The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy

The Constant Nymph cover

The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy was first published in 1924 and it’s split up into four sections, the first one being Sanger’s Circus. Albert Sanger is a composer who was born in London but is hardly known in his own country. He and his large family live in the Austrian Tyrol in a chalet, along with some hangers-on, it’s a very Bohemian way of life with the children unkempt and dressed almost in rags, they’ve never even been to school. Their mother died and Albert has a mistress living with them, there’s a long line of women in Albert’s past, but time is catching up with him and he’s now ill.

When the inevitable happens and the children are left on their own it’s a barely known uncle in London who comes to the rescue with offers of help, and he sends his adult daughter Florence to them to arrange matters, which includes sending them all to school. Of course this doesn’t go down well with the children.

I really didn’t much enjoy the first part of this book and it was only the fact that I know it’s well regarded by others that kept me from abandoning it, I’m really glad that I didn’t because as I read on I got more and more involved in the story. I have to say though that I did find the Lewis/Tessa strand in the book to be a bit icky, especially towards the end. Tessa (the constant nymph) is a 14 year old girl who has had a crush on Lewis for years, but Lewis is more than twice her age. That doesn’t stop others (who should know better) from thinking it would be a good match though, despite Lewis being a bit of a bad hat (rogue) Very strange as particularly in 1924 when this book was published a 14 year old would very definitely have been seen as being a little girl.

My copy of the book was published by Heinemann in 1934, but it was reprinted by Virago more recently.

The Feast by Margaret Kennedy

The Feast cover

The Reverend Bott of Cornwall is having a tough time writing a funeral sermon, so he’s unable to entertain his friend who is visiting for his annual holiday. It’s an unusual situation as it’s a multiple funeral for people who had been in a nearby hotel when the cliffs above it had collapsed on the building. With tons of stone obliterating the hotel there was no way anyone could have survived, or been extricated for a normal burial. Then the tale slips back to the run up to the disaster, featuring a large cast of characters in the shape of the hotel guests, including children.

The hotel had been the Siddal family home but with Mr Siddal’s career as a barrister having come to a halt for some reason, they just can’t afford to live in the house, so Mrs Siddon decides to turn it into an hotel. Her rather feckless husband and adult children help to run the place, along with a few locals, particularly the much put upon Nancibel (she hates her name). Mrs Siddal is a strange mother – favouring her son Duff over everyone else, seemingly because he is handsome. She has nothing but disdain for her son Gerry who is a doctor and is actually supporting his younger brothers via education fees.

This is a great read with characters that you love to hate, including Hebe, a truly ghastly child, but it did take me a while to get really into it. Given that the reader knows what happens within the first few pages I inevitably spent my time hoping that the horrible people would get their comeuppance and the ‘good guys’ would survive. It was a very satisfying read considering that I hadn’t been all that happy knowing about the fate of the hotel so early on in the book, it turned out to be a good strategy by the author, it added a lot of suspense – for me anyway.

Thank you to Faber and Faber who sent me a digital copy of The Feast via NetGalley.

This was my fourth 20 Books of Summer read.

Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy

Troy Chimneys cover

Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy was first published in 1953 and my copy is a nice original hardback complete with dust jacket. Everyone seems to have been reading this one a while ago but I skimmed the reviews as I knew I would be reading it soon-ish. So I was quite surprised when I realised that the book’s beginning is set in 1879 with the prologue and then travels back to 1818 via The Lufton Papers which are the memoirs of Miles Lufton who eventually went on to become an MP. He was nicknamed Pronto by his acquaintances because of his active and slightly rapscallion personality.

In reality though Miles would like to retire to the country and Troy Chimneys, a house he had bought some years ago and had rented out until he needed it himself. There’s a bit of a romance and I liked the Regency setting but I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I thought I would.

One thing puzzles me though, I’ve looked at a few Goodreads reviews prior to writing this just to see if anyone mentioned the link with Jane Eyre, particularly towards the end of the book – but it seems that nobody got it – or thought to mention it – or maybe it’s just me.

My Blog’s Name in TBR Books

I’ve never done this meme before but lots of the blogs that I enjoy frequenting have been doing it including Margaret at BooksPlease and I decided to join in. The idea is that you choose book titles from your TBR pile which begin with the letters of your blog name. So, here goes – sixteen of them. I intend to read them before the end of this year.

TBR Books

PPapa-la-bas by John Dickson Carr

IIf This Is a Man by Primo Levi

NNicolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

IIf Not Now, When by Primo Levi

NNot So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

GGuest in the House by Philip MacDonald

FFor the Sake of the School by Angela Brazil

OOld Hall-New Hall by Michael Innes

RReputation for a Song by Edward Grierson

TTroy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy

HHow Late It Was – How Late by James Kelman

EEdinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson

WWinter by Len Deighton

EEverything You Need by A.L. Kennedy

SSpiderweb by Penelope Lively

TTrooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell

Have you read any of these books and if so where should I begin?

New to me books

The weather has been lovely and bright with sunshine and blue skies here although the gritters are now around on the roads late at night due to falling temperatures, it’s amazing we’ve had no rain now for four or five days, I’m fairly sure that’s a record for this year! We drove up to Dunkeld, it’s one of my favourite wee towns, a scenic place to go for a walk and have lunch.

Then we drove a further ten miles or so north to Pitlochry, a much bigger town, it definitely feels like you’re in the Highlands there, it’s a bit touristy but for me the biggest attraction is the second-hand bookshop, situated in a building at the railway station, just a few steps away from the platform. The books are sold in aid of several local charities.

