The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

The Willow Cabin cover

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau was published in 1949, my copy is a 1951 reprint. This is the first book that I’ve read by the author and I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her books.

The Willow Cabin covers the years from 1936 to 1948 and the settings are various but mainly London and America.

Caroline is a 22 year old aspiring actress, in fact she’s really talented at it, but she’s also rather immature. Her relationship with her mother and step-father is fraught and when she falls for Michael a well-known surgeon who is much older than her she moves out of the family home into an hotel.

Michael is unable to get a divorce from his wife (hmmm) but that doesn’t put Caroline off and when war breaks out she throws up her acting career to follow Michael around, they’ve both joined the army.

For most of the book Mercedes, Michael’s Anglo-American wife is absent, apparently in France, possibly helping the resistance or even dead. But in the last third of the book the war is over and Caroline goes to America where Mercedes has pitched up. Mercedes had been very well off before the war but she has used the last of her money to buy a farm in America and to build a small house for a family of German refugees who are supposedly her employees along with a French family of refugees.

The two families can’t get along and have absolutely no sense of gratitude for everything that has been done for them. I’m sure that that was Frankau’s way of pointing out how the UK had been bankrupted by a war not of its making and had got nothing out of it but a debt that took generations to pay off and absolutely no thanks from the rest of Europe for all that had been done for them and the sacrifices made.

The atmosphere of wartime London in particular is very well portrayed I think, of course the book was written not long after the end of the war.

The title of the book was taken from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and there seems to be some confusion on the internet as to what it means. However I have always understood that willow was worn by women whose loved ones were away from home – at war or at sea or whatever. It was a way of telling people (men) that they weren’t really on their own, they were waiting for the return of their lover.

All through reading this book I had the 1970s song All Around My Hat by Steeleye Span going around in my head, if you don’t know the song you might be interested in listening to it now.

I believe that Virago have reprinted this book as a modern classic so I’m counting this one towards my Classic Club Challenge, I’m not far off reaching 50 now.

England Their England by A.G. Macdonell

England Their England cover

England Their England by A.G. Macdonell was first published in 1933 and it won the James Tait Black prize that year. My copy is a lovely illustrated Folio Society one. The only other book I’ve read by him was a vintage crime and he did write under various names. My copy is illustrated by Peter Brookes.

The book is set in the early 1920s, Donald Cameron is a young Scot who had been invalided out of the army where he was at the Western Front. When he gets home to Aberdeenshire where his father is a farmer it’s evident that he isn’t much use to his father, and his father tells him to go to England. (Harsh!)

While he was at the front he had met up with a Welshman who had been in publishing. On hearing that Cameron was interested in writing he told Cameron to look him up in London if they ever get out of the war, so that is what he does. The Welshman thinks that a book about the English from a foreigner’s point of view would go down well, and Cameron immerses himself in English society of various sorts as a way of studying them.

His account of a cricket match is apparently the most famous and popular part of this book but for me it was his invitation to a country house Friday to Sunday that was the funniest. Donald was taken in hand by a man who knew how to make an entrance at such a social event. The most important thing was to arrive with masses of luggage which would impress the servants and then receive numerous phone calls from various important persons – all made by Donald’s social advisor of course! It was a hoot.

This is all very much tongue in cheek of course. At the time this book was first published there was a bit of a vogue for such amusing books, by people such as P.G. Wodehouse and Jerome K.Jerome.

I read this one for the Classics Club Challenge, Read Scotland 2016 Challenge and the James Tait Black Challenge – three with one book!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz cover

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was one of those children’s classics that I hadn’t got around to reading, until last week. Of course I have seen the film umpteen times, but the book is quite different which is just as well as it would have to have been double the length otherwise.

The first time I saw Toy Story it struck me that it was just a remake of The Wizard of Oz. It had the same moral.

There’s not much else to say about the book other than it’s well written and an enjoyable read and I will read the sequels. I was surprised that the book was first published in 1900, I hadn’t realised it was that old.

Otherwise I was really chuffed to discover that Baum was of German/Scottish/Irish and English ancestry. I have a theory that the vast majority of children’s classic literature has been written by people with Scottish blood in them, a consequence of what happens to people when they are brought up in a strict Presbyterian atmosphere, the imagination goes into overdrive. In Baum’s case he was brought up a Methodist, a similarly strict variety of Christianity.

I read this one as part of the Classics Club Challenge. I wasn’t sure if I should count it towards it as it’s a children’s book – but then I thought – why not?!

