New to me books

For the past couple of days we’ve been back in my beloved west of Scotland, visiting a couple of National Trust properties – amongst other things. A trip to Byres Road in Glasgow’s west end is always on the itinerary and I was lucky to find four modern paperbacks and Mary Berry’s Baking Bible at some secondhand bookshops there. I now have regrets that I passed up the chance to buy a few rare old books that I thought were hideously expensive, because I now know that they were in fact absolute bargains. So annoying – but that’s life.

Early October Book Haul

Anyway, as you can see I also bought:

Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt
The Day of the Storm by Rosamunde Pilcher
The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith
Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs

Lots of people seem to be reading George Bellairs books at the moment but I haven’t read any yet. It’s a fair wee while since I read anything by Rosamunde Pilcher, this one is set in Cornwall, she seems to veer between Scotland and Cornwall for her settings, I like a Cornish setting – always have since way back in my Malory Towers reading days, and it’s an awful lot easier for me to go there via books than to travel the 500 miles or so from here.

I like Dodie Smith although – as I recall – I Capture the Castle isn’t my favourite. Controversial? What do you think? And lastly Lucia in Wartime is of course not by E.F. Benson, but Tom Holt is quite good at writing in Benson’s style and as I adore the Mapp and Lucia books and just about any domestic fiction set in World War 2 it is right up my street, so I’m really looking forward to reading that one. In fact it has jumped straight to the top of my TBR queue, unfair on the many that have languished there – sometimes for years, but a few days back in Tilling with Mapp and Lucia is just what I need now.

The recipes in the Mary Berry Baking Bible look sumptuous although with her lemon meringue pie featuring a large tin of condensed milk as part of the filling ingredients it’s fair to say that none of the recipes are for the calorie counters among us. I’m going to have to work my way very slowly through the 250 recipes in the book!

Have you read any of these books?

I Capture the Castle – from the Guardian

The Guardian review section this week has an article about Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle by Evie Wyld in it that you might be interested in reading if you are a fan, you can read it here. I enjoyed the book when I read it for the first time fairly recently – probably I would have loved it more had I read it when I was much younger. I have since enjoyed some of her other books even more.

Apart from reading the Guardian I’ve been busy touring around with Peggy, with Jack doing the driving. You can read her post on Cove here.

The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith

The New Moon with the Old cover

The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith was first published in 1963 and of course the book has the usual – by the author of I Capture the Castle printed on the front. That of course is her best known and well loved book, but I’ve read a few of her books now and I think they are just as good if not better than that one.

There were quite a lot of things that could be fairly annoying about this book but for me anyway it overcame those.

It’s the 1960s and the book begins with Jane Minton arriving at Dome House where she has been sent to take up the post of secretary-housekeeper. Her employer is to be Rupert Carrington, and the only downside of the job for her is the fact that she is going to see very little of him as he will be spending most of his time in London. She rather fancies Rupert.

Rupert is a widow with four children ranging in age from 14 to 24. He’s a wealthy businessman and they have all lived a very comfortable life. Dome House may be an old house but it’s obvious that nothing has been stinted, it has central heating and fires and all mod cons. At breakfast everybody has their own electric toaster on the table in front of them.

None of the children is out in the world and so are contributing nothing to the household, so when their father Rupert has to leave the country fast due to him being involved in dubious business dealings, and suddenly the money tap is turned off, they are in dire straits.

All of the Carrington ‘children’ lean towards the arts, one being slightly arty, one musical, the youngest plans to go on the stage and one wants to write books. But suddenly they have to get serious and look for real jobs that will bring in some money. The arty girl’s real ambition is to be the mistress of a king! She thinks that she might be quite good at that. The only one with any real talent seems to be the youngest, she is such an actress already and she is the first to try to find work despite being too young to leave school.

After a brief spell of austerity when their old cook and housekeeper are even out working in the local pub to help keep the house going, they all do more or less fall on their feet.

I really enjoyed this book, as much as, if not even more than I Capture the Castle. I have to say though that there are lots of things about it that should really annoy me. Rupert Carrington is basically a ‘fat cat’ who has been ‘earning’ his money by buying firms and sort of asset stripping. His children are all fairly annoying with that sort of sense of entitlement that I hate, certainly to begin with, and they have charmed lives. In that sense it’s a sort of fairy tale. A good read.

It Ends with Revelations by Dodie Smith

I was really surprised when I saw It Ends with Revelations in an Edinburgh bookshop, because I had never heard of it before. In fact I think I had got it into my head that Dodie Smith had only ever written I Capture the Castle and 101 Dalmatians. Anyway, obviously I had to buy it and I’m glad that I did because I really enjoyed it.

Miles Quentin is a well known and successful actor and he is performing in a play at an English spa town during a summer festival. Quentin’s wife finds herself ‘taken up’ by the young motherless daughters of the local M.P.

I don’t want to say much more about the storyline. I had a quick squint at Goodreads to see what other people thought of the book, something which I don’t often bother to do, and it seems that a lot of people really didn’t like it. I think that that probably says more about them than about the book. Suffice to say that I’ve known of a few women in the past who put themselves in the position that the main female character is in. When homosexuality was illegal in the UK some men did choose to marry women as a sort of protection, as I recall, the women were generally called ‘beards’ and typically the men involved were wealthy and able to give the women a good lifestyle. A friend of mine turned a very wealthy man down because he said there could never be any children, I suppose they hadn’t heard of turkey basters in the early 1960s!

