Fairly recently I bought a copy of Lost Empires by J.B. Priestley and when I realised it was published in 1965 I decided to read it for The 1965 Club which is hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.
Lost Empires is supposedly an account of Richard Herncastle’s life on the variety stage. It begins in 1913, Richard is a young aspiring watercolour artist, he’s the nephew of Nick Ollanton a very famous stage magician and when his Uncle Nick offers him a job as one of his assistants in his act Richard agrees to join his merry band.
They tour around Britain playing in music halls, most of them being called ‘The Empire’. Uncle Nick is a bit of a tartar and is particularly harsh with his female assistant Cissie who is also his ‘bit on the side’. But Cissie is lonely and interested in Nick, he’s besotted with Nancy who is one of the other turns on the music hall bill. Nancy isn’t interested in him though and it’s the much older Julie from yet another variety act who he ends up having a rather torrid liaison with. She’s part of the popular comedian Tommy Beamish’s act and also his squeeze on the side, so it’s a dangerous affair for both Richard and Julie. All of the men have been targeted by Nonie – yet another female on the variety bill. She’s one of those women who love to tease men by shoving her bits up against them whenever she can.
I particularly liked Doris who appears towards the end of the book. She’s one of those women who is permanently angry. “She was a devoted wife but only in a furious way, as if being married to Archie was the last straw.” Well – it made me laugh!
I’m not going to say anything else about the plot for fear of ruining it for anyone who might decide to read it. It’s ages since I read anything by Priestley and I have to say, I loved The Good Companions in the past and don’t know why it took me so long to read anything else by him. There’s great writing and some wonderful characters, especially the female ones and for me some laugh out loud moments. Although this book was published in 1965 it pointed out the problem that younger women had with older and more powerful men taking advantage of them – all very topical now.
Apparently this book was dramatised for Granada TV in 1986 starring Colin Firth as Richard Herncastle.
Participating in The 1965 Club encouraged me to read The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff which I’ve had in the house for at least a couple of years. I would have read it sooner if I had realised that the setting is mainly in the exact place that I grew up – albeit some 2000 years or so earlier than when I was stravaiging about the land around Dumbarton Rock or Theodosia as the Romans called it, and Are-Cluta which is an ancient name for Dumbarton although it was more widely known locally as Alclutha. There is a handy map and glossary in my 1967 reprint of the book.
The Romans are in control of most of Britain and Phaedrus is a young red haired gladiator hoping to win his freedom after spending seven years as a gladiator. He does gain his freedom but a drunken night of celebration leads him into big trouble and imprisonment again.
He’s confused when he’s unexpectedly sprung from prison by a group of strangers, they had spotted how similar in looks Phaedrus is to Midris, their missing king. Eventually they talk Phaedrus into taking the king’s place and to try to eject the usurperer Queen Liadhan from Are Cluta (Dumbarton). Phaedrus will have to make the rest of the tribe believe that he is really King Midris. The real king has been blinded by Liadhan to make sure that he can never be accepted as their king again and he’s earning a living as a leather worker in the south.
While travelling north of the Antonine Wall to Dumbarton Phaedrus works hard at learning the history of all of the tribe so that he won’t be discovered as a fake Midris, and eventually a brutal battle ensues.
As you would expect of Rosemary Sutcliff this book is beautifully written, she does take some liberties with the geography of the area but not many readers would realise that. I was particularly pleased that she included an unusual character in the shape of a young warrior who just happened to be in touch with his feminine side when it came to clothes and jewellery. He was a bit of a fashion icon but the inclusion of Conory seems to have riled up the fundamentalist religious types one of whom cut her Goodreads rating right down to one star!!! for what she kept calling ‘content’. Honestly there is nothing in the least bit sexual in this book. Some people just go around their lives scouring everything for something they can object to, and if it isn’t there then they make up something that will feed their homophobia. I suppose it makes them feel superior somehow.
But we all know better don’t we?!
I’ll give it four stars on Goodreads. If you want to know what Dumbarton Rock (Theodosius) looks like have a keek at some of the posts on this link here.
For a much more detailed review have a look at Helen’s @ She Reads Novels
I read this one for The 1965 Club.
Ages ago I decided to take part in The 1965 Club which is being hosted by Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, but I got mixed up with the dates and read a book a month too early, so if you are interested you can read my thoughts on what should have been my first read of the week The Looking-Glass War by John le Carre.
Previous books from 1965 that I’ve read are:
Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken
The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith
Ninth Life by Elizabeth Ferrars
Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart
I’ve just finished reading The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff and I’ll blog about that one tomorrow.