Recent Book Purchases

While we were away on our recent (football inspired) trip down to England we took the opportunity to seek out secondhand bookshops, although there aren’t that many of them around nowadays, we visited the Moffat shop when we stopped there for lunch. We each bought a book there. Then on to Penrith in Northumberland where we found another bookshop. We also visited Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Alcester, Stratford on Avon, Much Wenlock, Ironbridge and Kendal. The upshot of that is that I bought a total of 25 books, Jack bought 11, he’s always more reticent than I am! Some of them were bought in charity shops.

I didn’t find any books that I’ve been lusting after for ages, just some books from authors that I’ve read and enjoyed before, and a few from authors I had never even heard of – but I liked the look of them. Here are a few of them.

Latest Book Haul

1. Uncle Samson by Beverley Nichols. It was published in 1950 and is his observations on the American way of life. I think it’ll be a witty report on social history.

2. Rendezvous by Daphne du Maurier is a collection of her short stories.

3. Getting It Right by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I loved the Cazalet Chronicles so I have high hopes for this one.

4. Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon, a British Library Crime Classic.

5. Counting the Stars by Helen Dunmore. She’s an author that I’ve only recently discovered – sadly she died just a few months ago.

6. An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel, published in 1995 and very different from her Tudor books I’m sure.

I found three D.E. Stevenson paperbacks in an antiques centre for all of £1 each, they were the most interesting things in the whole place.

7. Still Glides the Stream by D.E. Stevenson

8. Crooked Adam by D.E. Stevenson

9. The House of the Deer by D.E. Stevenson.

10. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is a Virago which was going for 50p so although I know I could have borrowed it from the library I decided to buy it.

That’ll do for now. Have you read any of these ones?

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

As I’ve already completed my reading for the Classics Club I decided to get stuck into Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 which is run by Karen @Books and Chocolate (what a fab blog name).
My book list consists of:

1. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott
2. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
3. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
4. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos
5. Montaigne Essays
6. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
7. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
8. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
9. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary by Hugh Lofting
10. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
11. I, Claudius – Claudius, the God by Robert Graves
12. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Have you read any of these ones? I’ve had most of these book waiting in a queue to be read for years now and this will encourage me to get around to them at last!

The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute

The Chequer Board cover

The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute was first published in 1947 and it was my friend and one time neighbour Christine who pointed me in its direction, and I’m glad she did as it was a really good and interesting read.

John Turner, a flour salesman has been having health problems for a while, he had been badly wounded during the war and it was thought that he wouldn’t survive his wounds. He does get better but the fragments of shrapnel still lodged in his brain years later have started to give him problems, the upshot being that he is given around one year to live.

John married just before the war but over the years he and his wife have grown apart, his prognosis brings them together again and when John decides to track down the men he feels had given him the will to live again when he was in hospital, his wife helps him track them down.

It was a very disparate bunch of chaps who talked to John when he was unable to move and having to lie flat in a hospital bed. One was a very snobby RAF pilot, another was a young black GI who had been based in Cornwall, and a young corporal charged with murder. Their stories and experiences have been in John’s mind since the war. He feels they saved his life and before he dies he wants to know what has happened to them over the years.

I think the most interesting story is the one about the experiences of black GIs in Cornwall. The black soldiers were given the task of setting up camp before the white GIs turned up in Cornwall and the black men caused quite a sensation in the small town, making themselves very popular as they were very obliging, helping people to fix things that had been left neglected and broken due to the fact that most of the local men were off at war.

Everything changes though when the white GIs turn up and take exception to having to share the local pub with ‘niggers’. The US high heid yins decide that the pub will be off limits to the black GIs but the pub owner objects to that and bans the white US soldiers.

According to this book there had already been trouble in two other English towns where there had actually been shoot-outs between black and white US soldiers.

The Chequer Board goes some way to explaining Daphne du Maurier’s attitude towards the US in her book Rule Britannia. (1972)

This is the first book I’ve read by Nevil Shute and I’ll definitely be reading more.

Rebecca – part two

Since writing my first Rebecca blogpost we’ve had a quick dash up to the Aberdeen area, for one night only, but more of that later in the week.