I’ve always been very lucky finding books there, but as I was going in a man was coming out, he had an armful of books and it turned out that the place was heaving with book lovers. I hoped that they had left me something to buy!

Books Latest

I needn’t have worried though. This is usually a good source of interesting old hardbacks for me, but those shelves didn’t have much in the way of fiction at all, but there were plenty of paperbacks, so I ended up buying:

1. The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor
2. An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer
3. The Happy Prisoner by Monica Dickens
4. Neither Fiver Nor Three by Helen MacInnes
5. Friends and Lovers by Helen MacInnes

Pitlochry is well off for second-hand bookshops as there’s another one in a street off the high street, it’s called Priory Books and I was really pleased to get Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy there, a nice old hardback with its dust jacket too. I couldn’t say no to a British Library Crime Classics anthology of short stories called CRIMSON SNOW Winter Mysteries. Perfect for reading around Christmas I think.

Have you read any of these books?

The Forgotten Smile by Margaret Kennedy

 The Forgotten Smile cover

The Forgotten Smile by Margaret Kennedy was first published in 1961 but it has been reprinted by Vintage.

I’ve only read one other book by Kennedy – The Ladies of Lyndon and although I liked that one I enjoyed The Forgotten Smile even more, although I found the beginning a bit strange.

Kate has been married to Douglas for donkey’s years, they are well off, live in London and their children are all grown up and have their own homes. Kate realises that she is no longer needed by them, in fact they are quite an obnoxious bunch. Despite the fact that Kate goes around walking on egg-shells to avoid their scathing comments and bad tempers they seem determined to find fault with her.

That coupled with the fact that Douglas her husband is in the throws of yet another idiotic infatuation with one of his wealthy clients makes her decide to take herself off on an Aegean cruise. As cruises go it’s a failure, badly run with terrible food, so when Kate realises that old friends and neighbours of hers are now living on one of the islands they visit, she decides to abandon the cruise and goes to stay with them on Keritha, the island they now own.

Keritha has been saved from becoming a tourist destination as its owners are determined to preserve the magic of the place and avoid spoiling it with modern things. The Greek inhabitants seem like a throw back to another ancient age.

Selwyn Potter is a young teacher who also arrives on Keritha. Kate realises that he had been a childhood acquaintance of her children who had managed to break a valuable table when he visited her house. He’s a clumsy fool and Kate is annoyed that she has to be in his company again, but eventually she understands why he is as he is and a friendship ensues.

This book is about loss, failure and tolerance of people who might seem to be different. That makes it sound a bit grim but it has moments of humour, it’s a good read, a perfect holiday or summer book. I’ll definitely be looking for more books by Margaret Kennedy.

The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy

 The Ladies of Lyndon cover

I never did get around to signing up for Margaret Kennedy Day but I did read The Ladies of Lyndon a couple of weeks ago – so, here goes.

The Ladies of Lyndon is Margaret Kennedy’s first novel and it was first published in 1923 but my book is a Vintage Books reprint.

I enjoyed Margaret Kennedy’s writing, in some ways she is a bit of an updated Jane Austen, the surroundings are similar, a large country house and several ladies, mothers and what seem to be unlikely marriages.

Mrs Varden Cocks has one child, a very well brought up daughter called Agatha and as Mrs Cocks believes in early marriages for young women that is exactly what Agatha does. Mrs Cocks is obviously the type who wants to get her daughter ‘safely off her hands’ as quickly as possible. Agatha had previously had a bit of a thing with her cousin Gerald, but it’s the handsome and well off John Clewer that she marries, so becoming the mistress of Lyndon, the large country house.

John has a younger brother called James and he’s very much the black sheep of the family. In fact some of them would like to have him committed to an asylum. James is just different from the rest of them and he is really only interested in painting, something the members of his family just don’t understand.

As you would expect James is unconventional and his choice of wife is very much frowned on too, she’s a housemaid and very much wants to stay exactly as she is, she has no intentions of being something she isn’t, not even when she subsequently ends up being Lady Clewer.

James is far and away the most interesting character in the book but he is really only on the periphery which is a real shame. As I said, I enjoyed this but this is the first book by Margaret Kennedy that I’ve read and I’m sure her writing must have developed and improved as her writing career advanced. I’ll be reading more of her later books anyway.

Recent Book Purchases

Books are still coming into the house faster than I can possibly read them. Even although I don’t work nowadays I still only manage to read at most two books a week, unless I’m on a vintage crime binge and then I can read more. When you consider that most weeks my book ownership is going up by four or so books, you’ll realise that I’m never going to be in a position of having nothing at all to read.

Latest Books

Last week I bought:

The North Wind of Love by Compton Mackenzie
The Casino by Margaret Bonham
The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin

I was under the impression that The North Wind of Love was the beginning of Mackenzie’s ‘Four Winds of Love’ series – but it isn’t.
I’ve never read anything by Margaret Kennedy but I know lots of bloggers love her books so I’m hopeful.
I’ve also never read anything by Margaret Bonham but it’s a Persephone so I think it’ll probably be good.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is pure nostalgia. All of my childhood books were given away by my mother when my back was turned, I think my Rebecca book was a cheap paperback, but I couldn’t resist this hardback from 1903. I love its cover and I’ve just realised that it’s a first edition, not that I’m bothered by such things, and it seems to be dirt cheap on the internet anyway.

Have you read any of these books?