The 1951 Club

the 1951 club

I’ve read and blogged about quite a few books that were published in 1951 in recent years, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on them click on the titles.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

Cork on the Water by Macdonald Hastings

The Catherine Wheel by Patricia Wentworth

The Duke’s Daughter by Angela Thirkell

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols

Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

School for Love by Olivia Manning

Of course 1951 was an important year in Britain as we had The Festival of Britain which went on for most of the year – or at least until the general election when Churchill became PM again and he saw the whole thing as being Socialist so he shut it all down – spoilsport!

But apparently the Festival was a life-saver for the people who had by then been suffering under austerity for years and years what with the war and even worse rationing post-war. It cheered people up no end to see the bright colours and modern designs, and was a great opportunity for artists, designers and makers.

Before I started blogging I read and enjoyed Festival at Farbridge by J.B. Priestley which was published in 1951 and has local events featuring the festival.

I blogged about the festival some years ago and if you’re interested you can see that post here.

The Rain Forest by Olivia Manning

The Rain Forest by Olivia Manning was published in 1974. The setting is the fictional island of Al-Bustan in the Indian Ocean. In fact it must be the island of Madagascar as there are lemurs in Al-Bustan and apparently lemurs only live in Madagascar, although Madagascar was a French colony.

Hugh and Kristy Foster are a married couple who have gone to Al-Bustan so that Hugh can take up the offer of a British government job. Hugh has written one novel in the past, then he got very lucrative work as a film script writer. Kristy is a succesfull novelist, something which Hugh is rather jealous of.

They’d been married for 11 years when the film script work dried up, they had lived the high life in London to the hilt and had spent all of their money, with nothing to show for it, hence the need to go to Al-Bustan for work. When Hugh gets there he realises that there is no real job for him, he has nothing to do all day and the other British people look down their noses at them. The one thing which he does do is he gives a travel permit to another British man which allows him to go to the other side of the island to the rain forest, to do some research on the area, it’s a place where escaped slaves used to hide. The red ants there could strip a man to a skeleton overnight.

Al-Bustan is about to get its independence so there is a political struggle going on and the Brits are determined to do all they can to stop the country from reverting to slavery which they think will happen if the Arabic factions gain power.

Olivia Manning often wrote about colonialism and imperialism, she seems to have realised much earlier than her contemporaries how destructive and unpopular the British were when they colonised countries. Her husband was a British Council lecturer so they travelled around various parts of the empire.

Her books are all autobiographical and she used people whom she had met as copy so it’s a fair account of what life was like at the end of the raj I’m sure. Heartbreakingly she had some terrible experiences of her own which she also used in this book, maybe it was cathartic for her.

I enjoyed this book but it isn’t a patch on her Balkan and Levant trilogies which I could hardly put down. I wondered if there was a sequel to The Rain Forest as the book just ended and you don’t discover what happens to Hugh and Kristy, and as I particularly liked Kristy with her love of the animals and the plants on the island it would have been nice for loose ends to be tied up, but it’s left to the reader’s imagination I suppose.

By complete coincidence, the day I finished reading this book there was an article on the news about Madagascar, the lemurs and the people and how the children are being educated to value the wildlife and the trees. Better late than never I suppose but it was the future development which was obviously worrying Manning when she wrote this book, it’s probably just as well that she never knew that there is now only 10% of the rain forest left.

Fortunes of War by Olivia Manning

Olivia Manning’s Balkan and Levant Trilogies are probably better known as Fortunes of War as that is what the BBC serialisation was named. The first three books were published separately between 1960 and 1965 as :

1. The Great Fortune
2. The Spoilt City
3. Friends and Heroes
and later published in one big volume as The Balkan Trilogy.

As you can see an audio version is available.

The sequel is The Levant Trilogy which was published in three volumes between 1977 and 1980 as:

1. The Danger Tree
2. The Battle Lost and Won
3. The Sum of Things.

If you’re at all interested in World War II you’ll love these books. I read them all in 2008, just before I started blogging and I don’t even have any notes on them but I thoroughly enjoyed the books and they’re written so well I was finished them in no time at all, which was the only disappointing thing really.The writer Anthony Burgess said that they were, “The finest record of the war produced by a British writer.”
Can’t say fairer than that can you?

I remember that I loved watching the BBC serialisation but for some reason it’s never been re-shown, unless I’ve just missed it somehow. It starred a very young Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. I think it was only the second thing that I’d ever seen Emma Thompson in, the first programme was by the BBC again and it was called Tutti Frutti. It was ages ago now and again it doesn’t seem to have been re-shown. But at last, it’s out in DVD.