Back to Daphne du Maurier‘s Rebecca, and I had mentioned that the second Mrs de Winter was mistakenly under the impression that her husband’s first marriage had been a success, so she compared herself with his first wife, always coming up wanting and knocking her own confidence.

Unknown to her Rebecca was in fact one of those women who should really have had a rubber stamp across her forehead DANGEROUS TO MANKIND because in reality she was a manipulative bitch who was only interested in herself and obtaining everything she wanted, whether it was her sister-in-law’s husband, estate workers or just random men she had met on her frequent sojourns in London. Which brings me to my thoughts on Maxim himself and my reaction to his actions.

A while ago I read a very dismissive comment on another blog about Maxim, describing him as ‘that murderer’ which I suppose he was, but for me it wasn’t that black and white because Maxim was the soul of patience and endurance where Rebecca was concerned. He had put up with so much outrageous behaviour over the years, and I would definitely have cracked up long before he did. Of course, Rebecca manipulated him to the end, telling him that she was pregnant and obviously the child was not his, his precious Manderley would be passed on to some nameless man’s child and Maxim would just have to grin and bear it.

Within five days of their marriage Rebecca had told Maxim things about herself which he could never repeat to a living soul. She frightened him and as they were up on a high precipice in the hills above Monte Carlo at the time, he was tempted to do her in then but he didn’t, too much of a gentleman maybe, or too shocked at the time.

Had I been in Maxim’s situation once I had got over the shock I would have taken Rebecca up to a very high cliff, to see the beautiful view of course – and firmly nudged her over the edge and I would have regarded it as a blessed relief because she was a poisonous menace to society, but then there would have been no story at all.

But you haven’t mentioned Mrs Danvers – I hear you say. Well I see her as a sort of reflection of Rebecca, her representative on earth, each of them manipulative, wicked and arrogant, safely at the top of their respective societies. Danvers is a horror.

I suppose every reader has their own image of Manderley impressed on their mind, I have to say that although I adore books which feature houses in the storyline I was never drawn to Manderley as a house of dreams. It was more like a place of nightmares, certainly not a home for the second Mrs de Winter and probably the sort of place which would only be loved by those brought up in it. But Daphne du Maurier was obsessed with Menabilly in Cornwall, which was the name of the house which she based Manderley on. On her first visit to the house the blood red rhododendrons which grew around it were in bloom, she well and truly wrote them into Rebecca. Years after she had first seen the house, and also years after she had written Rebecca, she did manage to rent Menabilly on a long lease of 25 years, it could never be sold as it was entailed and had to be handed on to the next in line for it. Interestingly, du Maurier’s children were not nearly so enthralled with the house. They were interviewed on TV some years ago and I think they felt that Menabilly was more important to their mother than they were. They just remembered how cold and uncomfortable it was.

Rebecca is of course du Maurier’s updated Jane Eyre. She was a bit of a Bronte fan I believe. The main elements are there, a grand house, wealth, a duped husband, a mousey young woman who eventually marries the wealthy homeowner and a devastating fire. However that didn’t stop a Brazilian author Carolina Nabuco from acccusing Daphne of plagiarising her book The Successor which was published in 1934.

As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of Rebecca and I expect I’ll be reading it yet again in the future. It’s a toss up between Rebecca and To Kill a Mockingbird as to which of them is my favourite book.

You can read what I thought about The Rebecca Notebook when I read it in 2012 here.

Below is a photo of Daphne and her family with Menabilly/Manderley in the background.

Menabilly, Cornwall

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Well we’re almost at the end of October again, how fast has this year gone in?! Anyway I did mention that I would be re-reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier again and writing about my thoughts on it around now. I re-read Jamaica Inn a wee while ago and it was interesting to compare the two, Rebecca is a much better book I think, the writing is smoother making it an easier read.

I’ve no idea how many times I’ve read Rebecca over the years, it has been one of my favourites since I first read it, probably when I was about 12 or 13. But it must be about 10 years since I have read it and I was interested to see what I felt about it now – ahem – over 40 years since I first read it.

