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?

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard

All Change cover

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard was published in 2013, it’s the fifth and final book in the Cazalet Chronicles. I didn’t even realise there was a fifth book as there’s a big gap in between the fourth and fifth, I’m so glad that Howard got around to writing this one though as I absolutely loved it and I felt that the fourth book left a lot of strands of the story up in the air.

It’s a chunky book at 576 pages, but I just didn’t want to reach the end of it as I was enjoying being in that Cazalet world so much. Mind you that didn’t stop me from reading almost the whole of Monday, immersed in the family saga. I know that at some point I’ll read these books again and that isn’t something I often do.

All Change begins in June 1956, so that’s nine years after the events of book four. The Duchy’s life is coming to an end, it’s the end of an era as she is the last of the senior Cazalets and her daughter Rachel is of course looking after her, as she has done all of her life.

The wood importing business that has been able to sustain the Cazalets in some luxury over the years, is on a downward slope, mainly because the brothers don’t have the same business savvy that their father had. They’ve led a life of servants and comfort and Edward in particular has always lived beyond his means, with a huge sense of entitlement and a wife who is under the impression that he is a lot richer than he really is.

The younger members of the family are getting on with their own lives and for me everything was tied up very satisfactorily. There were so many things in this book that struck chords with me, such as nursing elderly parents and the death of the last of the older generation, and the breaking up of the family home.

Howard was very good at passing character traits down the generations, so there’s that recognition of someone ‘taking after’ their father or uncle, as there usually is in large families. Often when you’re watching an actor on TV you come to really despise them, if that is what their character calls for and of course we all realise that that is a testament to the actor’s skill and talent. In a similar way I really admire Howard’s ability to write a truly ghastly character – such as Diana who is gobsmackingly self-centred, manipulative and nasty – how I hated her!

Sex rears its ugly head quite a lot of course with several marriages and some affairs on the go, but I noticed that none of the women involved are really interested in it, and one by one the author lets us know that, it’s just something they put up with to get or keep their men. Some of them hide their lack of interest better than others.

I did notice that Howard had made a mistake because she mentions that one of the female characters has her widow’s pension (her first husband – a soldier- had died in the war). But of course when a woman re-married she lost the right to a widow’s pension, that is still the situation today although some people are trying to change it.

In the spirit of taking risks, instead of the usual taking care – I’ve just bought the DVDs of the TV series which I’ve never seen, it might be a mistake to watch it, I could be severely disappointed, but then again, I might love it. I’ll keep you posted!

Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Casting Off cover

Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard was first published in 1995 and until a few minutes ago I had thought that it was the last in the Cazalet series, but apparently the last one All Change was published in 2013, the year before Howard died.

I know that a few blogpals are intending to read this one soonish so I don’t want to say too much about the storyline that runs from July 1945 to 1947.

You would think that people would be relieved beyond belief that the war in Europe was over, but of course for lots of people it meant the end of a time when they had plenty to do, they had had a sense of achievement or importance as they had been needed in the various voluntary organisations helping the war effort. Everyone is trying to get used to the changes although of course some things aren’t changing quickly enough, such as the rationing which is getting worse.

Members of the Cazalet family are beginning to move back to London instead of all being at the family country home – Home Place. Relationships are changing, some might not survive.

Three quarters of the way through this book I was feeling quite depressed by it as I really didn’t like the turn things were taking, and I couldn’t see how the author would get the many loose ends tied up by the end, and I had been under the impression that this was the last book.

I ended up being fairly well satisfied with it, especially as the characters that I particularly disliked seemed to be getting their richly deserved come-uppance. I’ll now have to get the last in the series All Change.

I’m thinking about buying the DVDs of the BBC series because I didn’t see it when it was on TV. Did any of you watch the series and if so did you enjoy it?

Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard

 Confusion cover

Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard is the third book in her Cazalet Chronicles, it was first published in 1993. World War 2 is in full swing now and the Cazalet’s lumber business is in trouble because the government is insisting that they pay tax on the wood that was destroyed when their dockside warehouses were bombed in the previous book. But that’s by the by. It’s the personal lives of the family members that fill the book of course.

