As a new month begins I’m sitting here feeling very sorry for myself . After a year of being stuffed with chemicals and radiation before three rounds of surgery to remove nasty tumours, I thought I’d had my quota of medical treatments. Life was beginning to look up with a holiday even being planned. All of which I scuppered by falling over while helping to set up a community event, breaking my humerus in three places. So now my dominant arm is in a sling making it extremely difficult to do basic things like eating and dressing (I dare you to try fastening a bra one handed). My blogging is curtailed because it’s so slow to type one-handed so if you find I’m not commenting much on your posts it’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with you. Reading is about all I’m good for but even that begins to lose its appeal after a few hours. Sigh…
Apart from nursing my damaged paw, what else was I up to on August 1, 2017?
I’m gradually making my way through the titles on my 20 Books of Summer reading list. After a diversion to read The Monster’s Daughter, a debut novel by Michelle Pretorius) I was looking for something from my list that promised to be equally well constructed and thought-provoking. Sacred Hunger ( joint winner of the Booker Prize in 1992) by Barry Unsworth gets that bill perfectly. It’s set in the eighteenth century when the slave trade was in full flow. The action takes place on a ship sailing from Liverpol to pick up a human cargo in Africa and sell it in the sugar plantations of Jamaica. It makes for grim reading understandably though Unsworth doesn’t wallow in details of the inhumane conditions under which the captured Africans were kept on board. His theme is the lust – the hunger – for money which drives men to extraordinary actions.
You couldn’t get more of a contrast between this and a book I just started today – What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullen. It’s a collection of twenty essays about different aspects of Austen’s work. One deals with the names characters call each other and how this is often used to denote not just their different social status but their changing relationships to each other. Another looks at the question of the age at which its deemed appropriate for people to marry. I’ve read three essays so far as part of my participation in Austen in August and am impressed by how thoroughly Mullen knows these novels. He deals with details and nuances that escaped me when reading Austen but know I can see add new perspectives. Fascinating stuff.
Reflecting on the state of my personal library
One of my goals for 2017 is to enjoy the books I already own and to reign back on acquiring yet more. I started 2017 with 318 unread books. I’m now down to 278 ( it would have been lower except I indulged with four new purchases and two ARCs in July). I had been thinking to buy a few more once the judges chose the Booker long list but when the announcement came last week I was underwhelmed. I’m sure there are many fine books on that list but with one or two exceptions it felt rather predictable. So I’m just going to get some samples and se if anything sparks my interest.
Thinking of reading next…
This month is All August/All Virago month so I have Good Behavior by Molly Keane lined up. This is the first novel she published after a writing break triggered by the death of her husband and was the first time she used her real name. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1981.
I also have Larkinland by Jonathan Tulloch which was recently published by Seren ( a Welsh publishing house based about 45 minutes from my house). It’s part mystery, part biography, part romance set in 1950s Hull and recreates the world of Philip Larkin. Larkin makes an appearance in the guise of librarian Arthur Merryweather and through his poems which are woven into the narrative.
Watching: The Handmaid’s Tale as dramatised by Channel 4 in the UK is coming to an end. I ddo nt enjoy the one episode which showed the backstory of Offred’s husband but everything eelse about this series has been first class.
Listening: Since I stopped commuting to work I’ve not listened to anywhere near the same number of audiobooks this year. I did try one in the Aurelio Zen series about a fictional Italian detective but the narration was really off putting so I gave up after an hour. A pity because this series written by Michael Dobdin is meant to be excellent.
And that is it for this month. Lets hope by the time of the next snapshot I’ll be feeling more perky. A Chinese friend tells me that this is the year of the Roster which is my animal sign. According to Chinese traditional beliefs, you may face big challenges in your animal year. However once those are overcome good fortune will come. It can’t come too soon for me! I’m advised that wearing red ( especially red underwear) will help. Time to get the credit cards out I think.
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Nine Ladies Dancing
Day 9 of the 12 Days of Christmas game and giveaway.
