23 August 2013

Clever title

Clever introduction.

Katherine Wentworth by D.E. Stevenson
I continue my exploration of Stevenson with yet another fabulous, chaste, Scottish romance, this one from 1964. (If not for the presence of baby Scots one might think all romances in Scotland are chaste.) Like many a Stevenson novel we find:

  • a recently widowed, middle class, heroine without much money
  • a cottage in the countryside
  • children (in this case a teenage stepson and two younger bairns of her own)
  • loyal, salt of the earth, servants
  • an unexpected inheritance (this time for the stepson)
  • a knight in shining armor who is present from early pages but doesn't sweep the heroine off her feet until she has managed to stand up on them  (a little proto-feminisim?)
And like all Stevenson novels, I loved it. As one reviewer says on Goodreads: "Old timey comfort read".

No Highway by Nevil Shute
This summer I have developed a mini-pattern where I plug in fun, comfort reads in between weightier tomes. As I have mentioned before, Nevil Shute is a D.E. Stevenson for boys (or engineers). One look at the dramatis personae for this 1948 novel will give you a good indication of the fabulously old fashioned timbre of Shute's work.

  • Theodore Honey
  • Dr. Dennis Scott
  • Marjorie Corder
  • Monica Teasdale
  • Captain Samuelson
  • Elspeth Honey
  • Shirley Scott
Of course the men all call each other by their last names which makes it extra fun when one of Theodore's colleagues says something like "Pass me that slide rule, Honey".

Like all Nevil Shute novels, Honey and Scott solve an important, potentially life threatening, problem using brains, logic, and more than a little moxie. Sandwiches are cut, planes are flown, and women are helpful. And since this is a Shute, you can rest assured that the hero and the prettiest of the helpful women will fall in love.

Can't go wrong. Loved it.

Friend of the Rich (Mid-Victorian) by E.F. Benson
This is the first non-Lucia Benson I have ever read. It is a shortish, Pygmalion sort of affair with a heroine who covers her bills by befriending the nouveau riche and helping them enter old money, aristocratic circles. She gets kickbacks for referring her friends/clients to antiques and art dealers and gets lots and lots of free meals. In this case (perhaps in every case?) the friends/clients, now established, turn on their creator and cast her aside.  An amusing, but not necessarily funny, enjoyable read. Makes me excited to dip into all those Bensons I bought last week. Looking for a publishing date (1937) I discovered that this is part of a four part series Benson wrote called Old London. I now need to go find Portrait of an English Nobleman (Georgian), Janet (Victorian), and The Unwanted (Edwardian). Given how brilliant this one is, I am dying to see how Benson describes these three other Londoners.

The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald
Mystery and mayhem surrounding a King Tut-like exhibit at a British Museum-like museum. Like all Fitzgerald this is a short, taut, novel that isn't as quick to read as you might expect. For someone who doesn't go in much for mysteries this one really hit the spot.

How It All Began by Penelope Lively
My other favorite literary Penelope. (If I didn't specify "literary" I would have to add Penelope Keith.) A sort of "Sliding Doors", well no, scratch that. There is no alternate reality in this one. More like a "Butterfly Effect" or whatever that M. Knight Shamalama Dingdong film is called. Except without the in-utero suicide.  Okay it isn't much like that either.  What does happen is that an old woman being mugged has a ripple effect on the lives of those around her and those around them, etc. Her daughter, her daughter's employer, her daughter's employer's niece, her daughter's employer's niece's lover, her daughter's employer's niece's lover's wife. You get the picture. And like most Livelys it is interesting, and well written and enjoyable to read.

Clark Gifford's Body by Kenneth Fearing
I loved Kenneth Fearing's book The Big Clock. I didn't love Clark Gifford's Body. It was kind of interesting and I liked the first 25 pages or so, but ultimately I just found it tedious. The book jumps back and forth into the past and future, takes place in made-up, nameless countries, and follows the political ramifications of an unnamed, made-up war. For me it just became a jumble of circumstances that I couldn't or didn't want to follow.

The Thinking Reed by Rebecca West
Ugh. I might have enjoyed this if I was "stranded" in a remote cottage somewhere near the Mediterranean without a car, TV, or the Internet. This is a similar feeling I got from the recently read Year Before Last by Kay Boyle but I liked that one much better. As I mentioned last week, I am one novel away from giving up on Rebecca West.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
I have had this on my shelf for ages but only picked it up now to honor Simon Savidge's Gran who recently passed away. She was a wonderful presence on his blog and she had a love of Graham Greene.

So far I have read four or five Greenes and I have yet to really figure him out. I enjoyed Our Man in Havana years ago as a kind of funny satire of cold war espionage and government incompetence. Oddly, although I don't remember one thing about it, I gave The Heart of the Matter a 9 out 10.  I loved Travels With My Aunt, but I think this may be one of the least characteristic of his novels.

