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An English girl living in Penn's Woods. I live in an old Dutch style colonial house, with my husband Mr Bit Brit, our son Rob, and our two cats Tinkerbell and Tuppence. E-Mail:

Friday, December 31, 2010

A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines

This book was first published in 1993 and is again part of the Boy's school reading.

Set in the sugar plantation area of Louisiana, around 1940s.  It's about the last days of Jefferson a young black man convicted of a murder he did not commit and the growing relationship with Grant Wiggins a local black school teacher.

During the trial Jefferson's defense lawyer portrays Jefferson as sub-human, no better than a hog.

"Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this."

Jefferson's godmother who raised him goes to visit Wiggins and says:

"I don't want them to kill no hog,"  she explains, " I want a man to go to that chair on his own two feet."

At first Grant doesn't want to do this, but Tante Lou, who he lives with is close friends with Emma Glenn and firmly persuades him to take this on.

He has to humiliatingly beseech the sheriffs cousin, as does Emma Glenn who has worked for the family all her life, stubbornly states what she wants and that she is owed this.

I always think of tobacco plantations when I think of the South, but Ernest Gaines grew up in the sugar plantation area of Louisiana and this is where several of his books are set.  Drawing on his childhood experience growing up there.  His books are powerful and moving.  Well worth reading, you truly breath the humid air,  feel the holding onto the tiny shred of pride that is left to them.

Several of his books have been made into films and are well worth watching.


False Dawn, by Edith Wharton

An interesting read, but it will be the last of Edith Wharton's books that I will read for a while.  This reading too was from an original book, from my library, copyright 1923.

This was possibly the only book of hers that I had a small glimpse of where it was heading, not completely.

Halston Raycie a millionaire and head of the family, lives on Long Island Sound.  There is a wife and three children, two girls Sarah Anne and Mary Adeline, fresher replicas of the lymphatic Mrs. Raycie. and a boy Lewis.

The boy Lewis is about to be sent to Europe for the Grand Tour, which all gentlemen of his era embarked upon to round off their education and turn them into men. 

The dream, the ambition, the passion of Mr. Raycie's life, was (as his son knew) to found a Family; and he had only Lewis to found it with...

With a view to this founding of a family it was Mr. Raycie's great desire that Lewis should acquire, while in Europe, some old master pieces of artwork to establish a Raycie Art Gallery.  To this effect he was given $15,000 a great deal of money back then.

"Where is our Byron - our Scott - our Shakespeare?  And in painting it is the same.  where are our Old Masters? ..."

Lewis is in love with his poor orphaned cousin Beatrice, nicknamed Treeshy.  She grew up in Italy a country he will visit.

On his European Tour, Lewis meets a young Englishman while staying in an inn, at the foot of Mount Blanche and they spend an enjoyable evening and day together.  They discuss many things and he encourages Lewis to visit certain not well known chapels, while in Italy and look at the paintings.

His eyes had been opened to a new world of art. And this world was his mission to reveal to others - he, the insignificant and ignorant Lewis Raycie.

"Oh, but it's not a Carlo Dolce; it's a Peiro della Francesca, sir!'  burst in triumph from the trembling Lewis.

His father sternly faced him.  "it's a copy, you mean?  I thought so!"

"No, no; not a copy; it's by a great painter ... a much greater ..."

Needless to say papa Racie was not enamoured of the unknown artists who's paintings Lewis had brought back to the States.  Within a year, with the disgrace of the much acclaimed collection coming from Europe, Mr. Raycie was dead and his wife too.  Leaving Lewis, who married his sweet heart Treeshy, a small allowance of $5,000 per year, in contrast to the millions left to the girls.

Eventually by an insignificant cousin, Lewis was left a small house in New York City, where he decided to show his art collection, now he could actually show these wonderful paintings.  It never caught on.

Fast forward about eighty to a hundred years, the time of the automobile.  A hither to unknown collection of a now famous artist has come to light.  It's been gathering dust in an attic all these years.

I wouldn't race out to get this book.  But it's a short easy read, and Edith Wharton is a time honored American author.


Marilyn Monroe's Reading Library

Some of the books in Marilyn Monroe's reading library.


The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I read this book a while ago, it was part of Boosul Boy's summer school reading and since I had not read it and The Scarlet Letter is an American classic, I wanted to read it.

I'm rushing to get this in and another review for my final round up on book reading for 2010.