We only just completed the day of the maids, now we’re into presumably their mistresses. We need to find titles or images or author names reflecting the ninth day in which these ladies indulged in a little dance exercise.
Booker Talk Titles for Day 9
Now I wish I hadn’t chosen Margaret Forster’s Ladies’ Maid for day 8 since I can’t use it again.
My TBR came to my rescue fortunately, delivering Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane (aka M.J. Farrell).
Lady Audley’s Secret was published in 1862 and became her most successful novel. The critic John Sutherland described the novel as “the most sensationally successful of all the sensation novels”. Elements of the novel mirror the real-life case of Constance Kent upon which Kate Summerscale based The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. I’ve yet to read it though its been on my shelf for four years.
Devoted Ladies is one I have read. After a shaky start I warmed to this is as you see from my review.
For my last choice I’m indebted to my Goodreads wishlist which gave me Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet which apparently is considered his seminal work. The first draft was written while Genet was incarcerated in a French prison; when the manuscript was discovered and destroyed by officials, Genet, still a prisoner, immediately set about writing it again.
Come up with book titles or book images or anything book related (could be the name of a location mentioned in the book or a character) that matches with ladies or dancing. Let’s see how creative you can be. I’m looking ideally for 3 titles/images etc. You can mix and match your nominations.
Put your titles into the comments field of that day’s post. Don’t just give me the name since you could easily get that from a Google search – tell us something about the book itself. Why did you choose these titles – are they from your TBR or ones you’ve seen mentioned on a blog. Please try not to just use lists from Goodreads etc.
Feel free to blog about this on your own site or via Twitter using the #12days hashtag
There’s an incentive to play along with this which is a giveaway of a book up to the value of $20 USD from the Book Depository
To participate, your list of books must be in the comments field by 10pm GMT/5pm Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday Dec 14.
Day by Day Prompts
Day 1: Partridge in a Pear Tree
Day 2: Turtle Doves
Day 3: French Hens
Day 4: Calling Birds
Day 5: Gold Rings
Day 6: Geese a-Laying
Day 7: Swans a-Swimming
Day 8: Maids a-Milking
Day 9: Ladies Dancing
Day 10: Lords a-Leaping
Day 11: Pipers Piping
Day 12: Drummers Drumming
Rules of the Game
1.Each day a post will go live on booker talk.com matched to the task for that day. All you to do is post a comment with your list of books on the page
2. Each day try to come up with 3 titles. No need to think of 11 books featuring pipers or eight with maids in them. This is meant to be fun not mission impossible…..
3. Participants are encouraged to be creative with the names of titles matching each day. But the books do need to be in existence – no scope here for making up your own titles.
4. The number of contributions per person will be totalled and the one with the highest number will win the prize. So if you post three titles for day 6 and 5 on day 11, that gives a total of 8 points.
5. Contributions should be entered on the page within the time limit stated each day – typically I will give 48 hours between the time I post the day’s challenge and when comments will be closed.
6. You don’t need to play every day in order to be entered for the prize. Some days will be easier than others – and anyway you have all that shopping and packing still to do
7. There is only one prize – available internationally. The Prize winner will be announced on the blog around about the 15th of December.
6. The prize is that you get to choose a book up to the value of $20 USD from the Book Depository that I will arrange to ship to you. This will probably not arrive until next year given the last postage dates for international mail.
Some of the smaller libraries in my area are being converted to ‘community libraries’ which means that local people have to fund them. It’s a trend that’s happening all over the UK sadly. It’s meant to be a way of helping the local authorities to meet their budget targets but in effect it means that I, as a local contributor to their funds, end up paying twice. Once through what in the UK we call council tax (a yearly payment to fund local services, the level of which is determined by the size of your home) and then through local fundraising. The library in my village is one of those targeted to be a community library and despite significant opposition from local residents and two court cases, it’s likely to be in place within a month.
