Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt

Lucia in Wartime cover

Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt is an enjoyable read, especially for those of us who just love to be in the company of Tilling’s foremost inhabitants, but unsurprisingly the author doesn’t quite come up to E.F. Benson standards. There are of course plenty of spats between Mapp and Lucia. In Benson’s books these are snobby and catty but in this book they descend into nastiness that feels like it has all been taken just a wee bit too far.

Also I think the author could have been doing with re-reading the originals a bit more closely as he gets quite a few details wrong about them. For instance Major Flint’s habitual yell of quai-hai has become qui-hi.

Diva is even busier than usual with her dressmaking projects, she has of course always had a ‘make-do and mend’ mentality and rationing has just encouraged her to get her scissors out and add chintz roses to her clothing.

Most of the servants have left and gone to make munitions, Lucia and Georgie are appalled at the thought of having to cook for themselves, but Georgie rises to the challenge and discovers a talent for making meals out of practically nothing, and Major Benjy is in charge of the Home Guard. Mapp gets into a terrible fankle due to her usual duplicity, and Lucia is as always on guard whenever Olga Bracely’s name is mentioned.

The wartime setting works really well, with Lucia and Georgie having to ditch their cod Italian as it’s unpatriotic and a bit dangerous to be thought of as pro-Italian. A Polish phrase book is purchased!

Reading this one made me want to re-read the originals – again. I might make do with watching the DVDs though, the original series with Prunella Scales as Mapp and Geraldine McEwan as Lucia of course.

Au Reservoir by Guy Fraser-Sampson

 Au Reservoir cover

Au Reservoir by Guy Fraser Sampson is a continuation of E.F. Benson’s hugely enjoyable Mapp and Lucia series. I’m not usually at all keen on such things but for those of us who love to be in the company of Lucia and Mapp and all the other inhabitants of Tilling (Rye) in East Sussex, Au Reservoir is faithful to Benson’s characters and the situations they usually got themselves into so that’s a big plus.

Mind you Benson’s characters were so well drawn with so many eccentricities that I think it would probably be a fairly easy job for anyone with a gift for writing to cobble together a book written in his style, like a sort of join the dots exercise.

This book is slightly updated for modern readers with Major Benjy being a bit more risque than he could get away with before and a few incongruous words were used by Lucia who would never have referred to her living-room, it was always her drawing-room and she wouldn’t have used the word specialty, she would have said speciality – as I would too!

The Labour government and high taxation is mentioned a lot, which put me in mind of Angela Thirkell’s post war books. As I recall it was usually just the local rates that got Benson’s Tillingites aerated.

As you would expect from the title this is the last of these books and I found the ending quite sad. No more Moonlight Sonatas for Lucia and Georgie. What am I saying? What a relief for the Tillingites!

An Autumn Sowing by E.F. Benson

An Autumn Sowing cover

An Autumn Sowing by E.F. Benson was first published in 1917, so three years before his first Lucia book but there are quite a lot of the same elements in An Autumn Sowing. Snobbery and class consciousness figure prominently of course, it’s a good read although if you expect a Lucia type book then you might be disappointed.

Thomas Keeling is very wealthy, he lives in a spacious house in the town of Bracebridge and he is going to be the mayor in the following year. He has made his money through owning a large department store and having a very astute sense of business, but of course it is ‘trade’ so he’s never going to be able to be a member of the County Club where the local aristocrats are, despite being penniless. Mr Keeling is only ever going to be allowed to join the Town Club, fit for people like himself who started out owning just a fish shop.

Thomas Keeling has been disappointed with his marriage and his children, and the one bright spot in his life is his love of books and the fact that he can well afford to have a library of his own, where he indulges in his love of beautiful volumes. Nobody else is allowed into his library, apart from the young man who runs the book department in Keeling’s store. Charles is the closest thing that Thomas has to a friend, not that Thomas would unbend enough to actually have a friend, he’s very much the boss.

When Charles’s sister Norah needs a job she becomes Thomas’s secretary and after a shaky start when she describes Mr Keeling as being a cad a relationship builds up between them through their mutual love of books. Thomas can’t help comparing Norah with his wife and the wife doesn’t come out of it well. He thought that he was marrying above his station when he married the daughter of a P&O captain but in truth she’s a rather vulgar woman in a noveau riche kind of way, filling her home with ghastly folderols, such as a stuffed crocodile which stands on its back legs holding a brass tray – for visiting cards.

This book was never going to have a happy ending but it is really quite funny in that sharp-tongued Benson way and it’s interesting to see so many similarities with the Mapp and Lucia books. There are characters who speak ‘baby talk’, a figurative secret garden, a mayor, royal honours and an extension for the local hospital.

I found it interesting that the secretary was called a typewriter not a typist or secretary and she was expected to bring her own typing machine with her instead of being provided with one. I wonder when they started to be called a typist?

My copy of this book is a 1987 reprint and it’s a shame that it isn’t available on Project Gutenberg as I’m sure that a lot of people would enjoy reading it.

I haven’t read any of Benson’s Dodo books, have you? Would you recommend them?

Edinburgh Botanics and books

On Thursday we had a family dinner date in Edinburgh so as it was a lovely bright day we decided to go early and have a walk through the Botanic Gardens. As you can see the crocuses were enjoying the sun.

Crocuses

Then it was on to the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll realise that Stockbridge is usually a dangerous destination for me, due to the secondhand bookshops in the vicinity. Mind you it was only about three weeks since we had been there so I did think (half hope) it might be a case of slim pickings book wise, but I was wrong!

Books Again

China Court by Rumer Godden
The Princess Sophia by E.F. Benson
The Three Hostages by John Buchan
The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy
Harding’s Luck by E. Nesbit
The Herb of Grace by Elizabeth Goudge

I know I read China Court way back in the 1970s but I’ll read it again and I seem to be collecting the Goddens that I read when I was a teenager but then I borrowed them from the library.