My first misconception was that the Scarlet Letter was a written letter,  it was in fact an embroidered A on Hester Prynne's clothing.  A for adultery.  First published in 1850. the setting is the early days of the Massachusetts Puritan Colony.

It's a story of adultery, guilt, open and hidden sin, and how this psychologically effects one.

Arthur Dimmesdale is the minister and secret father of Hester's child Pearl, he struggles with conscience and his own weakness.  Roger Chillingsworth, Hester's husband from Europe, revenges himself on the frail psyche of Dimmesdale.

Who was made the stronger of the two?  Hester or Dimmesdale?  Throughout the story it is as if Hester grows and has drawn strength from the public knowledge of her adultery, where as Dimmesdale is shrinking day by day, because of his tormented conscience.  Chillingsworth's revenge eats himself up, as he physically becomes older and wizened.  Pearl who is released from all bounds of society by being rejected by society, has a clear childlike sight into situations that even adults cannot see; as society has boxed their thinking, blinkered their eyes.

 This is a must read for everyone.  It's more than a tale of Puritanical New England, but delves deeper into society how it moves and thinks, and what it means to live outside the accepted bounds of society.

Exerts from the book which have such depth:

...yes these were her realities all else had vanished. if her heart had been flung into the street to trample on.

...sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures.

...occur but once in a lifetime ... she might call up the vital strength that would have sufficed for many a quiet years.  She could no longer borrow from the future to help her through the present.  Tomorrow would bring it's own trial with it; so would the next day, and so would the next ...

...than to hide a guilty heart through life ... to add hypocrisy to sin.  and would that I might endure his agony as well as mine.

Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied ..., that she was banished and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere,...

Hester Prynne was able to make a living with her beautiful needlework.

...gorgeously embroidered gloves, were all deemed necessary to the official state of men ... even while sumptuary laws forbade these ... to the plebeian order (from the Latin, lower class, peasant)

The child's attire, was distinguished ... by a fantastic ingenuity, airy charm.

It is probable that there was an idea of penance in this mode of occupation.  She had in her nature, a rich, voluptuous Oriental characteristic, ... a taste for the gorgeously beautiful, ... Woman derive a pleasure, incomprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate toil of the needle.

"Pearl" as being of great price, ... purchased with all she had, ... her mother's only treasure.

The child could not be made amenable to rules ... Above all the warfare of Hester's spirit, at that epoch, was perpetuated in Pearl.

... the mother felt like one who has evoked a spirit, but, by some irregularity in the process of conjuration, has failed to win the master word, that should control the new and incomprehensible intelligence.

Such passages, such writing and formation of words.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fragments, Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters By Marilyn Monroe

Fragments is a collection of typed letters, poems and thoughts, written in journals, notebooks and on hotel and personal stationery.  Through which you get a deeper glimpse into the untold Marilyn Monroe.

When she died in 1962 her personal effects were left to Lee Strasberg, in turn when he died in 1982 his young wife Anna Strasberg inherited this large and uncatalogued collection.

On one side of the page is a photo copy of her actual writings and on the other a printed version, in case you can't understand her writing and also some additional inserted words where needed, but you know they aren't Marilyn's.

If you've always loved Marilyn Monroe and thought that there was more to her then the dumb blond, then get this book.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome is an American Classic and required reading at High School, at least in this area.  It's also been made into a film several times.  So I think probably everyone knows the ending of the story.  I do think it is one of Edith Wharton's better books.  She began this short novel while in Paris as an exercise in French, around 1911.  It is based on her long residence in the Berkshires, during which time she had come to know well the aspect dialect and mental and moral attitude of the hill people.

Wharton's novels and novellas that  I have read so far have had an outside narrator to run the thread of the story and Ethan Frome is no different.  As the other books I reviewed, Madame de Treymes. New Year's Day and one I will review False Dawn are all set in High Society, Ethan Frome is set in poor rural farming New England.

"That's my place", said Frome, with a sideway jerk of his lame elbow; and in the distress and oppression of the scene I did not know what to answer...

"The house was bigger in my father's time;  I had to take down the 'L' a while back,"

I saw then that the unusually forlorn and stunted look of the house was partly due to the loss of what is known in New England as the "L";  that long deep-roofed adjunct usually built at right angles to the main house, and connecting it, by way of storerooms and tool-house, with the wood-shed and cowbarn.  Whether because of its symbolic sense, the image it presents of a life linked with the soil, and enclosing in itself the chief sources of warmth and nourishment, or whether merely because of the consolatory thought that it enables the dwellers in that harsh climate to get to their morning's work without facing the weather, it is certain that the "L" rather than the house itself seems to be the centre, the actual hearth-stone of the New England farm...

