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.

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?

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!

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.

Some Bookish Links

It has been a couple of days now since we go the news that P.D. James had died at the age of 94. The Guardian has lots of articles on her which you can read here, the most recent being the My Hero column which today is written by Val McDermid about Phyllis Dora James. I think her decision to only use her initials was a good career move as apparently men prefer to read books by men and a lot of people assumed that P.D. was a man. I don’t think women are so bothered about the gender of authors.

In fact Goodreads has come up with the fact that readers in general prefer to read books which have been written by their own gender. I think I read more books by men than women though, what about you? I’ll have to have a count of this year’s authors. You can read the Guardian article here.

It’s the time of the year when people look back and decide which books were their favourites of the year. You can read what a lot of authors have plumped for here.

The BBC are making a new version of E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books, I just can’t imagine that they will be able to improve on the Geraldine McEwan, Prunella Scales line up and who could replace Nigel Hawthorne as Georgie? Well Anna Chancellor is playing Lucia apparently. Miranda Richardson is Mapp, Mark Gatiss is Major Benji Flint and Steve Pemberton will be playing Georgie Pillson. I’m sure I’ll be watching but I don’t think it’ll be as good somehow.

You can read more about some of the shows which are going to be shown around Christmas here.

I loved the Paddington Bear books although I was quite old when I got around to reading them, in fact it was only when I was reading them to my own kids that I discovered what fun they are. You can read an article about Paddington and the new film version which has just been released here. I think they should have special late night viewings of this film as I want to see it – but not with a whole load of kids who will probably cry and generally be a distraction. Or maybe I should just wait until it comes on TV.

If you’re into doing quizzes and Paddington Bear then you might want to have a bash at this one.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve perfected a very good hard stare of my own over the years. It’s one of the necessities of life!

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.