It’s going to be a big challenge to get the money needed for even basic things like heating and lighting of the libraries. In the interests of seeing what other community libraries are doing to raise funds, I toddled off to a book sale run by one of them yesterday. All in the interests of market research you understand – I had no intention of buying anything 🙂
Well of course you all know what happens in these events. It was inevitable I came away with something. It was all in a good cause anyway – the new library gets a much needed boost to its coffers and I get to enrich my private library. A win-win… Here’s what I bought.
I’ve never read anything by George Meredith so this rather pristine copy of The Egoist called to me as a way of enhancing my knowledge of Victorian writers. Looking at the back cover I see it’s considered “the most dazzlingly intellectual of all his novels” in which he turns the spotlight on the pretentiousness of a powerful social class. Virginia Woolf rated him highly apparently. Maybe the fact that this copy looks as if its hardly been opened tells me that the previous owner was not of a mind with dear Virginia.
Elizabeth von Arnim is someone whose name has cropped up recently as a result of HeavenAli’s review of her novel Love which triggered many comments recommending another of her works – The Enchanted April. The copy I snaffled is a Virago modern classic, number 222, though sadly not in the green livery of other Viragos I have on my shelf. I guess I have to live with the fact that this new purchase spoils the colour scheme of my bookshelf.
Molly Keane is a newish discovery for me though not for people who are avid Virago readers. This summer I read Devoted Ladies which she wrote under her other pen name of M.J. Farrell and while not wowed by it, I enjoyed it enough to want to try her again. Good Behaviour is the first novel published after a writing break triggered by the death of her husband and was the first time she used her real name. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1981.
What can I say about Michael Cunningham’s The Hours other than I don’t know why its taken me so long to get a copy. The film adaptation starring Meryl Streep is superb but I’m told by those who know such things, that the book itself is even better.
How could I resist anything by Anita Brookner, especially a hardback in such good condition as A Private View. Its focus is George Bland, a 65-year-old bachelor who has just retired from a worthy job in a dull office. Into his rather lacklustre life storms Katy, a young squatter who takes up residence in a flat opposite. She’s abrasive, self-assured and into crystal therapy and other New Agey kinds of things. She awakens some strange sensations in George.
And finally, one I needed to buy to help me reach the finishing line in my Booker Prize project. Vernon God Little by D. C Pierre caused a hoopla when it won the Booker in 2003 because it contains a high proportion of profanities and because the author is a former drug addict. Neither of those are showstoppers for me – if the profanities are an integral part of the story and how it needs to be told I can live with that, its the gratuitous use by authors who think they are being ‘hip’ that irritates me. As for the author’s background, I don’t see how that has a bearing on whether he is a good writer. Will Vernon Good Little be worth reading? Only time will tell..
Given the low prices I think I was remarkably restrained with this little collection. Have you read any of these or plan to in the future?
When I spotted a Virago copy of Devoted Ladies by M.J. Farrell in an Oxford charity shop, I knew precisely three things about M. J Farrell:
- She was Irish.
- She also wrote under the name of Molly Keane – a name popular among bloggers who are avid readers of Virago Modern Classics.
- Her work was characterised by a sharpness of wit that was directed at the Anglo Irish landed gentry of which she was a member.
About Devoted Ladies I knew next to nothing. The back cover blurb told me it was her fifth novel and was unusual in that the elements which characterised her first four publications – namely, horses, romance and snobbery – were replaced by something rather more sensational and gritty. Rather more up my street in other words.
This is a tale of two women who live together within the fashionable London society circle of the 1930s. Farrell avoids any mention of a physical relationship between them but drops enough hints for us to detect this is a lesbian couple; a daring topic for a novel given that only a few years earlier Radclyffe Hall’s novel on the same theme, Well of Loneliness was banned for obscenity.
It doesn’t take long to further establish that far from being ‘devoted’ Jessica and Jane have a rather stormy relationship. Jessica is butch, domineering and sharp-tongued; Jane is softer, a bit silly, and a drinker. She is easy prey to the cruel possessive behaviour of her ‘friend’.
