A recent trip to Edinburgh led to my TBR list expanding by twelve books – in no time – many of them could be described as being for young people or YA as they tend to be categorised nowadays, some of them I had never even heard of but I reasoned that if a book is a Newbery Medal winner it should be a good read – for all ages.
The Giant Baby by Allan Ahlberg The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi The Kirk of the Corrie by Isabel Cameron White Bell Heather by Isabel Cameron The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett The Dividing Sea by Ruth Elwin Harris The Eleventh Orphan by Joan Lingard Cuckoo in the Nest by Michelle Magorian Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild Mail Royal by Nigel Tranter Horned Helmet by Henry Treece Legions of the Eagle by Henry Treece
The Fascinating Hat by the Scottish author Isabel Cameron was first published in 1941. The book begins with Jinty Campbell trimming a hat that she’s going to wear in a dramatic entertainment in the village hall the following week. She’s interrupted by the local minister who has a habit of just walking into people’s houses unannounced. With him is his nephew who is a doctor, he has come to stand in for the local doctor who is going on holiday. There’s quite a lot of snappy banter as the two young people seem to hit it off quickly, having a similar sense of humour.
The screeching of tyres in the street and a crash alert them to a taxi which has ended up on its side while swerving to avoid a child on the road. The young passenger has been knocked out, tended by Jinty who had been a VAD, and the new young doctor. But their patient has lost his memory and has no idea who he is.
Jinty is an apprentice at a firm of architects, planning to become an architect herself eventually. As far as she’s concerned it’s about time that houses were designed by women for women as men have no idea of how to design homes with women in mind, making a lot of unnecessary work for them. Cupboards too high up, the sink in a corner facing a wall, sometimes no sink at all, the dishes to be washed in a basin on the kitchen table, no cupboards for storage and unneccesary steps. Secretly her bosses have to admit that she has a point.
The architects had got a commission to build a wonderful large house locally, with no expense spared. Their client was abroad and wanted to come home apparently. As you can imagine Jinty is in her element.
This was an enjoyable read and I imagine that in 1941 it must have been very unusual to have a young woman with the ambition of becoming an architect, so that was quite a surprise to me. However the storyline took a weird turn when the patient’s memory was restored by an operation. I found the thought of that quite shuddersome as so many people in reality were damaged forever when doctor’s performed brain operations when probably what they needed was a good psychologist – or even a nice wee rest!
There was a big book-shaped void in my life due to the shops being closed for what seemed like forever, and despite buying some books online it just wasn’t the same as going into actual shops and browsing the shelves. No book smell – no serendipity – no book chat with like-minded people. Book buying online is fairly soulless.
Anyway a trip to Edinburgh one day last week went some way to filling that gap as you can see. I had a lovely time even although we had to hang about outside the shops waiting for people to come out before we could go in due to the shops being fairly small.
The House of the Pelican by Elisabeth Kyle (1954)
Thursbitch by Alan Garner (2004)
Cross Gaits by Isabel Cameron (1945)
The Fascinating Hat by Isabel Cameron (1941)
Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann (1927)
The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski (1953)
The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff (1956)
Not a bad haul I think you’ll agree, they’re all by authors that I’ve read before and enjoyed – except for The House of the Pelican. I don’t even think I had ever heard of Elisabeth Kyle before, but the setting of the Edinburgh Festival appealed to me so I started that one almost immediately and so far – so very good.
The second bookshop in Aberdeen that we visited is a charity one right in the Merkat Square and as the books are all donated they sell them very cheaply. I bought:
1. The Century’s Daughter by Pat Barker
2. The Rendezvous by Daphne du Maurier
3. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay
4. Beautiful Just! by Lillian Beckwith
5. Green Hand by Lillian Beckwith
6. Bruach Blend by Lillian Beckwith
7. The Spuddy by Lillian Beckwith
8. The Road Home by Rose Tremain
9. A Pack of Lies by Geraldine McCaughrean
10. Young Bess by Margaret Irwin
11. The Cockle Ebb by Isabel Cameron
12. The Herries Chronicle by Hugh Walpole This is an omnibus consisting of four books which are set in the Lake District/Cumbria area, and first published in 1939 although mine is a 1955 reprint.
Visiting St Andrews just after Christmas I bought a lovely edition of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. You can see some of the illustrations here. – also from St Andrews – Young Bess by Margaret Irwin, and the postman brought me –
In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse.
That lot should keep me going for a while. Have you read any of them?
I haven’t been able to find out anything about Isabel Cameron but from her writing she was obviously Scottish. My copy of this book does have its dustjacket which has some information regarding her other books and the information that over 750,000 copies of Isabel Cameron’s books have been sold. And from the Glasgow Herald – “All Mrs Cameron’s work has that grace, humour and feeling that people love.”
Green Park Terrace by Isabel Cameron was published in 1949 but the setting is a town in Scotland during World War 2 and the Green Park which the terrace overlooks is rumoured to be taken over by the army, the Lovat Scouts to be precise. The news is not welcomed by Mrs Warren of No.1 Terrace Park, she thinks that the soldiers will be rowdy and drunken and will likely spend their time swearing and fighting. Her servant, a young woman from the Isle of Lewis is enthusiastic about the prospect though as you can imagine!
Each chapter deals with the attitudes of various neighbours at different Green Park Terrace house numbers. They’re a very mixed bunch, one house has been turned into a guest house. Another is inhabited by a very demanding woman who thinks she is an invalid and her poor downtrodden daughter. There’s a career woman in one house, determined that having a child isn’t going to change her life and her work in a frock shop, but when the nanny ends up in hospital everything begins to fall apart.
There’s many a mention of Lord Woolton who was appointed Minister of Food during the war, as ever, food and rationing feature. Actually I’ve made Woolton Pie and it wasn’t bad.
This is an enjoyable read and as it was published in 1949 it seems that writers, readers and publishers weren’t too keen to drop the subject of World War 2 on the home front. I suspect that a lot of people were hankering for ‘the good old days’ of war, when so many people, particularly women who had been kicking their heels and bored stiff at home found that they were happy and busy doing war work of some kind. The end of the war wasn’t welcomed by everyone.
I’d be interested to hear if any of you have read anything by Isabel Cameron