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Review: Howards End is On the Landing, by Susan Hill

Pages: 234

Original date of publication: 2009

My edition: 2009 (Profile Books)

Why I decided to read: it was recommended to me through Amazon UK

How I acquired my copy: Amazon

Howards End is on the Landing is a short collection of essays in which Susan Hill, author of The Woman in Black, went on a search through her house to find a book—and found hundreds that she hadn’t read, and dozens more that she had forgotten she owned but wanted to return to. She then resolved to read more books from her ever-growing collection, making a vow to not buy any more books (more power to her!) There were a couple of caveats: she would still accept books from publishers, for example.

The essays in this book aren’t organized in any particular way, so Hill’s discourses tend to be a bit random at times; but her writing style is superb, and she writes well about the books she loves and doesn’t love. Be warned, however, that there’s a fair amount of literary name-dropping (everything from “EM Forster once dropped a book on my foot when I was a student at King’s College” to various authors she’s been acquainted with over hr literary career), which sort of put me off after a while.

There are also a number of inconsistencies (her husband is a Shakespearean scholar, yet Hill dismisses other Elizabethan poets as not worthy of her time because people have never heard of them; she claims she’ll never read a Richard and Judy selection, so why does she keep buying them?). Hill tends to dismiss certain types of books (fantasy, historical fiction) and Australian and Candian authors as not worthy of her time, and her tastes tend to run towards 20th century fiction for the most part. She claims that Jane Austen isn’t her cup of tea (different strokes for different folks, I guess) and tends to promote authors that you might not have heard of—which is good in a way, as she’s given me a number of new-to-me authors to track down; and she’s also inspired me to read more from my TBR pile (she mentions FM Mayor’s the Rector’s Daughter, which has been on my TBR list for a while, and I’ve had Dorothy Sayers’s The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club on my bookshelves for a long time as well).

I also wish that Hill had given us a full list of the books she read during her year—and that she’d read more from her unread pile (it’s fine to revisit the books you’ve always loved, I do that sometimes, but surely there should also be an effort to broaden your horizons, so to speak?). Hill does give a list of the forty books she’d take with her to a desert island—the Bible, for example, or Wuthering Heights. I also wish there had been an index of the books mentioned in this one, as she mentions perhaps hundreds, either in depth or in passing. Despite my reservations about this book, I did enjoy parts of it. It's perhaps just not the best book about books there is to be had.


Clare said…
I hate namedropping for the sake of namedropping in memoirs and the like- it can get pretentious unless there's honestly a good story there.
The one book I have read by Susan Hill is The Mist In The Mirror, which left me so unsatisfied that when the discussions broke out over her Mrs. de Winter and I found out about her revisionist take on Rebecca, I dropped her entirely. Had just read Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and was tired of authors who happily take other authors' characters and change them for their own ends. Still, the title of this non-fiction offering caught my eye since I love Howard's End.

I really appreciate your review as it brought me back to my senses. Dismissing the literary contributions of entire countries? Not even Wuthering Heights as a Desert Island choice can make me swallow that.
Mystica said…
I have read only one Susan Hill and I felt very let down after all the hype!
Susan said…
Well, I love Woman in Black - great ghost story, and am reading her Simon Serrailler series which are really good mysteries. SO I was looking for this book about her own reading habits. Being Canadian, I'm not too pleased that we're dismissed out of hand like that! We might be a British ex-colony, but we still have some good writers! Also I happen to like Elizabethan poets....but, I also think, we expect our writers to be welcoming and to not be idiosyncratic, and I still want to read Howard's End is on the Landing. Thanks for a really interesting review.

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