Louise has married the much older artist Michael Hadleigh, but he’s now in the navy and Michael is still attached to his mother’s apron strings. When he gets leave he spends the time with mummy and it isn’t long before it’s obvious that he has only married Louise so that she can provide him with loads of children – and then he will have plenty of subjects to paint right on hand. Too late Louise realises that he isn’t really interested in women at all, and her mother-in-law is a monster.

I can imagine that some readers might think that the mother-in-law is completely over the top but there are some around that are exactly like that. Believe me!

In fact in Confusion many of the characters are coming to the end of relationships, whether they know it or not.

Despite the fact that the Louise/Michael relationship was getting my blood pressure up and I was planning what I would do to Edward if I were his wife I did really enjoy this book and I’ll be reading the next one in the series Casting Off – early in the new year. I think that Sandra @ A Corner of Cornwall and I are doing a readalong of it.

I’m going to be starting reading Christmas themed books soon in an attempt to get me into the spirit of it all and I’ll be joining the Spirit of Christmas Challenge, but more about that soonish.

Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard

 Marking Time cover

Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard was first published in 1991 and is the second book in the Cazalet Chronicles.

I found this one to be just as enjoyable as The Light Years, the first book in the series, always a bit of a scene setter. The characters are all maturing nicely, inevitable given the things they’re experiencing.

The older members of the family take a bit of a back seat for a lot of this book as the focus is on the younger generation and how they are coping as the war just begins to bite deeper into every aspect of life.

Rupert’s young second wife Zoe is never going to be the same again after her horrific experience in book one, something so shaming she’s never going to tell anyone about it, but the birth of Rupert’s son has given her something to live for while Rupert is thought by everyone to almost certainly be dead.

Villy has been seriously ill but she and her husband Edward are in denial of the whole illness and heartbreakingly as Villy goes into remission and feels so much better she jumps to the conclusion that her health has turned a corner and she is getting back to normal with nothing to worry about. Edward, her otherwise despicable husband can’t bear to tell her the truth. Their whole marriage has been based on secrets with Villy sticking her head in the sand when she doesn’t want to admit things, either that or she’s just too dim for words.

The families’ London houses have all been more or less shut up for the duration of the war as bombs have been raining down on the capital, damaging the woodyards belonging to the Cazalets, so important to the war effort and their income.

There are secrets aplenty, unrequited love, affairs and annoying unfair prejudices against daughters by mothers. It’s just after that time known as ‘the Phoney War’ when life in Britain went on much as before for the first months of it and rationing for clothes and food hadn’t quite taken hold.

Mind you the Cazalets were rich and the rich were/are always cushioned from the daily deprivations that others have to get used to. Such is life and it’s that sort of reality that makes me feel that Howard has captured the atmosphere of wartime south of England. I’m looking forward to the next in the series which I think is called Confusion.

Joan @ Planet Joan read Marking time recently too and you can read her thoughts on it here.

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

The Light Years cover

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard was first published in 1990 which is a shocking 26 years ago now – how did that happen? I didn’t read it back then, in fact I think I may be the last woman in the western world to read the book, I’m just thrawn that way, often avoid doing things just because everyone else is doing it. It was Joan of Planet Joan who made me think that it was time I got around to The Light Years, the first book in the Cazalet series, you can read what she thought of it here.

The book is in two parts with the first part starting in 1937 and the second part begins in late summer 1938 but it ends with the run up to World War 2 and Chamberlain’s attempts to avoid war. We meet three generations of Cazalets the Brig and Duchy are the parents, getting on now but the Brig is very much in charge of the family wood/lumber business. Their two elder sons work in the business and as the business is obviously thriving they’re quite well off, but the youngest son has hopes of being an artist and is working as a teacher until he finds success in that field.

The characters are all very different with their different personalities well defined but it was the characters of the children that I was really impressed with. Howard must have been one of those people who perhaps has never really completely grown up herself and has remained close to how it feels to be a child in various circumstances. She wrote about all their fears, problems and worries with great insight. I really didn’t want to leave this family saga and would have gone straight on to the next one Marking Time, if only I had had a copy of it. I’ll need to get my hands on one soon!