Her cohort of friends don’t care for what they witness – particularly when things turn nastily violent – and fear for her safety. But they’re also rather tired of what they consider Jane’s histrionics. One of them, the playwright Sylvester Browne, is too wrapped up in his own world and anyway doesn’t see it as his business to intervene. It’s left to a newcomer among this group, George Playfair, an Irish gentleman of the hunting class, to come to Jane’s aid. When he finds Jane recovering from a bout of alcoholic poisoning he takes pity on her and persuades her to leave her London home and visit Ireland to aid her recovery. Since he doesn’t really comprehend the nature of her relationship with Jessica he’s oblivious to the way she will interpret his invitation as a challenge to her own control over Jane. The battle is set with Jane caught in the middle.
It took a while for me to warm to Devoted Ladies. I enjoyed the first scenes which lay out a world which has so few cares it can devote itself entirely to hedonistic pleasures. Jane isn’t a particularly likeable character – in the early chapters she plays a lot on the little girl lost act but is essentially a drunk much given to plaintive requests to her guests to”fix me a brandy and soda, I feel horrible.” when she feels she is being ignored. The first chapters set in Ireland didn’t set me alight either since much of this revolves around Sylvester and the Hester and Viola (Piggy) Browne, two cousins with whom he stays in Ireland and who struck me as rather pathetic initially.
Piggy is a charmless character when we first get to know her; lacking self knowledge and consideration for Hester, spending money on frivolous presents ye nothing that would make the house they share more habitable. But then Piggy began to get a hold on me the more I saw how Farrell made her silliness and self centred nature a mask. Piggy is so desperate to be loved and valued, that she goes to quite extraordinary lengths to gain the approval of her so-called friend Joan though their every encounter uses her hours of anxiety. How to time her arrival at Joan’s house so as not to appear too eager yet not lose a precious moment of time with Joan? And then the vexed question of what to wear, requiring a delicate balance between looking good and yet not looking as if she’d gone out to buy something new especially.
How To Look One’s Best in Old Clothes was a question that fevered Piggy to her very soul. The passion that was on her to look her very best on these lovely days was set about miserably by the knowledge that her appearance in Castlequarter in any clothes not in rags would be met by a cold scrutiny, and Joan’s faint ridiculing voice would examine the matter, saying “Why are you so grand today Piggy?” or “i did mean to take the children ratting in the manure heaps this morning but it seems a bit severe on your nice new clothes.
Poor Piggy resorts to deliberately cutting holes in perfectly good clothes, wearing clothes stained with a dog’s footprints and an odd ensemble, just to try and pass muster. This is a woman whom Farrell shows, is not living – and has never really lived – but merely existed; a victim to stronger characters who know exactly how to pull her strings. Though Devoted Ladies is meant to be comic – and indeed it has its witty moments – my overwhelming feeling when I learned Piggy’s fate was of profound sadness for a life wasted.
What started as a novel I was ambivalent about – and at times considered abandoning – became by the end a moving experience. It’s apparently not Farrell/Keane’s best work (that seems to be considered Good Behaviour which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1981) but it’s given me enough of a taste to read her other novels.
Author: Devoted Ladies by M. J Farrell
Published: 1934. Re-issued as Virago Modern Classic number 138 in 1984
Length: 303 pages
My copy: bought second hand and sat on the shelf until All August/All Virago month and #20booksofsummer 2016
Opinions about this novel differ considerably according to some of the reviews on Goodreads. For another fan take a look at the review by heavenali
I could pretend that I was up at dawn to greet the first of May in the time honoured way, followed by a bit of a caper around the village maypole. I did neither of these. Nor did I go and watch any Morris Men in action or take part in a May Queen parade. No doubt these things were going on somewhere in the UK today though I suspect there were more people heading to the shopping malls than the village green.
So what was I doing on the first of this month??
