Guardian Review links

The Guardian Review sections front page is a photograph of the author Paul Auster. He says ‘I’m going to speak out as often as I can, otherwise I can’t live with myself.’ He is of course speaking about the political situation in the US. If you’re interested in the article you can read it here. I really like Auster’s writing although I think I have quite a few books of his to catch up with.

There’s an article by Diana Athill about her friend the Irish author Molly Keane. Athill says – I admired many authors but Molly, I loved. You can read the article here.

Conversation Piece by Molly Keane

Conversation Piece by Molly Keane, sometimes known as M.J Farrell, was first published in 1932 but my copy is a Virago reprint from 1991. Prior to reading this one I think I had only read Two Days in Aragon by this author and I remember enjoying that one. I enjoyed this one too although it is one of her earliest works when she was really writing about her own life experiences, growing up in Ireland in an Anglo Irish family. Those people occupied a strange place in Irish society, not really liked or accepted by the ‘real’ Irish people but tolerated for what they brought, their wealth and employment for the locals. A love of horses seems to have been their main reason for existing, breeding, racing, doing point-to-points and hunting with them.

This is the story of Oliver who is invited to Pullinstown by his uncle Sir Richard, a widow with a son and daughter, Willow and Dick. The atmosphere is anything but friendly until Oliver’s cousins realise that he is a good horseman, then he is accepted as one of them.

If you like horses and dogs then you’ll probably enjoy this one but if not then you might want to give it a miss as there is an awful lot of horse and dog chat, races and hunts described, but always in an amusing way and considering there are a few hunts described at length, she doesn’t dwell on the end result. They are always trying to get the better of their neighbours in horse sales and of course the neighbours are trying to do exactly the same thing.

To begin with it you could be forgiven for thinking that the family is a cold one and their father remote and uncaring but in reality the relationships are very close.

Keane is best when she is writing the dialogue of the Irish servants, she obviously had a good ear and memory for conversations and as a person brought up in the west of Scotland in a town which had loads of Irish immigrants, most of whom had arrived there in the 1950s, I found it all very authentic – so I did.

Still on the subject of horses – did you ever read Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s books when you were young? I did but I had completely forgotten about her until I noticed that her obituary was in the Guardian today, she was 90. Apparently she also wrote detective novels and a gothic novel under the name Josephine Mann. You can read her obituary here.

Library Book Sale

It must have been more than a year since there was a library book sale in Kirkcaldy so I was really looking forward to last Saturday’s at the Adam Smith Theatre. I could have bought a lot but I find I’m getting quite choosy in my old age. Apart from anything else, I have so many books in my TBR pile, so I’m really trying not to add too many more, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to buy these ones.

Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor by M.C. Beaton

Loving and Giving by Molly Keane

The Gravedigger’s Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates

Sleeping Tiger by Rosamund Pilcher

How We Built Britain by David Dimbleby

Josephine – A Life of the Empress by Carolly Erickson

How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

AA Leisure Guide to Scotland

Jack didn’t buy anything at all, he did see three which he had just bought online a few weeks ago, Sod’s law of course. The same thing happened to me when we were in the Lake District.

Anyway, that lot should keep me busy for a wee while. Having just read the blurb, I’m now not sure about the Joyce Carol Oates book, has anybody read it?

I think the book I’m most chuffed with is the Dimbleby, How We Built Britain. We both enjoyed watching his TV programme with the same title.


Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

Good Behaviour cover

I really enjoyed the previous books which I’ve read by Molly Keane (M.J.Farrell) which were Two Days in Aragon (1941) and Devoted Ladies (1934). Good Behaviour was published very much later, in 1981 and was short listed for the Booker prize.

The book is set in Ireland and the character of Miss Aroon St Charles is so obnoxious in the first few pages that she might put some people off the book altogether but the story takes you back to Aroon’s childhood and development, showing what had contributed to the forming of Aroon’s character.

The St Charles family is an Anglo-Irish one, of landed gentry living at Temple Alice in much reduced circumstances but unwilling to change their habits. They expect the local tradesmen to support them in their lifestyle with no thought of ever paying any bills sent out to them and convinced that people are trying to rob them when they just want to be paid.

Of course at the same time they are looking down their noses at everyone, confident that they are superior to them all. Being a female and a rather large one at that, Aroon has a bad time of it with her mother constantly denigrating her.

It says a lot for Molly Keane that she managed to write an enjoyable book even although there are hardly any likeable characters in it. The mother is a very recognisable type to me, maybe it’s a Celtic trait in mother/daughter relationships, where girls just have no value in the family at all, except as unpaid servants. I hope it has changed for the better nowadays.

The local ‘nobs’ neglecting to pay their bills also rang true as I know that the ‘high class’ grocers in my home town went bankrupt in the 1970s because the customers who regarded themselves as better than the rest of us refused to settle their accounts, literally for years.

Anyway, I did end up enjoying Good Behaviour and at 245 pages it was a very quick read.