I didn’t watch the TV series when it was on either and I’m wondering if it is worth watching or is it one of the many dramatisations that end up being disappointing. If you watched it please tell me what you thought of the series.

Guardian links from the Review

I’ve just finished reading The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It’s the first book in the Cazalet series (I’ve yet to blog about it) and I’m trying to get my hands on the second one as I really want to get back to that family. Anyway, I noticed an article about Elizabeth Jane Howard in the Guardian Review section this morning, if you’re interested you can read it here. It’s by Artemis Cooper who has just written a book about Howard.

Elizabeth Jane Howard

The photo above is of Elizabeth Jane Howard with her then husband Kingsley Amis. Like many writers she was a bit of a conundrum herself I think. On a frivolous note I wonder if she ever regretted sticking her middle name on her books – I know I would have if I had been her.

There’s an article about the ghost stories that E. Nesbit wrote for adults, it’ll be Halloween before we know it so it might be of interest to anyone reading books for that spooky season. You can read the article here.

I’ve always been interested in children’s books but in recent years I’ve become quite distant from what’s going on, mainly due to having no small people in my life at the moment. I must admit though that I still do buy children’s books if I happen to see any with beautiful illustrations. So I was interested in this Children’s roundup by Imogen Russell Williams.

If Shakespeare is more your cup of tea you might like to read Margaret Atwood’s article on rewriting The Tempest for the 21st century.

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!

Library Books

My local library is out of action at the moment as it’s in the middle of major refurbishment. So for the last 15 months or so we’ve had to put up with a tiny library which they have opened in one of the many empty shops in the High Street, it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing I suppose. But over the last week I’ve managed to visit two bigger libraries in different Fife towns and the selection was better, so I ended up borrowing:

Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Death at the Opera by Gladys Mitchell
The Winter Ground by Catriona McPherson
Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

I think all of these books or authors have been recommended by other bloggers or commenters, which leads me to wonder how I chose my reading matter before the internet. I’m sure it was Margaret@BooksPlease who pointed me in the direction of Catriona McPherson and Andrew Taylor, but I’ve kicked off with Miss Buncle Married as I enjoyed Miss Buncle’s Book so much.

I also have five books on request so I’ll have to get down to more reading, just at the time when I’m also trying to buff my house and garden up. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard

This book was first published in 1956 and it seems to be the second book by Elizabeth Jane Howard, she has had a very long career though as she had a book published just last year. I think I have read some of her other books but so long ago that I can’t remember them.

The structure of The Long View is very unusual, I think. It’s not uncommon for action to jump around in books but it usually goes backwards and forwards in time, sometimes giving the perspective from different characters. However this one is unusual in that the book is divided into five parts and part one is headed 1950.

Sixty pages on and you get to part two, and we’ve moved back in time to 1942. Part three begins in 1937. Part four in 1927, and part five is just one year earlier in 1926.

So it feels a bit disjointed as you move back in time, instead of the story progressing you rewind, and in the end I think it was an interesting experience, definitely different, but enjoyable.

It’s amazing that I did enjoy it because I disliked Conrad so much, and Conrad is there for most of the book. Antonia had the misfortune to marry him and he is the reason why I couldn’t get Under My Thumb out of my head whilst I was reading. He’s a complete control freak and when Antonia marries him she doesn’t know anything about him, doesn’t even know what he does for a living, but money doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Conrad Fleming is quite a bit older than Antonia who is a young 20, he buys her clothes, tells her she must grow her hair, tells her to get out of bed and put scent on! Conrad designs the perfect wife for himself. He bought them a house to live in which she hadn’t even seen. Antonia doesn’t really exist as a person to him. I hated him, and the book is really about how Antonia finds herself married to him.

It’s something that we all wonder about I suppose – how did such and such a couple get together and why? This is the story of Mr and Mrs Fleming and it begins with the engagement of their son, and a few more couples play parts in the story, which ends up being quite circular in some ways. It’s obviously quite autobiographical.

Here’s a taster: She woke to the pleasure of the empty house – the sunlit evening after a hot day. While she had slept, the roses in the bowl beside her had yawned so widely that they had shed their outside petals in an ecstacy of exhaustion … I love that image of the roses yawning.

If you want to know more about the author have a look here. It’s fascinating.