I finally got around today to finishing Devoted Ladies by M.J Farrell (otherwise known as Molly Keane), a novel which shocked readers at the time because it featured a lesbian relationship. I’d read about two thirds of it by the time I took off for my long trip to USA but it hadn’t grabbed my interest so I left it behind. Today when I picked it up I found it a lot more interesting and I could see why Keane has such a strong following. I still feel the book sagged in the middle and I wanted a lot more about the tense relationship and battle of wills between Jane and Jessica and less about two cousins Piggy and Hester who live in a run down country house in Ireland. I’m glad however I didn’t give up on it if only because of the way in the final pages Keane showed even a faintly ridiculous figure like Piggy could not forever tolerate being the butt of everyone’s jokes. If this is an indication of Keane’s ability to create deep and complex characters, I’ll be keen to look for more of her work.
On the Horizon
I’m toying with opening The Gathering by Anne Enright, which won the 2007 Booker Prize. It was her fourth novel and somewhat of a surprise winner – although the unanimous choice of the judges it had been considered an outsider. This is a novel in which the Hegarty siblings gather in Dublin for the wake of their brother Liam, an alcoholic who killed himself. His sister Veronica uses the opportunity to look through her family’s history to try and make sense of his death. I’ve read the first few pages just to get a feeling for the book and have fallen in love with the immediacy of Enright’s style.
My other option is another Booker prize winner, Life & Times of Michael K by J. M Coetzee which was the 1983 winner. It’s a short work which traces a journey made by Michael K, a poor man with a cleft lip, from Cape Town where he works as a gardener to his mother’s rural birthplace. Along the way he encounters hardship and hostility. I’ve read only one other book by Coetzee (Disgrace which also won the Booker prize) and loved his style so am hoping Michael K will prove just as rewarding.
This has been a bumper year for daffodils. Usually most of the ones I plant have little to show beyond leaves. But this year there are bright spots of yellow everywhere I look in the garden. It’s a sign winter is over for another year. Hooray…..
So what’s happening on the first of this month??
I wish I could say that my run of superb books (Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout) was continuing but sadly I’m not enjoying my current book Devoted Ladies by M.J Farrell (otherwise known as Molly Keane). I’d heard so much about her but had never read any of her books but this one was in a charity shop sale and the plot seemed good so I went for it. This is her fifth novel and shocked readers when it was published because it deals frankly with a relationship between a lesbian couple. This one is set in fashionable, chic London rather than her usual world in Ireland. It shocked readers at the time because it dealt with a stormy relationship between a lesbian couple. I just wish she had stuck with that relationship but instead far too much of the book is devoted to another – and really rather tedious – couple who live in a run down estate house in Ireland. I think its meant to be funny but I’m yet to find much to even make me smile. I might even give it up. There are plenty of other books that should be more rewarding. For my next read I’m thinking of The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan or The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally.
Our library system has just made it easier to download audiobooks. They’ve had this service for about five years now but the mechanism for uploading the files to ITunes was very cumbersome and didnt always work. The new one does the file transfer in seconds. Bad news is that the range is limited and practically everything that appeals seems checked out by other users…. I did manage to get a copy of Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer. It’s an odd psychological thriller with a central character who suffers Asperger’s Syndroym. Patrick Fort is beginning his anatomy studies at university in Cardiff. He’s not interested in becoming a doctor or in helping people to live; he just wants to find the answer to why people die. His determination to get to the cause of death of the cadaver he and his fellow students are asked to dissect, takes him down a path which might or might not lead to murder. In parallel there is a narrative of a middle-aged man who had been in a coma after a car accident, and is trying to recover the use of his body. He witnesses what he believes is the murder of a fellow patient but can’t get anyone to listen to him because the accident has robbed him of his speech. It’s a slow paced novel and at times frustrating – I don’t need need to hear the hospital patient practicing his vocal exercises in almost every episode – but oddly compelling…
So that’s the early part of the month taken care of. Technically I have now finished with the Triple Dog TBR challenge but its worked so well I might give it another month. It’s fun to discover what’s at the back of the cupboard….
