January, 2016 Wrap Up

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Here is a round up of book related favourites for the month of January, 2016. For a glimpse into December, 2015’s Bookish Favourites please see here.

1. Books

 I read a total of seven books in January. I read mostly from the modern classics genre and successfully ticked off two titles from my list of 12 New Authors I Would Like to Read in 2016 (that made me feel very good!). I enjoyed all these books so much, especially The Diary of A Provincial Lady and A Month in the Country.

1) Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp

I realised I posted about this book in December but didn’t manage to finish it till January. I reviewed this book as part of Margery Sharp Day hosted by Jane from the lovely blog Beyond Eden Rock.

Britannia Mews is a book that describes the life and times of the central character of Adelaide Culver, a child of privileged circumstances, living in one of the row of houses along London’s Albion Place. Adjacent to Albion Place, stands Britannia Mews, once a stable, housing the horses used by the genteel folk living in Albion Place but now reduced to a slum at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Set in the late nineteenth century, Victorian London is portrayed at the intersection of where the rich meet the poor.  Adelaide Culver, marries her struggling art tutor and thereby goes to live in the slums of Britannia Mews. This is the story of what happens to a girl who has bravely broken away from the family shelter into a life of domestic strife and hardship. I enjoyed Margery Sharp’s excellent writing, descriptive and laced with subtle wit and wisdom. For a full review please see here.

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2) Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is the story of twenty-one year old Sophia, during the time when she was married to Charles Fairclough. The story is in its entirety, a first person narrative and tells of the harrowing poverty, the ups and downs of the young couple, in a time during which Charles refuses to take any financial responsibility for his household, using his need to practice his art as an excuse to shirk his duties. This was an exceptional book! For a full review please see here.

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3) A Tale of Two Families by Dodie Smith

A Tale of Two Families by Dodie Smith is the story of the relationship between two families: those of May and June, two sisters, who marry two brothers, George and Robert. When May and George decide to relocate to the countryside for a few years, on a landed estate with a small cottage, it seems the most natural thing for June and Robert to leave their father’s house and set up home in the cottage on May and George’s leased estate. Robert, a skilled but lesser known writer plans on writing his magnum opus in the idyllic surrounds of the cottage. June is happy to be carefree and close to her sister. Robert and George’s father, Baggy, comes to stay with George’s family. May and June’s delightful mother, Fran, decides to stay with her two daughters for a while. The children in the family come upto the property on weekends, from London or the boarding schools they go to and a good time is had by all in the family. Then the close proximity leads to unforeseen events…

For a full review please see here.

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4) A Month in the Country by JL Carr

A Month in the Country by JL Carr is the story of war veteran Tom Birkin and the unforgettable summer he spends in the country, uncovering and restoring a medieval wall mural inside an old country church. It is a journey of discovery for Tom Birkin, both in regards to his work and rediscovery of self after the trauma and ravages of his war experiences. This was a charming, poignant novel. I felt that the narrative was a little uneven, which made it a bit of a slower read, but on the whole the story was so wonderful and evocative that I can’t help but look back upon it, with starlight in my eyes.

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5) The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield

This was my favourite book this month and it really made laugh. The diary entries are so self deprecatory and certain incidents so cringe-worthy, they make great reading.

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I am #currentlyreading (tagged by Jessica @bookreveries) EM Delafield's classic novel 'The Diary of a Provincial Lady' first published in 1930 and wondering why it took me so long to read this little gem. A domestic diary of a Devon housewife full of self-deprecatory hilarious anecdotes, it is definitely a laugh a minute. The following is an encounter between the diary writer and neighboring Lady Boxe. ~ "Plant the indoor bulbs. Just as I am in the middle of them, Lady Boxe calls… Do I know, she asks, how very late it is for indoor bulbs? September, really, or even October, is the time. Do I know that the only reliable firm for hyacinths is Somebody of Haarlem? Cannot catch the name of the firm, which is Dutch, but reply Yes, I do know, but I think it my duty to buy Empire products. Feel at the time, and still think, that this is an excellent reply. Unfortunately Vicky comes into the drawing-room later and says: 'Oh, Mummie, are those the bulbs we got at Woolworths?" #theyearinbooks

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6) Mystery at Saint-Hilaire by Priscilla Hagon (Mabel Esther Allan)

I don’t remember how I came upon this book or the author but I was lucky enough to find a copy at my library. I’m glad I did. It read exactly like a grown-up Enid Blyton book so if you are a Blyton fan, this is a book for you.

