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Showing posts from September, 2012

Review: The Customs of the Country, by Edith Wharton

Pages: 413 Original date of publication: 1913 My edition: 2010 (Vintage classics) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, July 2012
I read The Customs of the Country before I learned that Edith Wharton is currently the subject of an article in this month's issue of Vogue magazine, entitled “The Customs of the Country.” I just about died. How did I not know about this before???? Supermodel Natalia Vodianova plays Edith Wharton, and several famous actors and authors play various people in her life, including Jeffrey Eugenides as Henry James (gasp! A win-win combination in my book, pun intended). It looks as though Edith Wharton is having a bit of a revival at the moment; a cache of her letters has been published recently, in conjunction with the fact that this year is the 150th anniversary of her birth. In addition, Vintage Classics have reprinted several of her novels, including this one, Ethan Frome,The House of Mirth, and The Age of Innocence, all with simple …

Review: The Flight of the Falcon, by Daphne du Maurier

Pages: 302 Original date of publication: 1965 My edition: 2009 (Virago) Why I decided to read: All Virago/All August How I acquired my copy: Watersone’s, Piccadilly, London, September 2011
The Flight of the Falcon is one of Daphne du Maurier’s later suspense novels. Published just after The Glass-Blowers (1963) and before The House on the Strand (1969), The Flight of the Falcon is set in Rome and the town of Ruffano, Italy. Armino Fabbio is a tour guide, or courier, shepherding tourists from England and America (the Beef and Barbarians) throughout the Italian countryside.
One evening, he gives 10,000 lire to an old beggar woman in the street, who he later finds out was a) murdered and b) was his old childhood nurse. Deciding to investigate, Armino goes to his childhood hometown, Ruffano, where the town’s university has blossomed. Taking a job as a library assistant, Armino uncovers a secret relating to his own past. All of this is linked to an event, or mystery, that happened in Ruffano ov…

Review: The Lost Traveller, by Antonia White

Pages: 314 Original date of publication: 1950 My edition: 1979 (Virago) Why I decided to read: For All Virago/All August How I acquired my copy: April 2012, from an LT member
The Lost Traveller is a continuation of the story that was told in Frost in May; although the names have changed (“Nanda” is now “Clara”), the characters are essentially the same. When her grandfather passes away, Clara is sent home from her convent school. The reader watches her grow into adulthood, strongly influenced by her Catholic parents, while the first world war rages. The Lost Traveller is the first of a proper trilogy that continues with The Sugar House and Beyond the Glass.
Clara has a rather intense relationship with her parents, particularly her father, and a lot of the novel focuses on how she struggles with reconciling her childhood with her future, as uncertain as it is. As with Antonia White’s other novels, the theme and story are based on personal experience; White was heavily influenced by her Catho…

Review: Mary O'Grady, by Mary Lavin

Pages: 391 Original date of publication: 1950 My edition: 1986 (Virago) Why I decided to read: AV/AA How I acquired my copy: bookshop near work, August 2011
Mary O’Grady is the story of one woman and her family during roughly the first half of the 20th century. The novel opens with her marriage to Tom and move to Dublin from her native Tullamore, and the birth of Mary’s 5 children—Patrick, Ellie, Angie, Larry, and Rosie.
I found it kind of hard to like the main character sometimes. She’s so concerned with her children that there’s very little introspection. She doesn’t have time to think because she’s so busy thinking about other people; so our perception of Mary is colored by her children’s opinions of her. Because of her stifling, it’s hard for her children to gain independence—which is exactly why they flee from her—Patrick to America, Larry to the priesthood, etc. So this is mostly a domestic novel; in fact, with the exception of one or two scenes that take place outdoors, most of the a…

Review: Elizabeth and her German Garden, by Elizabeth von Arnim

Pages: 207 Original date of publication: 1898 My edition: 1985 (Virago) Why I decided to read: AV/AA How I acquired my copy: September 2011, London
I’ve had Elizabeth and Her German Garden on Mount TBR since last September, and it came to my attention recently while watching the second season of Downton Abbey, when two characters talk about the book briefly in passing. The novel is a kind of diary that our heroine keeps in order to record her thoughts about motherhood, marriage, life—and, of course, her garden, in which she spends most of her time in order to get away from the stresses of daily life. Her husband, the Man of Wrath, doesn’t understand it, but Elizabeth’s situation will probably resonate with a lot of fellow introverts—she likes having the space in order to recharge.
Yes, there’s a fair amount in the book about gardening. But you don’t have to be a gardener necessarily in order to enjoy the book (in fact, in an early review, a reviewer was disappointed that there were no gard…

Review: Luminous Isle, by Eliot Bliss

Pages: 372 Original date of publication: 1934 My edition: 1984 (Virago) Why I decided to read: AV/AA How I acquired my copy: September 2011, London
Luminous Isle takes place in Jamaica in the 1920s, where Emmeline Hibbert has been raised. She returns to Jamaica after years spent in England and is immediately thrust back into the colonial life: parties, tennis, and polo matches. But Em’s real interest and focus lie in the Island itself.
Eliot Bliss’s writing style is incredibly philosophic; Em is an extremely introspective character, as well as introverted, so we get snippets of her thoughts that go somewhat like this:
People who felt dull when they were alone could not really be people; they were parts of ideas rushing about the world looking for the other parts--that was what must have been meant by 'looking for your complement'--they didn't seem to think it was unflattering to be considered unrelated pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. P 76
Each life is a private world; an experience …

Review: Bobbin Up, by Dorothy Hewett

Pages: 204 Original date of publication: 1959 My edition: 1987 (Virago) Why I decided to read: All Virago/All August How I acquired my copy: Philadelphia Book Trader, August 2010
Set in Sydney, Australia, in the late 1950s, Bobbin Up is actually a collection of vignettes about the young women who work in the Jumbuck spinning mills. They are, as the cliché goes, overworked and underpaid, and each “chapter” focuses on the story of a different girl, among them a pregnant teenager and a Communist idealist. The title’s double entendre is cunning—the bobbins of spinning, as well as the idealistic acting of “bobbing up” out of one’s own circumstances, to do something about an unfavorable situation (hence the title of the pamphlet that’s passed around at the mill).
There is a kind of idealism to the tone of the book, as well as an interest in the “human condition.” The author wrote the preface for the Virago edition of the book, in which she is a little bit embarrassed by her naiveté at the time of…

Review: My Brilliant Career, by Miles Franklin

Pages: 232 Original date of publication: 1901 My edition: 1981 Why I decided to read: All Virago/All August How I acquired my copy: Amazon UK June 2012
My Brilliant Career was written when Miles Franklin was only 16, and it shows all the imperfections of youth. Based on Franklin’s experiences, the novel is the story of Sybylla Melvyn, a young girl who proves to be too much for her parents to handle, is sent to her grandmother’s in the Australian bushland, where she quickly becomes enamored of that way of life—and of pursuing a career as a writer.
Sybylla is headstrong and opinionated, but as with youth she is naive and defiant. I liked her at first for being different from the usual housewife aspirant, and for wanting something more from life than the obvious. Our heroine is, nonetheless, a product of her environment, and she is, accordingly, naïve. But the more I read, the less I really liked Syblla. As I’ve said the book is autobiographical, so I don’t think that Miles Franklin had much …