I like the above passage because the house seems to represent their life, the core has been torn away from it.

In happier times when Ethan's father was alive he went to engineering college, but after his father died he had to come home to run the farm.  His mother fell into a long illness and a distant cousin Zeena came to nurse his mother through her illness.  It was said that if his mother had not died in winter, he may never of married Zeena but he did.  She was about seven years older than him, and not long after getting married she herself sunk into a long time illness. Zeena either needs to be nursing, or be nursed.  Early on they had wanted to sell the farm and move to town, for Ethan to pick up on his studies, but they could not sell the farm.

Zeena had always been what Starkfield called "sickly,"..

So indeed it was an isolated stark life at Starkfield Farm. You feel the hardness of life. The fact that they are trapped, both Zeena  because a woman has to be married to have protection and basically just a place to live and Ethan who cannot sell the farm and resume his studies.

Zeena decides that she needs help and invites her cousin Mattie Silver to come and live with them.  Her parents have died and she has run out of visiting all the family.  It seems a good arrangement for both.  Mattie has not been brought up to cook and clean and these come hard to her, plus the fact that she did not arrive in the best of health.  But in the country she begins to bloom.

Zeena has taken note of  Mattie and Ethan's growing closeness and makes remarks that one day Mattie will leave and marry, as Denis Eady has taken an interest in Mattie.

"I guess you're always late, now you shave every morning."

That thrust had frightened him more than any vague insinuations about Denis Eady...

Ethan looks after Mattie's interests, picking her up from the village dance.  Watching other young couples going coasting.

"There was a whole lot of them coasting before the moon set," she said.

Zeena takes note of all this and arranges for Mattie to leave and another girl to come and nurse her, turning Mattie out on her own to fend for herself.  Ethan is stunned, angry and helpless.

Coasting is sledding.  There is a special hill with a giant elm half way down the run; which has to be navigated around, it is dangerous, but still all in the village go coasting.

Here is the stage.

It was a shy secret spot, full of the same dumb melancholy that Ethan felt in his heart.

"Matt! You be quiet!  Don't you say it."

"There's never anybody been good to me but you."

"Don't say that either, when I can't lift a hand!"

On the slow drive to the train stop, they decide to take a coast, the one they had promised to take but never had.

He laughed contemptuously:  "I could go down this coast with my eyes tied!"  and she laughed with him, as if she liked his audacity.  Nevertheless he sat still a moment, straining his eyes down the long hill for it was the most confusing hour of the evening, the hour when the last clearness from the upper sky is merged with the rising night in a blur that disguises landmarks and falsifies distances.

Earlier in the book you think that Ethan may just run off with Mattie, as there is mention of a man in the area who did just that.  But Ethan is a man who knows his duty.

It's an interesting read, well written.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Year's Day, by Edith Wharton

After having read three of Edith Wharton's books; I now realize she had a certain style of taking you down one path dead ending your thinking and totally re-arranging it again.  All three books which I have now read, Ethan Frome; which I still have to write up on, Madame de Treymes and now New Year's Day, all follow this pattern.

Published in 1924 I am again reading from an original copy from the library.  As you can see from the above photographs.

It starts of with a New York family at the turn of the twentieth century gathered together in New York City for New Year's Day.  The narrator at that time a boy of twelve.

"...the New Year's Day ceremonial had never been taken seriously except among families of Dutch descent, and that that was why Mrs. Henry van der Luyden had clung to it..."

Across the street a fire breaks out in The Fifth Avenue Hotel, all the family rush to the window, laughing and making unpleasant remarks about the people rushing out, when they see Lizzie Hazeldean with Henry Prest.

"It was typical of my mother to be always employed in benevolent actions while she uttered uncharitable words."

"The hotel, for all its sober state, was no longer fashionable.  No one, in my memory, had ever known any one who went there; it was frequented by "politicians" and Westerners," two classes of citizens whom my mother's intonation always seemed to deprive of their vote by ranking them with illiterates and criminals."

Lizzie Hazeldean is worried that she has been seen coming out of the Hotel, she walks home to find out that her invalid husband Charles has gone out to see where the fire was.