I’m going to assume that most people will have read the book or at least seen a film of it and so already know the story, so I’m just going to chat about some of the problems that people sometimes have with it nowadays.

I know that some people have had a problem with the book in recent times because they have so little sympathy with the narrator. I doubt if this was ever a problem when the book was first published way back in 1938. Of course although the narrator eventually becomes the second Mrs de Winter that’s as close as we get to her name. Du Maurier teases us with hints about her name: “You have a very lovely and unusual name.” says Maxim de Winter to the young companion of the ghastly Mrs Van Hopper, but that’s as much as we know about her name.

She’s 21 years old, and that was a surprise to me because in my mind she was always younger, in fact when I was 12 or 13 I really identified with her as I know I would have behaved in a very similar way to her. Crippled with shyness and lacking in confidence exacerbated by being thrown into the company of very rich people, the narrator is an orphan with no family or friends to support her so it would have been unusual if she had been a brash confident type, there was just too much against her at a time when young people were expected to know their place in society, unless they were rich. So I don’t have a problem with the meekness and nerves which she is dogged by.

I suspect that the second wives of most widowers can’t help feeling that their husband is constantly comparing them with their first wife, and when that first wife is a Rebecca type, apparently adored by everyone, it would be soul destroying for all but the most confident of women. So the second Mrs de Winter is a completely believeable and likeable character for me.

She’s under the impression that she’s a disappointment as a wife to Maxim but the reader knows differently as the clues are there. Mrs de W has just missed them. “I wish I was a woman of about thirty-six dressed in black satin with a string of pearls.” she says. But Maxim wouldn’t have been interested in her if she had been dressed like that, because that was Rebecca’s style.

Famously the book begins: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

It was a real house which inspired the beginning of the book, but I’ll talk about that in my next blogpost. If you’ve read Rebecca recently or even ages ago and want to link to a post on the book, leave a link in the comments or just leave a comment.

Forthcoming Rebecca Read

Joan from Planet Joan and I are planning to do a Rebecca re-read, hoping to write about our thoughts on it sometime towards the end of October. If you fancy joining in with us you’re more than welcome, whether it’s a re-read for you or you’re a first time reader of Rebecca. In fact I’d be really interested to hear what a first time reader thinks of the Daphne du Maurier classic which has always been a favourite of mine. Maybe it will seem too dated for readers now, but I don’t think so, I hope not anyway.

I believe that Peggy at Peggy Ann’s Post is going to join in with us, and maybe Michelle of In the Silver Room too, I think.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Earlier this summer, my friend Joan, at Planet Joan, and I were having a chat about Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, which we’d both just read. We’ve edited our chat a bit, leaving out the parts about what we were each making for dinner that evening, Katrina’s new summerhouse, the demolition happening around my house, the weather, gardening, and a raft of other things. We humbly submit our erudite discussion:

Joan Kyler:
I thought the moors and the weather on the moors were major characters.

Katrina Stephen:

Yes I know that du Maurier was a big fan of the Brontes and I suppose this is her version of Wuthering Heights, Bodmin Moor being used as a substitute for the Yorkshire Moors.

I didn’t know that. I thought the characters and the outcome were predictable. I knew who the good guys and who the bad guys were from the start. And who Mary’d fall for and what she’d do about it. Not much suspense there. But it was a fun read. I read it back in the 1960s and have my index card from then. I said I didn’t think it was one of her best books.


I would agree with that although I did enjoy it, it is predictable. I first read it around 1970 I think and again in the mid 80s probably, sadly I didn’t take any notes but thinking back I thought it was darker and scarier than it actually is. There was more sexual threat in it than I remembered, but maybe I just didn’t pick up on that as a 12 year old. Uncle Joss saying – I could have had you anytime if I wanted you a few times in the book.


I don’t remember if any of that got past me or not. I was into reading modern Gothics then, they’re usually fairly sexually charged. I just checked my file. Although they don’t have dates either, I have cards on Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek that, from the handwriting, look like I read them about the same time. I know I’ve read My Cousin Rachel, but I don’t have a card on it. Mary annoyed me for seeing things so black and white, but she was young, so maybe she could be excused.