The book was certainly topical when it was published in 1967 as at that time in England and Wales (in Scotland it was 1980, and in Northern Ireland, 1982) homosexuality was being decriminalised. You can read about it here.

Recent Book Purchases


Yet again, I had banned myself from the library to concentrate on my own books, but a visit to the adjoining museum shop to buy a card ended up with me sloping into the library and of course I was seduced by some new books, but it was the unplanned book buying which was quite spectacular. In January it seems that every time I went out of the house I came back with books which I wasn’t even looking for – honest!

A visit to an antiques centre ended up with me buying the lovely Folio editions of the Mapp and Lucia books by E.F. Benson. I have them all but just in paperback so I couldn’t resist these, especially as they were so incredibly cheap. I’m not going to tell you exactly how cheap, I don’t wish to cause pain!

A mooch around some Edinburgh charity shops ended up with me buying the Penguin crimes.
The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
The Mask of Glass by Holly Roth
Cork on the Water by McDonald Hastings

I also bought It Ends with Revelations by Dodie Smith. Has anyone read this one? I’ve only read I Capture the Castle, which I really enjoyed. Then when I saw a pristine hardback of All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky I had to buy that too.

In the Scottish bookshop in Dunfermline I couldn’t pass up on
Children of the Tempest by Neil Munro and
The Selected Travel Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson called Dreams of Elsewhere.

Taking my library books back I swore I wasn’t going to borrow any more books, well I stuck to that but I couldn’t help just glancing at the bookshelves which hold the books for sale, Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym jumped out at me – really it did!

A trip to St Andrews saw me bringing back:
The Angel in the Corner by Monica Dickens, I haven’t read anything by her for getting on for 40 years, hard to belive it but true.
I also bought The McFlannels See It Through which is the second book in a humorous Scottish wartime series, but I don’t have the first one yet.

A trip to Linlithgow saw me buying:
The Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat. It’s a children’s classic which I’ve never got around to reading. Of course it’s set in the English Civil War, which historians now recognise involved the whole of Britain, some of them are now calling it the War of the Three Kingdoms.

Also Nan of Northcote by Doris A Pocock, which is set in a girls school and was published in 1929. It cost me all of £1 and it could be absolute garbage but I love the cover.

My favourite and most expensive purchase was:
Scottish Gardens by Sir Herbert Maxwell, published in 1908 and it has lovely illustrations of some gardens which I’ve visited. I’m sure some of them don’t exist any more but I’m going to track them down and visit the ones I can, to see how they have changed over the years. The book is a beauty and was still a bargain, it’s for sale on the internet for much more than I paid for it. I’ve also discovered that the author was Gavin Maxwell’s grandfather. When I was a teenager I loved his nature books which are set in Scotland.

As you can see, I’ve got to get on with my reading!

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle cover

Dodie Smith began writing this book in 1945 but it’s set in the 1930s and people have been telling me that I should read it for at least 30 years so I put it on my 2011 Reading List to make sure that I got around to it this year at last.

I really enjoyed this book and I wish that I had read it when I was about 17, which happens to be the age of Cassandra Mortmain, the narrator. Although Cassandra is supposedly telling the story through her diary which she speed writes in great detail and using her own version of shorthand, it doesn’t read like a diary to me, which is a plus.

Cassandra lives with her beautiful older sister Rose, their schoolboy brother Thomas, a step-mother called Topaz and their father James Mortmain who had written a very successful book years before but had been unable to write anything else after a traumatic incident. They live a very spartan life as tenants of Godsend Castle which has no electricity or running water and in fact they have very little to eat and virtually no clothes because they have hardly any money and no means of earning any. Rose despairs of ever being able to meet anyone and get a life of her own.

Then the Cottons, who have just inherited the castle and nearby Scoatney Hall arrive and it’s all quite Pride and Prejudice-ish. I have to say that the father, Mortmain did annoy me because he seemed to be unconcerned that his family was starving and they had had to sell everything of value. But I suppose he was supposed to have a problem with depression.

I really liked Cassandra and I know that people have thought that she seemed to be too immature for a 17 year old but I felt that she was just right for a young woman who had led a sheltered life in the country and was the product of genteel poverty. It’s a class thing, if she had been brought up in a working class family she would have been more mature because she would have had to leave school at the age of 14 and earn a living somehow.

Cassandra and Rose were in an even worse position than an Austen or Bronte character because they didn’t have the possibility of becoming a governess, which was the only occupation open to women in their position in the past. They were unemployable.

Anyway, that’s all I’m going to say about the story but I can see why this is such a popular book with people, and Joan, I thought of you when Cassandra mentioned the horror of the butcher shop.

I have to admit that like Rose and Cassandra, I inherited a fur coat from an elderly lady although not something as horrific as a bearskin. It’s actually a vintage mink which is about 60 years old and I’m the third owner of it, or maybe even the fourth. It’s not something that I would ever have bought, but when you think about it, mink are so ghastly to all other animals that I can’t imagine what else they were put here for. It takes up a lot of space but I don’t see the point in destroying it now, it’s a historic artefact to me. Obviously Dodie Smith had a thing about fur as she want on to write 101 Dalmations.

I don’t like the film tie in cover which Virago chose for the book, especially when you think of what the cover could have been like. I think Virago covers have gone down-hill recently, I liked the old ones.