of them are fairly weighty books.

classics club

The Classics Club Spin number 21

Classics Club Spin

Yes it’s that time again – Classics Club Spin and this one is number 21. If you’re taking part you have to list twenty books from your Classics Club list which still have to be read before September the 23rd 2019 which is when the number will be chosen. Whichever number is chosen in the spin is the book to be read before 31st of October 2019.

My list is:

1. Montaigne essays
2. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
3. Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant
4. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
5. The Tempest by Shakespeare
6. Summer Half by Angela Thirkell
7. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
8. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
9. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
10. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
11. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
12. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
13. Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff
14. An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer
15. Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant
19. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
20. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison

This is just about all of the books still unread on my second list of 50 classics, but I’m really bad at putting my reviews on the Classics Club review page, so I must get around to sorting that out. I hope the spin number is 10 The Black Arrow, or maybe An Infamous Army as people seem to love it so, or Summer Half as it’ll be light-hearted.

Are any of these ones a favourite of yours?

Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope

 Lady Anna cover

Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope was published in book form in 1874 but the setting is around 1830. Lady Anna’s mother was socially ambitious and was determined to marry into the aristocracy. Despite dire warnings, especially from her father, she insisted in marrying Earl Lovel who had a reputation for being evil. Not long after their wedding Earl Lovel told his ‘wife’ that she wasn’t actually married to him at all as he already had a wife living in Italy. Their unborn child would be illegitimate. Then he abandoned his ‘wife’ and went to live in Italy. Over the next 20 years Lady Lovel strove to prove in court that she was actually married to Lord Lovel, all that cost a lot of money that she didn’t have.

A local tailor took pity on her and ended up supporting her and her daughter, Lady Anna. The tailor had spent thousands of pounds on the Lovels, to the detriment of his own son. Meanwhile Anna has more or less been been brought up with Daniel the tailor’s son and over the years they’ve become more than friends, Anna has promised to be his wife when she’s of age. When her mother learns of this she’s horrified at the thought of her Lady Anna marrying the son of a mere tailor, despite the fact that that tailor has been supporting them both for years.

Meanwhile Lord Lovel has died intestate so his estate and money should go to his nephew who is keen to marry Anna which would please Lady Lovel, but Anna feels she must keep her promise to Daniel. Lady Anna takes this all very badly as you would expect of someone who has always been a social climber

Whose side was I on? Well, there are lots of clues to the character of Daniel and they don’t bode well for a harmonious marital future for whomever he marries. Daniel is a Radical, the variety that thinks that everyone should have equal rights, except his wife!

Daniel Thwaite was considering the injustice of the difference between ten thousand aristocrats and thirty million of people, who were for the most part ignorant and hungry.

“Mr Thwaite says, “There must be earls and countesses.”

Daniel Thwaite says, “I see no must in it. There are earls and countesses as there used to be mastodons and other senseless, overgrown brutes roaming miserable and hungry.”

Daniel Thwaite says, ” I don’t want my wife to have anything of her own before marriage, but she certainly shall have nothing after marriage – independent of me” For a man with sound views of domestic power and marital rights always choose a Radical.

I believe that Trollope wrote more books featuring these characters – it sounds like Lady Anna may discover that she has made a big mistake.

Chronicles of Carlingford by Mrs Oliphant

Chronicles of Carlingford cover

Chronicles of Carlingford by the very prolific Scottish author Mrs Oliphant is a Virago publication which consists of two novellas – The Rector and The Doctor’s Family, originally published in 1863. There’s an introduction by Penelope Fitzgerald.

The blurb on the back of this book compares Margaret Oliphant with Jane Austen, George Eliot and Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles. I would include Mrs Gaskell too.

The Rector is only 35 pages long, the setting is mid 19th century Carlingford which is a small town close to London. A new rector/minister is coming to the town and his parishioners are anticipating what sort of preacher he will be. Surely he won’t be as low church as the last rector. He had gone to the canal and preached to the bargemen there – that didn’t go down at all well with his snooty congregation. Most of them are hoping for something a bit more stylish – and preferrably a bachelor as there are several unmarried ladies apparently in need of a husband. The new rector has spent the last 15 years cloistered in All Souls and this is his first living. He may be a great theologian but he’s absolutely at sea when it comes to human nature and dealing with his parishioners.

Difficult or awkward men seem to have been Oliphant’s forte. There’s no doubt she had plenty of experience of them within her own family, and in fact she came to believe that her managing and competent character contributed to the weakness in her menfolk.

The Doctor’s Family is 157 pages long. Young Doctor Rider has just moved to a newly built part of Carlingford, he doesn’t know it but that is not going to do his business any good. The old established Carlingfordians look down on that area. His older brother had gone to Australia under some sort of cloud and he had married and had a family out there. Things didn’t go any better for him in Australia – well – he is a drunkard – so he had come home and was living at his young brother’s expense.

Dr Rider had decided that although he wanted to marry a young woman he couldn’t afford to look after his brother and a wife and children, so he had given up hope of marrying at all. Imagine his horror when his brother’s wife and children and her sister turn up and billet themselves on him!

Even worse – it turns out that his brother’s wife is feckless and doesn’t even take any notice of their badly behaved children, and for some reason she blames her brother-in-law for the situation that she and her husband are in.

This one is much stronger I think, but they’re both well worth reading and have moments of comedy as well as frustration at enraging characters.

I read this one for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019