The Century’s Daughter aka Liza’s England by Pat Barker

The Century's Daughter cover

The Century’s Daughter by Pat Barker was published by Virago in 1986. The title seems to have been changed to Liza’s England later on and it is the third book that Barker wrote, not that it reads like an early book, it’s very well written.

Liza was born at the turn of the 20th century, in fact just as the new year was born. The setting is northern England, the Sunderland/Newcastle area I believe. In the first chapter Stephen visits Liza in her home. Her house is due to be demolished but Liza refuses to move and Stephen is a social worker tasked with persuading her to move elsewhere so that the whole area can be cleared. But Stephen quickly realises that he is really on Liza’s side. He loves hearing about her long life which has been hard, her family is scarred by the wars, but before that Liza was damaged by her mother Louise who is definitely not of the apple pie making variety.

The chapters mainly flip from Liza’s story to Stephen’s life as he is having a tough time in other areas of his work. Running a youth club for the youngsters of the disadvantaged area is turning into a nightmare, he just can’t cope and at the same time he’s having to deal with the imminent death of his terminally ill father. He hasn’t been close to his parents, his education and homosexuality seem to have thrown up insurmountable barriers between them.

There’s a lot going on in this book which features the 1930s Depression and the grim early 1980s when there were no jobs for so many young people in the UK and consequently many had no hopes for their future.

That makes it sound like the book will be a depressing read but it really isn’t, although it is sad at times I enjoyed the relationship between Liza and Stephen.

The book begins –

‘No point being eighty, is there?’ said Liza. ‘If you can’t be a bit outrageous?’

And certainly she looked it, Stephen thought, with her scarlet headsquare tilted crazily over one eye, giving her the look of a senile pirate.

She even has a parrot.

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

I’m continuing with Judith at Reader in the Wilderness‘ meme Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times which I’m really enjoying, particularly because I actually finished reading one of the books that I wrote about last Friday. This might be a great way for me to concentrate on reading my own books. Mind you the fact that all of the libraries are shut has helped too! I’ll be sharing my thoughts on Flowers in the Grass by Monica Dickens soon.

So this time around I’m again featuring just three books that have languished on various bookshelves of mine.

Dolittle

Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary is a book for children written by Hugh Lofting, it’s quite a big series, written for children but suitable for all ages. The author illustrated his own books.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk belongs to Jack, Pamuk is one of his favourite authors but I’ve never read any of his books. I think it’s about time that I did.

The Century's Daughter

The Century’s Daughter by Pat Barker is one that I bought fairly recently. I’ve read a few books by Barker and really liked them, this one seems quite different though and it’s a Virago publication.

Aberdeen book purchases – part 2

Yet More Books

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.
Rogue Herries
Judith Paris
The Fortress
Vanessa

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?

Library Booksale Haul

Last Saturday there was another library booksale and although I’ve bought a lot of books recently I just couldn’t ignore the sale, as Jack said – you never know what you might miss if you don’t go.

Anyway, I ended up buying:

Double Vision by Pat Barker
Pink Sugar by O.Douglas
Rifling Through My Drawers by Clarissa Dickson Wright
A History of Britain by Simon Schama

I’ve already read Pink Sugar but as I had borrowed it from the library I thought it would be nice to own a copy, I’d like to have a complete set of O. Douglas books. Yes, they’re twee, in fact in this book the author is really defending herself from that criticism. Her books are couthie and looking at them from this standpoint, nearly 90 years after it was first published, it is a bit of social history of the times.

I enjoyed Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy about the First World War. Double Vision still has a war theme but it’s Afghanistan this time, the modern war. I’m not sure about this one but at 50p it’s hardly a tragedy if it ends up in a charity shop.

I enjoyed the Two Fat Ladies when they were jaunting about the place in their motor-bike and sidecar, and I couldn’t resist Clarissa Dickson Wright’s book Rifling through my Drawers – what a great title!

The Simon Schama, History of Britain from 3000BC – AD 1603 book was a replay of the moment when I spotted the David Dimbleby book at the last sale. About 15 minutes into the sale I spotted it and couldn’t believe that nobody had snaffled it – so I did. I enjoyed watching the BBC series of the book.

So, not a bad haul really, considering I shouldn’t have been buying anything at all.

Life Class by Pat Barker

Life Class was published in 2007. It is set in the spring of 1914 and the characters are art students at the Slade School of Art in London.

Paul Tarrant has been left a small legacy by his grandmother and he is using the money to finance his art studies, although things aren’t going well for him and he is thinking about leaving the college before his first year is up. He doesn’t think he is progressing with his art and seems to feel that he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the students because of his northern background. He forms a relationship with Teresa, an artist’s model and fellow northerner.

I felt that this part of the book was the least successful bit, and it annoyed me that Barker couldn’t make up her mind whether the character of Elinor had cropped hair, bell shaped hair or it could be tied back with a ribbon.

At the outbreak of war, Paul and Kit, an ex Slade student and up and coming artist, decide to do their bit, hoping to be ambulance drivers in Ypres but starting out as hospital orderlies, although both continue to paint. I think this is the most interesting part of the book. It seems that Barker is most comfortable with the subject of the war.

However, she still made annoying small mistakes. For instance, whilst Paul is back in London and recovering from a leg wound which has left him with a stiff knee, he meets up with Elinor. When they reach her rooms, she asks him to light the fire, which he does and then sits back on his heels. Now I don’t know how it is possible to sit on your heels without bending both of your knees. But a couple of paragraphs later he is saying that he can’t bend his knee.