"Mistress and maid exchanged a glance of sympathy. and Susan felt herself emboldened to suggest;  "Perhaps the outing will do him good," with the tendency of her class to encourage favoured invalids in disobedience."

Lizzie is distort that possibly even her husband saw her coming out of the Hotel.  She goes up to her bedroom.

"It was a rosy room, hung with one of the new English chintzes, which also covered the deep sofa, and the bed with its rose-lined pillow-covers..."

Later Charles comes home but has not changed in his manner towards her at all.  They sit and have tea together.

"She had been one of the first women in New York to have tea every afternoon at five, and to put off her walking-dress for a tea-gown."

Charles urges her to go to a dinner that evening although he is too ill to attend.  She does and so does Henry Prest, they exchange words and part, although not until she has been snubbed by Mrs Wesson.

"It was the first time in her life that she had ever been deliberately "cut"; and the cut was a deadly injury in old New York."

Lizzie gets home from the dinner, Charles comes into her room and they share a close intimate moment until his illness takes over and within two weeks he is dead.  After which Lizzie goes to Europe for six months to be with a newly married father.

Lizzie Hazeldean's humble beginnings reminded me a tad of Becky Sharpe, Vanity Fair.  Lizzie's father had been a vicar of some repute in New York City, but had fallen with some scandal and taken himself and Lizzie off to Europe, to grow up.  Here as a young woman she was befriended by a Mrs Mant, who often did good works, but didn't know how to follow though on them.  So having brought Lizzie back into New York society she didn't know what to do with her.  Right at the time when Lizzie sees that she has no means and no friends in comes Charles and using her beauty, perception and whit, within a week they are engaged.

This is the stage for the book and if I told you anymore I would give the plot away, if you could say there was a plot.  But there is a distinct twist in where this goes.

Do read it, it is a novella so will not take long to read.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Madame De Treymes, by Edith Wharton

Madame De Treymes is a novella, written by Edith Wharton  My son had to read Ethan Frome for school and having not read that, but knew it was an American classic I thought that I should.  So I went to our local library and picked up several of her other books too, including this one.

Our Library although housed in a 1960s building actually dates back to 1700s which if you live in the States will understand is old.  And therefore our library has many old copies of books which are still just sitting on the shelf to be loaned out.  The copy I picked up is dated 1907.  So must be an original copy as it was published February 1907.  With several of those colored plate pages that they used to put in novels back then.

I thought that Edith Wharton might have written this during the time that she lived in France, but that was actually later.  The book shows an understanding of American upper class thinking as opposed to French aristocratic thinking.  Although at the time that this is set before WWI obviously all 'true' French aristocrats had been beheaded.  So why French upper class should think themselves any better than American upper class is beyond me, because neither have a 'pedigree' if you were into all that.

This difference of thought process and keeping family face is the whole premise of the book.

Madame de Malrive, who used to be good old Fanny Frisbee, meets in Parisian Society on old friend from the States, Durham.  Fanny is separated from the Count because of his philandering and has one child a boy.  Really the whole story is based around the boy, although he hardly appears in the book.

"If he had been asked why, he could not have told; but the Durham of forty understood.  It was because there were, with minor modifications, many other Fanny Frisbees; whereas never before, within his ken, had there been a Fanny de Malrive.'

Madame de Treymes is Fanny's sister-in-law.

Durham says, "If I could only be sure of seeing anything here!"

Durham would like to marry Fanny, but the obstacle is the divorce in a Catholic society where divorce is not permitted under any circumstances, and the family cannot be scandalized by this.  Also Fanny wants to take her son if she gets a divorce, here is the key part of the story.

Fanny having married into and living in France understands many of the problems in extricating herself from this family, but as is the case of foreigners living in a country not theirs to know the French thinking and laws to the ump degree is not a domain held by those not born there.

"Perhaps no Anglo-Saxon fully understands the fluency in self-revelation which centuries of the confessional have given to the Latin races, and to Durham, at any rate, Madame de Treymes' sudden avowal gave the shock of a physical abandonment."

Durham sets himself up as a knight in shining armor, a go between, and his contact is Madame de Treymes.

"Durham sat silent, her little gloved hand burning his coat-sleeve as if it had been a hot iron.  His brain was tingling with the shock of her confession.  She wanted money, a great deal of money:  that was clear, but it was not the point.  She was ready to sell her influence, and he fancied she could be counted on to fulfill her side of the bargain...."