On the other hand she is a stronger female character than her aunt who is I suppose worn down by years of domestic abuse. Also compared with the second Mrs de Winter in Rebecca Mary seems like a really strong young woman.


That’s true. I don’t think Mary understood how hard it sometimes is to leave that sort of relationship, as we often wonder why women stay in them. She does seem strong and independent. I understand why she found Jem so attractive. I wasn’t sure she’d leave with him at the end, but I wasn’t surprised when she did.


Yes but maybe it would have been more sensible for her not to go with Jem. It’s that dark and dangerous male – I read years ago that it was books like this and Wuthering Heights which were bad for young women, making them think that men who were going to turn out to be bad for them were exciting and so worth the risk. I think it was a 1970s burn your bras feminist who came up with that one.


But I can understand. I wonder what happened to them in the next ten years. He didn’t seem to be the type who would stay and she seemed like she might decide to go back to that farm by herself. In the meantime, they probably had some fun.


Yes I don’t see it lasting that long but in those days she would probably have had a few kids in tow by the time it all fell apart, she would have been forced to put the kids first.


I think I’d like to read Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel sometime before the end of the year. I’ve seen the movie Rebecca so often, I think I get it confused with reading the book!


Rebecca is one of my comfort books so I’ll definitely join you in that. Obviously that’s her version of Jane Eyre, I love both of the books. As you say though it’s du Maurier’s writing of the place which is such a large part of the book and after reading this one I always wanted to go to Cornwall and loved books with a Cornish setting. It’s quite unusual for an English writer to have the setting basically as important as any of the actual characters. It’s a Scottish/Celtic trait in writing I think.


Is it? I have to get on board with more Scottish books. I loved the wildness of the weather and the moors. I don’t think we made it quite that far when we were travelling in England. I looked at a map to see if I recognized any towns. We were in Swindon (sp?) and Cheltenham, but don’t think they’re considered Cornwall, especially Cheltenham. I was such a little Anglofile in the 1960s, all that British invasion stuff, but I used to go out in storms and thought I was very oddly British doing it!


You probably were, we often have no option and have to go out in hellish weather otherwise we would be housebound, in the winter anyway. You would have to have travelled quite a bit further south west to get to Cornwall. Strangely Cornwall feels and looks very much like parts of Scotland, even the old buildings look similar, I suppose it’s the stone but also the design of the houses. It must be a Celtic thing, the Cornish don’t regard themselves as English.


That’s interesting. England’s such a small country to have divides like that.


I think it is because when the Romans invaded the Celts were pushed out to the fringes of the island. The Romans didn’t like Celts, I think they were afraid of them.


How about Rebecca what’s your opinion of Max de Winter – from memory . Do you see him as ‘that murderer’ or ‘sex on legs’ or what?


You know, I don’t really remember. I don’t think I liked him very much, but I don’t remember much more than that.


Well that’ll be interesting then, I’ve always been on the ‘sex on legs’ side but it is a while since I re-read it, you never know, I might have changed my mind in my old age.

I don’t think I’ve read it since the 60s, at least I don’t have a card on it. I started to get fairly compulsive about recording my reading after the late 1970s.


I so wish that I had thought of taking notes on all the books which I’ve read over the years. Shall we plan to do a Rebecca readalong sometime before the end of the year then?

Jamaica Inn on the BBC

Were you one of the many people who struggled to hear the dialogue in the new BBC adaptation of Jamaica Inn? Apparently people were thinking that they must be going deaf, but we didn’t hink that because it isn’t the first time that we’ve had trouble hearing things on TV. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the sound engineers, it’s just that some actors are rotten at speaking, how they get the parts is beyond me. You would think that being able to make yourself heard would be the least that could be expected of an actor. Lots of people ended up switching on the subtitles to understand what was going on.

But apart from that I think that the whole thing was just very disappointing. I read Jamaica Inn as a 13 year old and again some 20 years later, so it’s a good long while since I read it but I do know that the BBC failed to conjure up the dramatic and dangerous atmosphere of the book. Then for some reason they chose to film a lot of it in the Lake District rather than Cornwall and the two places are not really alike. It’s as if someone just said – one patch of green is much like any other – which just isn’t true.