I know it’s nit-picking and probably nobody else bothers about that sort of thing.

Anyway, apart from that I did quite enjoy the book although it isn’t one which I would read again. If you like books which are set in The Great War you will probably enjoy this one.

The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

The Ghost Road was first published in 1995 and it won the Booker prize that year. It is the last book of the Regeneration trilogy.

In it Billy Prior is hoping to be pronounced fit enough to go back to the fighting in France. Although he has been offered a safe job by Charles Manning at the Ministry of Munitions in London he turns it down. Despite having such bad asthma that he is nicknamed the canary by his men, because his chest was affected by the least whiff of poison gas, he is passed fit for the front. He is attached to the 2nd Manchester Regiment along with Wilfred Owen.

Although Billy’s enthusiasm for sex is so rampant that he seems to look for opportunities anywhere and with anyone, he has got engaged to Sarah.

In this book we find out more about Dr. Rivers’s experiences studying tribespeople in Melanesia, before he got the job of piecing shell-shocked soldiers’ minds together again.

I loved the first book Regeneration, the second one The Eye in the Door somehow didn’t quite hit the same mark for me. However with The Ghost Road and the return to the madness of the war, Barker is on terrific form and if you are interested in World War 1 her books are essential reading.

Library Book Sale

There was another mad withdrawn library book sale at the Adam Smith Theatre today. Surely they will have to re-think the book buying policy soon. There are so many cuts going on in other council departments, especially education. Anyway, I shouldn’t really complain as I bought another 5 fiction books plus a pasta cookery book.

I’ve only read 2 of the books that I bought in last month’s sale though, so the TBR pile is growing at an alarming rate.

This month, I couldn’t say no to:

Not the End of the World – Kate Atkinson
The Shipping News – Annie Proulx
Life Class – Pat Barker
April Lady – Georgette Heyer
The Popular Girl – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

No doubt I’ll get around to reading them at some point. At the moment I’m reading Vanity Fair, it’s a very old copy from the second-hand book shop. Unfortunately I didn’t realise how long it is when I started it. It dawned on me as I was turning the pages that they are nearly bible thin and there are 883 pages of them.

I could be some time.

The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker

The Eye in the Door is the second book of The Regeneration Trilogy, and it was the winner of the 1993 Guardian Prize for Fiction. The action has moved from Scotland to England and the storyline centres around Billy Prior, who had been one of Dr. Rivers’s patients at Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh. Billy is still suffering from black-outs which are happening more and more frequently and are lasting for longer. He has no idea what he is doing during his ‘lost’ hours.

It is now 1918 and Billy (or Prior as Dr. Rivers had addressed him) is now out of the hospital and is working for Intelligence. The work involves tracking down deserters so they can be convicted and jailed.

As it is set in 1918 I suppose that class has to come into it and Billy Prior is that very unusual thing – a working class officer. Dr. Rivers had called the rest of his officer patients by their first names.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Regeneration, I don’t know if it is just because the first book in the trilogy had a lot about Sassoon, Owen and war poetry in it, which I have always been interested in. Sassoon does crop up again towards the end of the book, having been shot in the head by his own NCO who had mistaken him for a German.

Certainly, Pat Barker has again incorporated real events such as Alice Wheeldon’s trial into the story, but a large amount of the book is about Billy Prior’s bisexuality and I don’t find that very interesting. So, it was illegal, but it wasn’t anything new.

Anyway, I’ll be reading the last part of the trilogy The Ghost Road soon.

Regeneration by Pat Barker

This book was first published in 1991 and I’ve been meaning to read it since then. I’m glad that I got around to it at last as I really enjoyed it although it is quite harrowing in parts.

It is set mainly in Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland in 1917. It seems that just about every book I have picked up recently has a local flavour to it, sometimes to my surprise.

Army psychiatrist William Rivers has the job of treating shell-shocked soldiers and making them fit enough to be sent back to the front. We hear the stories of several of the patients as they are treated but the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen are the most prominent characters.

By 1917 Sassoon had had enough of the war and the stupidity of the politicians and generals. He wrote A Soldier’s Declaration which was going to be read out in the House of Commons which would have meant that it would have ended up in the newspapers which was just what the authorities didn’t want.

Sassoon is packed off to the hospital so that the authorities can say that he has suffered a severe mental breakdown. As the train is about to leave the station the guard blows the whistle which reminds Sassoon of the whistle which was blown in the trenches signalling the beginning of an advance towards the enemy. It had never struck me how horrific such a common-place sound must have been for soldiers at that time.

The pacifists are pressurising him to join forces with them but Sassoon still feels a great loyalty to his men still at the front.

If you are at all interested in World War 1 then you will enjoy reading this book even if you have already read Sassoon’s own book Memoirs of an Infantry Officer.

Regeneration has been made into a film which was nominated for a BAFTA award. For some reason they didn’t use the real Craiglockhart in the film, but chose to use Overtoun House which is set in the hills near Dumbarton.

Overtoun

As you can see it is in the Scottish baronial style, which I don’t find at all scary to look at but that might be because I’ve known this house since I was a wee girl, when any family walks up the hills usually took us in that direction.

The real Craiglockhart is now part of Napier University in Edinburgh and I think it must have looked a lot more forbidding and daunting to any poor nerve-racked soldiers.