After reading The End of the Affair (1951) I feel like I still don't know who Greene is, but I really liked it, perhaps even loved it.  Set just after WWII, the novel is said to be somewhat autobiographical. Maurice Bendrix bumps into Henry, the husband of his former mistress Sarah. Over a drink in the pub Henry confesses that he is thinking of hiring a private detective to find out if Sarah is cheating on him. When he discards the idea as dishonorable, or perhaps because he doesn't want to know the answer, Maurice, who is consumed with jealousy over Sarah, decides to hire the private detective anyway.

At first Maurice gets information from the detective that supports the notion that she is having another affair. In a scene that is so cruel and pointless, Maurice presents the information to Henry who doesn't want to know about it. At this point I really began to hate Maurice. He was just being a dick. Not long after this, the detective gets his hands on Sarah's journal for the period that covers her time with Maurice. Reading Sarah's journal Maurice discovers that she is still in love with him. He tries to get back together with her but by this time she is in the throes of converting to Catholicism.

None of this does justice to the superbly written exegesis that Greene develops on love, jealousy, guilt, atonement, faith, and the existence of God. A fine book.

After Claude by Iris Owens
Published in 1973, After Claude is still a little shocking. Bitchy, funny, off-balance, and a little dark. Harriet goes back to New York after five years living in Paris. She crashes with one friend until that friend boots her out. Lives for another six months with Claude, the frenchman who rescues her from the  friend who just kicked her out. Then she ends up at the Chelsea Hotel where she hooks up with some sort of sex-guru cult figure. Much in the book is hilarious. But you have to be ready for more than a few jarring moments.

I think a summary of the author's own background that I found on Tony's Book World kind of sums up the feel (minus the explicit pornographic writing) of After Claude.
Iris Owens had an interesting background.  After graduating from Barnard, she went to Paris with her heroin-addict boyfriend and became a writer of erotica for Olympia Press.  Using the pen name Harriet Daimler, she specialized in rape fantasies.  The pornography she wrote for Olympia Press is still available at Amazon with such titles as “Darling”,  “Innocence”,  and “The Woman Thing”.  She had such a brutal caustic wit, she was the only writer that Olympia Press, specialists in this kind of material, told to “tone it down”. 



  1. I think I've got my Penelopes mixed up. Hmmm. I should make a list. (BTW 'Clever title' - genius.)

  2. I really enjoy the "snippets " style of your book reviews. I get to learn what these books are about and don't get bored wading through a review that is much, much too long. Wonder if I have any of these books on my TBR shelves.

  3. I adored End of the Affair. The more I thought about it, the more I found in it two think about. Layers on layers on layers in that book.

  4. The only Stevenson I've read is Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, which I enjoyed - you've got me on the lookout for more. I've seen Shute's name somewhere else recently, but had no idea what he wrote - another one I'm adding to the list. (I also love the little blurb format that you're doing, btw.) Some Bensons on the TBR, but will add the Fitzgerald title to the list. You've confirmed my lack of desire to try any more Rebecca West - life is too short.
    As for Greene, years ago I read his Orient Express - couldn't tell you one thing about it. I vaguely remember a feeling that it had gone over my head. That said, I have The Heart of the Matter before me as my weekend reading in honor of Granny Savidge. You successfully removed Iris Owens from any future list - I just don't like "dark." But, that's okay - thanks to you, the list is long enough as it is!
    Happy weekend to you, and thank you for taking the time to share your blurbs with us.
    (Clever closing here.) :)

  5. Pleased to hear a great review for that EFB, encourages me to dip more into my shelf of his novels...

    And let's not forget Penelope Wilton.

  6. Vicki: Sometimes I accidentally say one when I mean the other, but I have never gotten their books mixed up.

    Pam: I think you make a very good point. I kept thinking I was being lame by not writing full reviews, but given the number of more serious reviewers out there, there probably isn't room for one more.

    Teresa: You are so right.

    Susan: Well, if you didn't mind dark I might try to twist your arm on Iris Owens. But, as you say, life is too short.

    Simon: And he wrote a lot of them too.

  7. Dear Thomas, Your wonderful review on Penelope Lively's novel intrigued me.

    I haven't read Penelope Lively's novels for such a long time (the last two books I remember reading by her are "City of the mind" and "Passing On"). "Moon Tiger" is still one of my favourites. Her characters are whimsical, lonely and melancholy. She can write about sadness in a playful way whil underneath there is a sophistication, subtlety and poignancy. I can recall a scene in a story, "Moon Tiger" where a protagonist, as a young girl, asked her school teacher, "what does history means?" The teacher gave the most sardonic reply by saying along the line of "Who wants to know what history means? Now, go back to memorise the dates I give you!"

    Best wishes, ASD

  8. ASD: I definitely count Lively as one of my favorites. I still have a few I haven't read.

  9. Someone just sent me a different Penelope Lively for a book swap. Kismet, perhaps? I think I read The Photograph a few years ago and was underwhelmed. I'll give her another try.


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