The character of Uncle Joss just bore no resemblance to the one in the book and the fact that you couldn’t hear what he was mumbling meant that there was no way that he was going to be able to act his way into being more like the character which Daphne du Maurier wrote.

All in all I was very disappointed by the whole thing and I just feel that I’ll have to re-read the book to get a proper dose of du Maurier. But was I one of the 800 or so people who contacted the BBC to complain? – I hear you ask. Well, no I didn’t think to complain, I just moaned at Jack and he mumped back, but we were more audible than any of those actors.

The Doll by Daphne du Maurier

The Doll by Daphne du Maurier is a compilation of short stories, I know that a lot of people don’t like reading short stories but du Maurier is one of the best at them I think, and if you’re a du Maurier fan then you’ll definitely want to read them. The stories are:

East Wind
The Doll
And Now to God the Father
A Difference in Temperament
Tame Cat
Nothing Hurts for Long
The Happy Valley
And Her Letters Grew Colder
The Limpet

There’s an introduction by Polly Samson, she says – Within these stories – some good , some less so but all fascinating – are the preoccupations which would possess Daphne du Maurier for a lifetime. The psychological insight that she would later exercise while inhabiting the characters of her novels and biographies is here, but out in the open and turned much more obviously on herself.

Like many writers Daphne du Maurier was obviously drawn to particular themes again and again and it’s interesting to read what turned out to be the kernel of an idea which she returned to in later books.

Books and a dental mishap

Last night I fancied a treat so I unwrapped a creme egg, my first of the season. I actually paused before chomping into it because that first bite is always a bit scary as the chocolate is so thick at the top. The worst happened I’m afraid and a front capped tooth sheered off, so I had an unexpected trip to my dentist in Glenrothes today to begin to get it all sorted out. I’m now exactly like that girl in the advert which warns you to take care of your teeth – or else!

Anyway, after the dentist I had a look around the town and went into The Works, more in hope than expectation really because their choice of books has been dire the last year or so, but I was in luck. They were having a stock liquidation sale and they had quite a lot of books at the princely sum of £1 each and amazingly there were four that were worth buying. So I bought:

The Land of Green Ginger by Winifred Holtby. I read and enjoyed South Riding years ago and I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages.

Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard
. Apparently this one was on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour but I missed it. I like her writing, sadly she died just a week or so ago, but I suppose she had a good innings – as THEY say.

Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge
. I’ve enjoyed quite a few of her books, this one is yet another Titanic setting which did put me off a bit because I think that that subject has been overdone in the past but I’m sure I’ll enjoy this, if that’s the word in the circumstances.

And lastly, Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White. I’ve never heard of this author before but it’s vintage crime and apparently this book inspired the classic film The Spiral Staircase. I thought that would have been inspired by the Mignon Eberhart book of the same title, but I bow to their superior knowledge!

Crazily, on the way home I dropped into the museum shop as it’s a good place to get unusual cards and I made the mistake of hopping into the library next door, which due to the refurbishment is now only one step away. I couldn’t resist the new books shelves and ended up borrowing:

The Doll – short stories by Daphne du Maurier
Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford
The Comforters by Muriel Spark
Summer by Edith Wharton

I’m trying to read my way through everything by du Maurier. I think it was Peggy who mentioned Elisabeth Gifford, but I haven’t read anything by her yet. The Muriel Spark book will count towards the Read Scotland 2014 challenge and I’m also trying to read my way through everything by Wharton, so that was a great haul of shiny new books. Now I just need the time to read them all!

You might want to have a listen to Pam Ayres reciting her poem – I wish I’d Looked After My Teeth. – It’s exactly how I feel although of course I don’t have her rural English accent. But ‘tak tent’ (pay attention) as we say or used to say in Scotland, and if I ever eat another creme egg I’m thinking that I might just bash it on the head with my rolling pin, to soften it up first. If you have a better idea of how to go about eating one safely, let me know!