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Review: Original Letters from India, by Eliza Fay

Pages: 285
Original date of publication: 1817
My edition: 2010 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read: it’s an NYRB Classic
How I acquired my copy: Joseph Fox Bookshop, Philadelphia, January 2012

Eliza Fay was 23 when she accompanied her husband Anthony Fay, a lawyer, to India in 1779. Not much is known about her early life, but her editor, EM Forster, surmises that her father might have been a sailor. On her first journey out to India, she traveled through France and Egypt, and she and her husband were imprisoned when they arrived in Calcutta.

Due to Anthony Fay’s mismanagement of money and infidelity, Eliza Fay split from her husband a few years later, and set herself up briefly as a milliner. Over the next 30 years she was to travel to India a few more times, and each time she traveled, she kept a journal of her journey. It was a time when the British turned from mere merchants and traders in India to a major imperial power. Eliza Fay wasn’t of the wealthiest class, but she nonetheless wa…

Review: Aiding and Abetting, by Muriel Spark

Pages: 166
Original date of publication: 2001
My edition: 2001 (Anchor Books)
Why I decided to read: Muriel Spark Reading Week
How I acquired my copy: The Philadelphia Book Trader, February 2012

Aiding and Abetting is based on a true story, but embellished upon by Muriel Spark. Lord (“Lucky” due to his successes at the gambling tables) Lucan disappeared from England in 1974 after bludgeoning his children’s nanny, intending for it to be his wife. Officially declared dead in 1999, this novel is a “what if?” about what happened. The story revolves around a psychotherapist, Hildegard Wolfe, who has a sinister past. One day two patients walk into her office declaring that he is the real Lord Lucan. Which one is which?

As with many of Muriel Spark novels, nothing is what it seems on the surface. It seems at first to be a case of mistaken or hidden identity, but the story evolves into much more than that. This is a pretty bizarre story, filled with farcical coincidences. All of them were “aiders a…

Review: Territorial Rights, by Muriel Spark

Pages: 188
Original date of publication: 1979
My edition: 1979 (Granada)
Why I decided to read: Muriel Spark Reading Week
How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, February 2012

Set at the time of publication (late 1970s), Territorial Rights was written during the period that Spark lived in Italy. The novel contains all the classic Muriel Spark elements: strange characters, murder, blackmail, and a slightly bizarre, highly-charged atmosphere. It’s a novel about the complications that can occur with deception—because everyone in this book has something to hide. But the characters are almost archetypes, serving as vehicles for the larger story. It’s just as comical as some of her other books, and I’m really enjoying this novel. In this case, there’s a possible kidnapping and a 30-year-old mystery dating back to WWII.

Robert comes to the Pensione Sofia in order to escape a disastrous relationship he left back in England—but almost as soon as he arrives, he runs into his father, a retired headmaster …

Muriel Spark: bio

Undoubtedly someone else is going to have this idea and write a short biography of Muriel Spark for Muriel Spark Reading Week, but I thought I’d look up some information on her in order to get a sense of her background and her writing. And when I research something, I kind of go overboard! Prior to this week, I’ve read four of her books: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, A Far Cry From Kensington, The Girls of Slender Means, and Memento Mori. I’ve reviewed the last three on this blog and I’ve chosen to read Territorial Rights (for sure) for MSRW and possibly Aiding and Abetting.

Muriel Spark (nee Camberg) was born on February 1 1918 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and attended the James Gillespie’s High School for Girls, which later served as inspiration for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Spark married Sidney Oswald Spark in 1937 and moved with him to Rhodesia. Her son Robin was born in 1938 and during WWII, after learning about her husband’s mental instability, Spark left her him and her son in …

Territorial Rights: Notes

From the back cover:
Venice, with its majestic palazzos and its promise of sexualintrigue, is the setting for Muriel Spark’s glittering new novel. Robert arrives off-season at the Pensione Sofie to escape acomplicated affair and to simplify his life. But in Muriel Spark’s Venice,reality shifts and changes like the shimmering images reflected in Venetianwaters, And in the baffling maze of canals and winding streets, Robert is drawninto a mystery as intricate and ingenious as any Muriel Spark has devised.
Set at the time of publication (late 1970s), TerritorialRights was written during the period that Spark lived in Italy. The novelcontains all the classic Muriel Spark elements: strange characters, murder,blackmail, and a slightly bizarre, highly-charged atmosphere. It’s a novelabout the complications that can occur with deception—because everyone in thisbook has something to hide. But the characters are almost archetypes, servingas vehicles for the larger story. It’s just as comical as so…

Muriel Spark Reading Week, April 23-29

Well, Muriel Spark Reading Week (hosted by Simon and Harriet) is here--it feels like it just crept up on us! I have three possibilities: Territorial Rights, which is one of her lesser-known books but set in Venice (!); Aiding and Abetting, which I found in a used bookstore around the corner from my apartment; and Loitering With Intent, which also looks interesting. I don't think I'll read all three, but I like having options! I've actually cheated a bit and gotten a head start with Territorial Rights. First sentence:
The bureau clerk was telephoning the the Pensione Sofia while Robert Leaver watched the water-traffic at the ferry and the off-season visitors arriving in Venice.
If you're participating this week, what are you reading?