I have a horrible feeling that I gave my Nesbit books away before we moved house, when I was trying to de-clutter. But they might still be in a box in the garage, I live in hope, I definitely haven’t read Harding’s Luck anyway. The House of Arden comes before it so I think I’ll have to read that one first, I might just put that one on my Kindle.

I don’t think I’ve read anything by Goudge before but I know she is well loved by some people.

The Princess Sophia was written in 1900, long before Benson wrote his Mapp and Lucia books that I love.

I seem to be collecting John Buchan books although it’s a good long time since I actually read any.

I read a lot of Thomas Hardy books as a teenager and I loved them although they are often quite grim, especially the endings. The Hand of Ethelberta is apparently a comedy in chapters – could be interesting, but then again, might not be. Anyway it’s one of those wee books with thin paper and gold topped pages, like most of my other Hardy books, so it’ll fit in well – after I’ve had a bit of a shuffle around of that bookcase!

Have you read any of these books?

Mapp and Lucia 2014

It seems like a long time ago now but what did you think of the new version of Mapp and Lucia which was on the BBC at Christmas? I was sort of half dreading watching it as I’m a big fan of E.F. Benson’s books and I adored the Channel 4 series of Mapp and Lucia which starred Geraldine McEwan and Prunella Scales as well as lots of other great actors. In the end of course I did watch the new version, to be honest there wasn’t much on TV over the holidays anyway, it was even worse than usual I think.

There were only three parts in the series and I can see that there is loads of scope for more parts to come, I suppose they were waiting to see how popular it would be. It was definitely entertaining but I couldn’t stop myself from comparing everything with the earlier series.

I suppose you could say that the Geraldine McEwan version was just a wee bit over the top, but I think that that is exactly how Mapp and Lucia should be played. The costumes in the new version weren’t as sumptuous as those of the Channel 4 series, those ones were a real treat for the eyes and the detail was wonderful, not only with the clothes but the handbags, hats and jewellery too, especially Lucia’s. Georgie in the new series is just not dapper enough, nor finicky and camp enough. ‘Quaint’ Irene has been turned into a make-up wearing masculine woman whereas she should be a tomboy of a girl who has somehow got stuck at the schoolgirl crush stage of life which some females seem to have experienced.

You can read about the making of the recent series here.

There’s a snippet from the McEwan series below and you can see some complete episodes on You Tube if you’re interested.

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!

Desirable Residences and other stories by E.F. Benson

This book was one of my purchases on my recent foray into England, I bought this one from the Amnesty International bookshop in Great Malvern, I couldn’t resist it as it’s a book of short stories which includes a Miss Mapp story.

E.F. Benson wrote a lot of short stories which were published in various magazines and he tailored the stories to appeal to the various publications. They are divided into seven categories: Crank Stories, Society Stories, Cruel Stories, Odd Stories, Dodo Stories, Spook Stories and The Diversions of Amy Bondham.

I’m a big fan of the Mapp and Lucia books but I hadn’t read anything else by Benson but I will be on the look-out for more of his books now as I did enjoy these short stories, even the Spook ones which is what he called his ghost stories. The character of Lucia is just beginning to be formed but if you enjoy the Mapp and Lucia books you’ll want to get your hands on these.

E.F. Benson’s Rye

I’ve actually spent quite a lot of time in East Sussex over the years as I had an aunt who lived there but for some reason I never got around to visiting Rye. Mind you, way back then I hadn’t read E.F. Benson‘s Mapp and Lucia books, but Lisa May at TBR 313 has been discussing E.F. Benson’s writing and the upshot is that I’m adding Rye to my list of places to visit. Although Benson’s fictional town is called Tilling, it was based on Rye where he was the town mayor for years.

I had a wee look on You Tube to see if there were any excerpts from the Mapp and Lucia TV series – and there were but what I really liked was this Thascales ‘album’ of a visit to Rye which s/he has uploaded onto You Tube. The TV series was filmed in Rye and the buildings are all very recognisable.

If you like a twee 1930s setting and a bit of a laugh then you’ll enjoy the series, I wonder if it’s available on Netflix. Geraldine McEwan as Lucia in particular has lovely outfits to wear, it’s a feast for the eyes if you like vintage clothes.

Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson

Mapp And Lucia book covers

Mapp And Lucia book covers

I saw Mapp and Lucia on T.V. and loved it, so I ended up getting the books and was given the DVD. To me everything is just perfect about it. I can’t imagine anyone other than Geraldine McEwan as the character of Lucia and Nigel Hawthorne is Georgie to a T. I think they must have had a whale of a time whilst filming it as Geraldine and Nigel ‘ham it up’ like mad.

Mapp and Lucia

Prunella Scales is wonderful as the sour and sarcastic Miss Mapp, (she seems to have cornered the market on those characteristics.) Mapp and Lucia are deadly rivals in a small village in England in 1930, each of them vying to be top dog in their community. This results in lots of comedic situations which amount to lovely ‘comfort viewing.’

The wardrobe department pulled out all the stops, especially with Lucia’s costumes, resulting in a feast for the eyes if you are into vintage clothes and accessories. Just sumptuous.

So when I came to reading the books I was really pleased to discover that they had been so well adapted and everything was as it should be.

Apparently E.F. Benson was the mayor of his town, I think it was Rye in Sussex. He must have based his characters on close observation of the locals,which probably made him popular with the majority of the population.

Anyway, if you feel in need of a laugh, some comfort reading or just want to drool over some beautiful handbags, hats, clothes and jewellery – then I recommend you should try these books and DVDs.