I will not tell you the plot, but let me say it has more twists than a cold war spy story.

It is essentially the difference between an American principled thinking, that cannot understand an old French families code of honour.

Do find the book and read it.  It's short but a great study into two societies before WWI.


Friday, December 3, 2010

The Valorous Years, by A. J. Cronin

This book was first published as a serial novella in 1940 in Good Housekeeping Magazine.  The chapters are short and the story moves quickly, thus you can see how it was written for the way it was published.

I just so much enjoyed reading The Valorous Years.  The main character is of course a doctor.  A young man from a poor Scottish family with a handicap of a withered arm.  There are three women is his life, the girl he went to school with Margaret, from the local squires hall. Anna an Austrian doctor and the Jean the daughter of a village doctor.

Plus you have the antagonists, the local council men who he flouts and goes on to St. Andrew's University to win a scholarship and become a doctor; much against his mother's wishes and estranging himself from her and leaving behind his alcoholic father.

His rival is also a doctor, son of a local wealthy builder Mr Overton, self-centered and arrogant a thorn in his side through out the story. Contrasted with this are the good friends he made in the beautiful Scottish valley which is under threat from Mr Overton, who has built a dam with an ugly aluminium plant which scars the valley.

The characters are fleshed out enough to be interesting. If you're looking for a quick read with a heart warming ending, then this is it.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

World Book Night 5th March 2011

From today, 2 December 2010, members of the public are invited to apply to be one of the 20,000 givers of 48 copies of their favourite book chosen from a carefully selected list of 25 titles. Most givers are expected to be passionate readers who will take pleasure in recommending a book they love to other readers. However, World Book Night will also encourage givers to pass the books on to others who either may be reluctant readers or who are part of communities with less access to books, bookshops and libraries. 960,000 books will be distributed by givers and a further 40,000 will be distributed by WBN to people who might not otherwise be able to participate.

The 25 titles selected for the inaugural World Book Night are:

Kate Atkinson - Case Histories (Black Swan)
Margaret Atwood - The Blind Assassin (Virago)
Alan Bennett - A Life Like Other People's (Faber/Profile)
John Le Carré - The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (Penguin)
Lee Child - Killing Floor (Bantam)
Carol Ann Duffy - The World's Wife (Picador)
Mark Haddon - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage)
Seamus Heaney - Selected Poems (Faber)
Marian Keyes - Rachel's Holiday (Penguin)
Mohsin Hamid - The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Penguin)
Ben Macintyre - Agent Zigzag (Bloomsbury)
Gabriel García Márquez - Love in the Time of Cholera (Penguin)
Yann Martel - Life of Pi (Canongate)
Alexander Masters - Stuart: A Life Backwards (Fourth Estate)
Rohinton Mistry - A Fine Balance (Faber)
David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas (Sceptre)
Toni Morrison - Beloved (Vintage)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Half of a Yellow Sun (Fourth Estate)
David Nicholls - One Day (Hachette/Hodder)
Philip Pullman - Northern Lights (Scholastic)
Erich Maria Remarque - All Quiet on the Western Front (Vintage)
C.J. Sansom - Dissolution (Pan)
Nigel Slater - Toast (Fourth Estate)
Muriel Spark - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin)


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Passionate Nomad, The Life of Freya Stark, biography by Jane Fletcher Geniesse

Freya Stark a biography of her nomadic life.  As famous as Freya Stark was in her time and only having died in September 1993, I had never heard of her.  Maybe if I had been living in England at the time of her funeral which was attended by many titled people I might have caught a whiff of her name on the news.

She was known as a prolific travel writer traveling extensively in the Middle East, and having a complete command of many Arabic languages.  Lawrence of Arabia called her "a gallant creature."  She was not afraid to travel with just a couple of local guides and ruff it.  Speaking freely with the local people and gaining their confidence.

Her reputation began in 1927 when she was captured by the French military police after penetrating the rebellious Druze.  She explored the mountainous area of the mysterious Assassins of Persia.  Followed the Frankincense route of early traders and found many areas of archaeological interest.  Including traveling in many places the name of which we are familiar with today because of the Iraqi War.

During WWII she was used extensively by the British military and diplomatic core, with an instinct for listening, gleaning information, plus her map making abilities and organizing skills.