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Kim Cover

I was in a St Andrews bookshop a few months ago when an American chap was buying an ancient set of Rudyard Kipling books and praising Kipling ‘to the skies’. Well, I had only read the Just So Stories, Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies – way back in nineteen canteen – as my mother used to say for some reason.

So I thought that maybe I was missing something and it was about time I got into Kipling, I have a lovely Folio Books copy of Kim so when I realised that Kafka’s The Castle was not going to be good bedtime reading I decided to givew Kim a go. Unfortunately I soon discovered that Kim and the Castle actually have quite a lot in common. They’re both basically about a quest.

Kim is a young orphaned boy. His father was an Irishman in the British Army and his mother was also white so despite the fact that he has been living as an Indian and speaks English with an Indian lilt, he is in fact a ‘sahib’. He forms a relationship with a wandering holy man from Nepal who is searching for a special river. Kim becomes the holy man’s disciple and helps him with begging for food as they continue on their travels.

But Kim is also looking for something, he had a vision of a red bull and knows that it has a special meaning for him, so he is searching for it. When he finds the red bull on a flag flying in a British Army camp he discovers that his father had been an Irish soldier and when the officers realise that Kim has been living as a native they decide that he must go to school to be trained up possibly as a surveyor.

After three years at school during which time the lama travels around on his own, eventually the two are able to continue their travels again.

I read on to the end but I can’t say that I found Kim to be an entertaining or even informative read, but as always when I read a disappointing classic I’m quite glad that I did read it and now know what it’s about.

I read this for the Classics Club Challenge.

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Vile Bodies cover

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh was first published in 1930 and it’s one of his books which satirizes the Bright Young Things of London in that era. The well connected ‘chinless wonders’ get up to all sorts of nonsense again and again. I really enjoyed Scoop which is another of his in the same vein, in fact I actually laughed out loud quite a lot as I read Scoop, if I’m remembering correctly. Vile Bodies didn’t quite hit the spot for me though. I suspect it’s my age, because now the silly stuff going on in the book and the characters peopling it seem too close to reality to be just a bit of fun.

At one point Waugh mentions that London is run by three families of brewers and the book is actually dedicated to Bryan and Diana Guinness, they were some of the Bright Young Things for whom rules didn’t apply and no doubt provided lots of gossip columnists with plenty of scandal in their time. Diana was Diana Mitford who left Bryan to run off with Oswald Mosley – that was even madder than anything in this book! Waugh was on the fringes of the Devonshire/Mitford set, he obviously got a lot of copy from them.

Mind you things do change, nowadays I think that London is run by Russians and Arabs, and the rules don’t apply to them either, which isn’t any better. Yes I am grumpy about it all!

I read this one for the Classics Club Challenge. Another one bites the dust.

He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope

I can’t say that this is my favourite Trollope but it’s still well worth reading although as usual it was just too long. Those Victorian weekly instalment magazines have a lot to answer for.

Sir Marmaduke Rowley is governor of the Mandarin Islands, part of the British Empire and he and his wife have the misfortune to have a family of eight daughters, with very little hope of getting them married off to suitable husbands. There is hardly any money to spare with all those girls and no hopes of providing a dowry for any of them, so when the dashing, handsome and wealthy young Englishman Louis Trevelyan visits the islands in his yacht and falls for Emily the eldest Rowley girl, it seems like all their prayers have been answered.

There’s only one moment of disquiet when Lady Rowley, Emily’s mother points out that both the young people concerned are too fond of getting their own way. In Scots we would say that they are ‘thrawn’ which means obstinate and stubborn. It turns out that Lady Rowley was right to worry about it. Mothers often do know best you know!

After the wedding Emily and Louis sail back to England, setting up home in London with Emily’s nearest sister Nora accompanying them. When Colonel Osborne, an old friend of Sir Marmaduke keeps visiting Emily it sets tongues wagging. The colonel is a bachelor, well known for causing marital difficulties by his interest in young wives. He’s one of those men who love to stir things up with a big stick, mainly to feed his own vanity.

Louis Trevelyan doesn’t take at all well to Colonel Osborne’s attention to Emily, especially when he realises that they are being gossiped about at his club. When he tackles Emily about it she takes umbrage and matters go from bad to worse.

I could have clonked their two heads together. As often happens with Trollope novels the whole thing comes about because of lack of communication. Had Louis taken the time to tell Emily of the colonel’s reputation as a well known stirrer up of marital strife then Emily would probably have decided not to see him to spare her own reputation.

I’ve written about the main chracters but there are lots more of them and indeed this book could have been titled ‘Couples’ as it involves so many relationships.

I read this one as part of the Classics Club Challenge. Now it’s time to start Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman which is the one which I got in the last ‘spin’.