After a few days musing on authors from Wales I’m now going to hop across the sea to do homage to my Celtic cousins via Reading Ireland Month. I missed the event hosted by Cathy of 746books and Niall of The Fluff is Raging last year but am geared up for this year’s month long event.
I have three books in mind but will probably only manage one of them. I’m just not sure which of them to pick.
Do I go for….
Ancient Light by John Banville. In it an old actor recalls his schoolboy affair with a woman twice his age. I bought this in 2013 on my first visit to the Hay Book Festival where he was one of the featured authors He was a wonderful interviewee, full of anecdotes about the craft of writing (with a fountain pen if he is writing a John Banville novel but a biro when he writes as Benjamin Black). I’d only read The Sea by him previously but loved its lyricism so immediately the session finished I sped over to the bookshop and got a signed copy of Ancient Light. But its stayed on my shelf all this time.
Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane. This is her fifth novel but will be my first experience. I’ve seen her lauded by so many bloggers I simply have to explore her work. This one is set in fashionable, chic London rather than her usual world in Ireland. It shocked readers at the time because it dealt with a a stormy relationship between a lesbian couple.
or my final choice ..
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. If this is anywhere as good as Nora Webster which was one of my favourite books from 2015, then it will be a joyful experience. I’m deliberately choosing to ignore the film until I read the book.
All good options I think but which to I choose? Anyone care to make a recommendation???
I love this time on a Sunday when all the chores are done and I can snatch some relaxation before getting ready for our Sunday evening ritual of a trip to the local pub followed by a pasta meal and a movie.
I can do this in the warm glow of satisfaction that I’ve achieved one of my projects for this weekend – a long overdue tidy up of my bookshelves. One thing led to another and what started as a project involving shelving in one room quickly morphed into a sort out of all bookshelves dotted around the house. The result are two very large bags waiting to be donated to a local charity. They were enjoyable reads but realistically I am never going to read them again so I’d rather they brought pleasure to someone else instead of gathering dust in my home.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, I decided it would be easier if I organised the books alphabetically instead of grouping them project (all Booker winners on one shelf, classics club reads on another). Alphabetical would make it much easier to see what I have and thus avoid falling into the trap of buying the same book more than once (I’ve ended up with two copies of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton and two of Frog by the Nobel Laureate Mo Yan).
The tidy up couldn’t have come too soon because I needed room for some recent purchases.
Devoted Ladies is the fifth of Molly Keane’s novels but will the first by her that I will have read. Published in 1934 this novel moves Keane out of the world of the Irish landed gentry for the first time and into the world of fashionable, chic London living. It was a bit of a shock for readers used to her previous works to discover in the early pages that the romantic interest this time would be a stormy relationship between a lesbian couple. The novel is a satire on a hedonistic 1930’s world and has apparently a rich, dark humour.
I was actually looking for a reasonably priced and good condition copy of All Passion Spent when I came across Family History. This is the novel Vita Sackville-West wrote immediately after the highly successful and lucrative All Passion Spent. According to the introduction by Victoria Glendinning. Family History did reasonably well when it was published in 1932 it wasn’t a best seller and has since been largely neglected. Glendinning comments that her own feelings about the book have changed – in her biography of Sackville-West she called it a “not very distinguished novel” reflecting the authors own confused personal life at the time but now sees Family History has more depth and complexity than first appreciated.
The Unlit Lamp by Radclyffe Hall would have been a good choice for The 1924 Club run by Stuck in a Book and KaggsysBookishRamblings in October. But I didn’t get organised in time. But who needs an excuse to read a Virago anyway? This is Radclyffe Hall’s second published novel although it was the first she actually wrote. It’s the story of Joan Ogden a girl growing up in a stuffy town in England in the 1930s but desperate to break free and become a doctor. On her side is her governess but opposing her ambition is Joan’s mother, a gentle tyrant who knows how to wind Joan around her little finger. Which of these women will ultimately win? I’ve had a glance of the first chapter and love how quickly the battle is set between Joan and her stultifying retired middle class parents.
Any of you read these yet? Which would you suggest I read first?