Review: Together and Apart, by Margaret Kennedy

Pages: 342
Original date of publication: 1936
My edition: 1981 (Dial/Virago)
Why I decided to read: it’s on the VMC list
How I acquired my copy: the Book Trader, Philadelphia, December 2010

Together and Apart is the story of a marriage—or rather, the breakup of a marriage. Betsy Canning decides to get a divorce from her husband Alec, a famous lyricist. Although she had tired of married life long before, she has all the more reason for divorce when Alec runs off with a much younger women. Thus begins the breakup of a family, as their three teenage children have to choose sides.

Many of Margaret Kennedy’s novels were placed in a historical setting (such as Troy Chimneys) or were timeless (The Constant Nymph). This novel is clearly rooted in the 1930s, when to get a divorce was to put yourself in disgrace. Of the novels I’ve read my Margaret Kennedy, this novel seems much more authentic. The divorce seems to have the greatest impact on the Canning children: Eliza, who’s making the transition f…

Review: Rule Britannia, by Daphne du Maurier

Pages: 322
Original date of publication: 1972
My edition: 2004 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: I am a huge fan of Daphne Du Maurier
How I acquired my copy: The Strand NYC, July 2011

I’ve found in my experience that you can never go completely wrong with any of Daphne du Maurier’s novels—even this one, which isn’t exactly up my alley. I’m used to her books being historical fiction, suspense, or nonfiction, so I didn’t know how I would like this somewhat-futuristic one.

The novel is set on the eve of an ominous US/UK “alliance” in which American marine personnel are stationed in and around a small Cornish town. Emma is a young woman who lives with her grandmother, a famous actress who has a habit of adopting stray children. This is the story of Emma and her family, and how a Cornish town rebels against the US/UK alliance.

This book is similar to some of her other books and stories; in particular, the atmosphere of this novel reminds me a lot of the short story “The Birds.” Although the America…

Review: The Children Who Lived in a Barn, by Eleanor Graham

Pages: 224
Original date of publication: 1938
My edition: 2008 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read: Persephone catalogue
How I acquired my copy: Persephone shop, September 2011

The Children Who Lived in a Barn is a children’s novel, set in an English village. When Mr. and Mrs. Dunnet are called away to be with a sick relative, they leave their five children (Susan, Bob, Joseph and Samuel the twins—called Jumbo and Sambo—and Alice) at home to manage by themselves. When the children are evicted, they move into a local barn, which they quickly make into a cozy home.
It’s a charming story. Of course, the logical side of my brain keeps poking holes in the story line—there’s no way in real life that these children, the oldest of whom is 14, would ever be allowed to stay at home by themselves or live in a barn. But the fantasy is part of the charm of this novel, and I’m sure that if I’d read this growing up, I would have enjoyed it much more. The novel kid of reminds me of the Bobbsey twins, mixed…

Review: Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner

Pages: 184
Original date of publication: 1984
My edition: 1986 (Dutton)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: The Strand, NYC, July 2011

When Edith Hope, a romance novelist, retreats to the Hotel du Lac in Switzerland, she goes there at the request of her friends. An "event" in her near past has led her friends to be concerned for her mental health. The story revolves around the people she meets at the hotel: a wealthy jetsetter and her grown daughter; an aristocratic beauty; and a gentleman with whom she quickly becomes friends.

It’s late August and the offseason at the Hotel du Lac, and everything seems to wilt in the heat, even the waiters in the empty salon. There’s an air of sadness pervading this novel, not helped much by the fact that Edith herself is a rather sad character. She’s introverted, morose, and rather pessimistic. Edith comes across strongly as a character, although I could identify with her a little bit. Edith certainly lives in her head a lot, so it wa…

Review: The Vet's Daughter, by Barbara Comyns

Pages: 133
Original date of publication: 1959
My edition: 2003 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: The Strand, NYC, July 2011

Barbara Comyns’s novels are hard to explain. They’re very dark and macabre; she writes about very tough subjects with a very detached eye, unemotionally writing about people and the things that happen to them.

The Vet’s Daughter is one of them. The story is told from the point of view of Alice Rowlands, who lives in a London suburb with her abusive father and sick mother. When her mother dies, her father takes up with a bad woman, who attempts to lead Alice down the wrong track, so to speak. Eventually, Alice discovers that she has a secret talent, which eventually leads to what might be her salvation.

As I’ve said, Barbara Comyns’s novels are very unemotional, despite the fact that she writes about tough subjects. What I liked about Alice’s character is that she’s so detached from all the horrible things that happen to her. I think a weaker…