Who was she?  Well her parents were English, but after her dominant mother divorced her father and aligned herself with an Italian count and a rug manufacturing venture. Her life drastically changed, shaping a lot of her emotional inner turmoils. Taken from a west country childhood of privilege to a small untutored life of poverty,  in northern Italy. This led to her receiving very little schooling and being brought up speaking English with an Italian accent, which was she felt a bane of her life.  Never quite being accepted in the circles to which she aspired and the background from which she really came from.

She did not extricate herself from her mother and the count until she was 34, but when she did break lose it was in a big way.  Traveling and writing and always falling in love with the wrong men.  Her career and travels spanned over 60 years, having published, 22 books of travels and poetic prose.  She was over 100 years old when she died.

A biography of a fascinating intrepid woman traveler of the  old school. I would recommend this book to read.

Also on the side line it touches on some interesting history of Iraq and what has led up to the problems there, along with the Palestinian problems of today.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Blue Hour, A Life Jean Rhys, by Lillian Pizzichini

After a far too long hiatus I am back.  I'll just say life.  It reminds me of a postcard I received as a child, from a dear older friend of the family who we always call auntie Gladys.  The postcard was from Wales and called the Ups and Downs.  Little caricature type people going up and down the mountains of Wales; which made me think of life, the ups and downs.  But I digress.

I have been reading, I never stop reading.  I rush into my local library and usually go no further than the newly published book section right at the front; which is were I picked up 'The Blue Hour.'  I can't say that I knew who Jean Rhys was until it mentioned in the fly leaf that she had written 'Wide Sargasso Sea', not that I knew what it was about but the title rang a bell.

I don't know about you but I like to read biographies, and this one proved to be quite interesting, evoking a whole era.  Rhys was born in 1890 in the island of Dominica, I thought I knew all the Caribbean islands, but I kept thinking of the Dominican Republic; which I knew could not be right, so I looked it up on the map.  I have to visualize geographic place and time in history.  Rhys father was a Welsh physician and her mother of Creole-Scottish descent. 

Her childhood was isolated, living on a small island of lush green tropical foliage, humming background of insects and bursting strong colours.  At seventeen as was the done thing for families of her socio-economic background, she was sent to England for finishing-off, this would have been around 1907.  To a small girls boarding school in Cambridge.  Can you imagine the contrast.  I don't think she ever felt warm again, cast across the Sargasso Sea to grey, rainy England.  She lasted about a year, flung herself into the London chorus line show girl and making money as an artists' model. From where fate led her to married men and what they could give her.  Betrayed by love, she falls into marriage and life in the Paris of the 1920s.  Sinking deeper and deeper into her drinking and paranoia, burying one child and abandoning another, her therapy seems to be her writing.  Her life is written into a series of novels. It's as if she can totally recall whole scenes and conversations that happened to her and put them right down in the sentences of a book

Rhys had two more failed marriages and an affair with Madox Ford; during this time she wrote five novels.  Her affair with Ford ended, but through him she was able to secure an introduction to his publisher in 1927.  Who published her first collection of short stories. The trajectory of her life rose and fell into obscurity, living in a boarding house in Cornwall.  Then in 1957 the BBC aired a presentation of her 1939 Novel, 'Good Morning, Midnight.'  Most people had forgotten her and even wondered that she was alive.

In 1978 she received the CBE, a year before she died.  Rhys said that this had all come too late in her life.

Although she looked backed on her childhood with clouded, rose coloured glasses, you feel that it was her life here where the root was of her despair and aspirations, never fitting in, always on the periphery looking in. Just her heritage of knowing she was part Creole, gave her discomfort.  I think that this is hard to understand in Europe, but if one has ever been down to the southern states of the USA, you will have somewhat of an understanding of what even a taint of Creole means.  Even the definition of Creole is ambiguous, there are soo many definitions.  In Rhys's case it was very distant, a great, great grandmother from Cuba on her mother's Scottish side.  Take this along with the sugar plantations, slavery and superstitious customs, of black magic.  Along with black nanny's who terrorized her with voodoo like haunting, and a long term abuse from an elderly man.  One might see why her life never came to be what she longed for.

It seemed she longed for money and the perceived security that money brings, along with love and being looked after, but always sabotaged it, by her shadier longings for all the things that would destroy that.  She never found the Lord to marry while working in the chorus line, although two of her chorus line companions did, both becoming Lady so-and so.  Her looks left her as she aged, but she still found two men to marry and put up with her extreme mood swings, bordering on manic.  Rhys was right the CBE came too late to make the difference she would have revelled in when younger.