It was set in Scotland and also had Robbie Coltrane and Richard Wilson in it. I remember it was very funny and is just the sort of thing that they should have on now in these dark and gloomy days. Emma Thompson was able to do a very good Scottish accent. Her mother is the Scottish actress Phyllida Law.

I think I might just put the DVDs on my Christmas list, if my husband’s looking for any ideas!

School for Love by Olivia Manning

I really like Olivia Manning‘s writing. Her husband was a British Council lecturer in Bucharest when World War 2 broke out and her experiences at that time led her to write a series of books which were heavily influenced by their experiences there. She and her husband evacuated to Egypt as the Germans advanced and her husband eventually ended up in charge of the Palestine Broadcasting Station.They didn’t return to England until 1946.

School for Love was published in 1951 and is set towards the end of the war in Jerusalem. Felix Latimer, a teenage boy has travelled there to lodge with Miss Bohun after the death of both of his parents. His only relative is an uncle in England, unfortunately he can’t travel there because all of the ships are being used to carry troops. Jerusalem is jam packed with people in the same situation, just waiting for the end of the war when they can escape the place.

Miss Bohun who had a very distant connection to Felix’s father’s family turns out to be one of those religious tract distributing females. She’s the leader of a Christian sect called the Ever-Readies, who are in Jerusalem awaiting Jesus’s imminent second coming. This has similarities with Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm, although not as funny.

The whole book revolves around her personality really and how the other characters have to cope with her. She turns out to be a truly ghastly person. Money grasping, mean and mean spirited, thinking the worst of everyone and all under the guise of being a good Christian woman. I absolutely hated her which I suppose just shows you what a good writer Olivia Manning was, but it almost spoiled my enjoyment of the book.

School for Love isn’t nearly as good as her earlier works, The Levant Trilogy and The Balkan Trilogy but it is still worth reading.

I find it quite worrying that there was probably a character very like Miss Bohun in Palestine at that time as Olivia Manning got a lot of “copy” from her wartime experiences. She definitely lived in interesting times.

Anthony Burgess described Manning as “The most considerable of our women novelists.”

Birthday books

I was lucky enough to be given a copy of The Gathering Night by Margaret Elphinstone for my birthday. This photograph of me reading it in our garden makes me look a bit weird I think, worryingly my husband thinks I look normal in it.

I was also given The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale which is about a true murder mystery which took place in 1860 and inspired Wilkie Collins and other writers.

Last but not least is a lovely book, Plants in Garden History by Penelope Hobhouse. It’s beautifully illustrated if you like plants, flowers and garden plans.

I can’t resist visiting second-hand bookshops which are quite thin on the ground in this area but when I was in St Andrews I bought myself:

Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier as I am trying to read all of hers.

Moonfleet by J.Meade Falkner. It’s a classic tale of mystery and adventure in a Dorset smuggling village. For some reason I love smuggling tales.

The Best of Saki (Hector Hugh Munro) who was killed in the trenches in the First World War. It’s a book of short stories.

Last but not least School for Love by Olivia Manning. I’ve been meaning to read more of her books. I read and loved The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy. The BBC serialised The Balkan Trilogy as The Fortunes of War in 1987 starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. I think anyone interested in WW2 would love these books.

I was given lots of DVDs by Duncan and I was especially pleased to get The Shipping News. I read the book recently and was so immersed in it that I really missed it when it was finished, so now I can revisit the story via the film. It’s too soon for a re-read.

So, as you can see I was a very lucky birthday girl and that TBR pile just keeps growing.

Flashback Challenge

I’ve been reading about all these book challenges that are going on and thought that it was about time that I signed up for one myself. The Flashback Challenge seems like a great excuse to re-read ‘old friends’ and I’m really enthusiastic about it, so I’m planning to read 12 books again, one for each month of the year – and here they are.

Flashback Challenge books

As I’ve never participated in a book challenge before, I’m just presuming that the idea is you write a review in your blog. Anyway, that’s what I’ll be doing with these books, although not particularly in this order.

1. The Enchanted April – by Elizabeth von Arnim.
2. Lark Rise – Flora Thompson.
3. And Quiet Flows the Don- Mikhail Sholokhov.
4. The Fortunes of War – Olivia Manning.
5. Strong Poison – Dorothy L. Sayers.
6. The Railway Children – E. Nesbit.
7. The Golden Age – Gore Vidal
8. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee.
9. Scenes of Clerical Life – George Eliot
10. Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie.
11. Kidnapped – R.L. Stevenson.
12. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier.

I’m looking forward to it.