'Wide Sargasso Sea' is based on Bertha Rochester's life, of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, fame.  In fact she had in mind to write this book for decades before she actually did.  Rhys knew what life was like being brought up on a Caribbean Island, visiting her grandfather's sugar plantation, and she wove this into her story of how Bertha Rochester came to be locked up as a madwoman.

I do want to read some of her books.  But I feel that they will be dark.  The Blue Hour is well written.  The title refers to twilight time of day in Paris, that Rhys referred to and the French called L'heure Bleue or The Blue Hour


Monday, March 29, 2010

The Dead of Winter, by Rennie Airth

This is an Inspector John Madden mystery. Set around WWII. Starting in the days just prior to the invasion of Paris by the Germans, people are trying to leave. Especially many Jews, who have already fled from Eastern Europe. A Jewish furrier wants to liquidate his assets and turns them into diamonds. He is asked to take along with him in his car a young couple also fleeing. The young couple find him murdered.

Fast forward to 1944. Rosa Novak is found murdered during the blackout, not far from the British Museum. Madden feels that he owes it to her to find out why she was murdered. To escape the holocaust only to be murdered.

This leads to a continental manhunt, that can only now begin as the Germans have left Paris.

This is a very exciting high speed mystery, action packed and holds you to the end.


The Story of Lucy Gault, by William Trevor

Set in the turbulent 1920's Ireland, when many Anglo-Irish are coming under arson attacks. Although having lived on their affluent estates for centuries. They feel at odds in a land that has been home to them. Here enters Lucy Gault's family. Disturbed and upset by the attempt to set fire to their house, they are thinking of returning to England. Lucy their daughter does not want to go, she loves her home.

On the day they are to leave she runs off. On the search for Lucy her parents mistakenly think that she is dead. They leave as planned and are torn apart by their loss. Lucy returns home and does get to stay there, with the family servants, who get to stay on.

Her parents never truly settle, drifting on to Italy and Switzerland, with no forwarding address for them.

Lucy grows up, lonely and sad. In comes Ralph who she really does love and he her, but feels she cannot commit to love unless she reconciles with her parents. Unfortunately WWII starts and they are left in Europe, where her mother dies. Her father eventually does return to his old estate, but too much time has passed for Lucy to regain what has been lost. Ralph has married someone else.

Eventually Lucy feels somehow responsible for the young man her father wounded defending his home against the arsonists. Trying to make a distorted recompense for her lost and stunted life.

I did not especially like this book, so wouldn't recommend it.


Monday, March 1, 2010

And the winner is?

Joann, Lakeside Musing.

I decided to use a number random generator. There were 15 different people who left comments from January 1st until February 28th. I listed names in random order and assigned numbers and Joann's assigned number was 14 and that was the winning number.

It's such a coincidence, because Joann was so kindly giving away several books and I asked for Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson, which she is mailing to me.

So Joann please contact me via E-mail and I will send off the Modern Voices note cards.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Waves, by Virginia Woolf

This is the copy of The Waves I read from:

Somehow I had in mind that the last posting on this was the 28Th, but when I started seeing every one's postings I thought, goodness me it's today Friday and of course living in the States we are already behind time wise. So I'm scrabbling to get my thoughts together. Yes I did meditate on things in my mind but paper and pen must be the fruition of thought.

My first thoughts were do I want to wade into The Waves. Did I want to put all the effort needed into it and be committed to the read. You know that feeling you have when at the seaside on the beach. Shall I change, put the swimsuit on and even if it is on, do I really want to wade into the sea. Once you've stepped in your committed. Salty wet and sand in ones hair, seaweed in ones' toes. Now you have to at some point take a shower and put oneself straight, but then you decide, yes it's worth it, to feel the waves bounce you around from trough to height and down again, and that's how I felt with "The Waves".

First I did not like it as much as Mrs Daloway, or To The Lighthouse. I was greatly remiss in not reading Orlando, but hope to a some point. I need a little distance from Woolf , after reading the Waves.

I would first say don't read this book in a depressed state or even a shade of grey. Humans as Blogland shows, are social interactive people and need this connectivity to blossom and be fruitful creatively. That's why Woolf had her Bloomsbury group. To be to isolated as you felt these characters were is somewhat sad and soul destroying. Did she feel this way later in life? One has to feel she did, because some of the thoughts of the characters I feel are bang on.

Bernard the storyteller, Louis linguistically, the outsider, Neville the homosexual, Susan wife and homemaker, Rhoda suicidal, Jinny the lover. It's not a novel, it's a soliloquy, this thought that thought, flung into the space of mind, orbiting around, but never landing. Never making a connection with terra firma. But never the less, thoughts I'm sure we've all had. These thoughts I think are very age related. I think Woolf captured that. The striving and jostling for position in youth, the middle part of ones life working on the path you have set your foot too. Then the latter part thinking what was all that striving all that work, what was it all about.

Susan seems the most fulfilled.

"In this hot afternoon," said Susan, "here in this garden here in this field where I walk with my son, I have reached the summit of my desires, the hinge of the gate is rusty; he leaves it open. the violent passions of childhood, my tears in the garden when Jinny kissed Louis, my rage in the schoolroom ..."

"I am fenced in, planted here like one of my own trees..."

Neville coming to terms with life.

"I no longer need a room now," said Neville, "or walls and firelight. I am no longer young. I pass Jinny's house without envy, and smile at the young man who arranges his tie a little nervously on the door-step. Let the dapper young man ring the bell; let him find her. I shall find her if I want her, if not, I pass on. The corrosion has lost its bite - envy , intrigue and bitterness have been washed out. We have lost our glory too...."

Rhoda of life says.

"... What dissolution of the soul you demanded in order to get through one day, what lies, bowings, scrapings, fluency and servility! How you chained me to one spot, one hour, one chair, and sat yourselves down opposite! How you snatched from me the white spaces that lie between hour and hour and rolled them into dirty pellets and tossed them into the wastepaper basket with you greasy paws. Yet those were my life."

Neville at the coming together of the friends.

"Now sitting side by side," said Neville, "at this narrow table, now before the first emotion is worn smooth, what do we feel? Honestly now, openly and directly as befits old friends meeting with difficulty; what do we feel on meeting? Sorrow. The door will not open; he will not come. and we are laden. Being now all of us middle-aged, loads are on us. Let us put down our loads. What have you made of life, we ask, and I? You, Bernard; you, Susan; you, Jinny; and Rhoda and Louis? The lists have been posted on the doors. Before we break these rolls, and help ourselves to fish and salad, I feel in my private pocket and find my credentials - what I carry to prove my superiority. I have passed. I have papers in my private pocket that prove it...."

"...Change is no longer possible. We are committed. Before, when we met in a restaurant in London with Percival, all simmered and shook; we could have been anything. We have chosen now, or sometimes it seems the choice was made for us - a pair of tongs pinched us between the shoulders. I chose. I took the print of life not outwardly, but inwardly upon the raw, the white, the unprotected fibre. I am clouded and bruised with the print of minds and faces and things so subtle that they have smell, colour, texture, substance, but no name..."


"It was different once," said Bernard, "Once we could break the current as we chose...
We have to leap like fish, high in the air, in order to catch the train from Waterloo. And however high we leap we fall back again into the stream. I shall never now take ship for the South Sea Islands. A journey to Rome is the limit of my travelling. I have sons and daughters. I am wedged into my place in the puzzle"


"...I luxuriate in gold and purple vestments. Yet I prefer a view over chimney-pots; cats scraping their mangy sides upon blistered chimney stacks; broken windows; and the hoarse clangour of bells from the steeple of some brick chapel."


"... My mother must have followed the drum, my father the sea. I am like a little dog that trots down the road after the regimental band, but stops to snuff a tree-trunk ..."


"That goes on. Listen. there is a sound like the knocking of railway trucks in a siding. that is the happy concatenation of one event following another in our lives. Knock, knock, knock. Must, must, must. Must go, must sleep, must wake, must get up - sober, merciful work which we pretend to revile, which we press tight to our hearts, without which we should be undone. how we worship that sound like the knocking together of trucks in a siding!"

The above passage almost flows like a poem from W. H. Auden. The Night Train.

Of course where to stop quoting, where to end this review without becoming tedious.

I don't think I would have tackled Woolf without the incentive of the group. But I am glad that I have and feel the richer for it literary wise.

Now I have a great urge to go back to my Persephone books.


P.S. Don't forget to leave a comment if you should so wish, as on the 28Th I shall have the drawing for the note cards. I think that's why I had the 28Th in mind.