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Mystery at Saint-Hilaire' (1968) (also known as 'Castle of Fear') by Priscilla Hagon (a pseudonym for Mabel Esther Allan) is a perfect example of a book fitting into the #followmetobookland tag. It's a work of fiction that is set along France's Brittany Coast, where the people speak the Breton tongue (with Celtic origins) rather than the native French. It's hard to categorize the writing: to me it felt more like an Enid Blyton book for grown-ups with a faint whiff of a romance story. The penmanship is not terribly sophisticated but it fits into the old-world, charming, writing style that I enjoy. The story centres around a young British girl called Gwenda, who spends a summer working in a British bookshop in Paris. Whilst perusing some books that have been recently returned from an address in Brittany, Gwenda discovers a note, tucked into the pages. The note is written by another English girl called Sarah, writing to her brother, and she claims that her life is in danger. She speaks of sinister goings on and the death of a fisherman near the Chateau of Saint-Hilaire. Gwenda feels compelled to investigate further and finds herself journeying to an unknown medieval castle, located in the middle of the sea, off the coast of Brittany, to unearth the letter's mystery, only to find herself in the midst of romance and grave danger. An indulgent read, 'Mystery at Saint-Hilaire' is a fabulous foray into the romance of yesteryear. ~ Last night, I stayed up late and finished of this 'adult Enid Blyton' novel accompanied by a square or two of chocolate. I think Enid would have approved. Happy Friday friends. What plans for the weekend? //ps: can we also admire my lilies(?) soooo voluptuous !!

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7) Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

This was another favourite book this month. Quite funny, with several quotable, witty, one liners, this tells of a day in the life of staid, middle aged Miss Pettigrew. It is a day of astonishing unexpected events that transform Miss Pettigrew’s mind and outlook on life for ever.

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2. Movies and Audiobooks

The only movie I watched this month was the BBC adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles (screenplay by David Nicholls) and it was soooo good! It really made me want to pick up the book and read it. I listened to the BBC full cast adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Sittaford Mystery. I do enjoy these full cast dramatizations: it almost feels like going to the theatre.

3. Miscellany

I bought so many books this month. Most of them were bought with Christmas money or were gifts to myself to revive my dwindling library. I hope to enjoy and read them over the next couple of years. Here is a picture of the books!

I hope you all had a great month of reading. I have several library books to get through in February which I am excited to share. Do have a great month!

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

 

  • Excerpt: This is the story of a day in the life of the Thatcham family, in their English country house. It is however, no ordinary day in their lives. The eldest daughter of the family, Dolly, is to be married that morning. The house is inundated with quirky guests who say and do the most unusual things. A ex-beau, Joseph, is plucking up the courage to speak to Dolly. The bride is upstairs, liberally drinking from a tall bottle of Jamaica Rum while adjusting her toilette. As the time for leaving the house for the wedding ceremony approaches, we wonder what else might occur on this unusual wedding day.  Will Dolly make it to her wedding in one piece? Will Joseph be able to unburden his heart to Dolly?
  • Title: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
  • Author: Julia Strachey
  • Published: 1932 by The Hogarth Press, 2002 by Persephone Books Ltd. 2009 as a Persephone Classic
  • Location of the story: the Thatcham’s house in the English countryside near the Malton Downs.
  • Main Characters: Dolly Thatcham (bride, the eldest Thatcham daughter), Owen (the bridegroom), Mrs. Hetty Thatcham (widowed mother of the bride), Joseph (Dolly’s ex-beau), Kitty Thatcham (younger Thatcham daughter)…

This is the first Persephone Classics edition that I have read and I must admit this is the most peculiar yet most wonderful book! I cannot seem to get the characters or the events surrounding the wedding out of my mind. It is one of those books that you feel compelled to re-read almost immediately after you have set it down.

The book starts with our being introduced to the bride, Dolly Thatcham (23 years old) on the morning of her marriage to the Hon. Owen Bigham, eight years her senior and employed in the Diplomatic Service in South America. It is a quiet, small wedding taking place in the local church, conveniently located on the other side of the garden wall of the Thatcham country house.

After the reader briefly meets Dolly she repairs to her bedroom to dress and prepare for the two o’clock wedding. It is only nine o’clock in the morning but Mrs. Thatcham is fussing around with the domestic arrangements that are required to host, entertain and suitably feed a wedding party.

By midday the house is inundated with innumerable guests, friends and close members of the family. All the guests are asked to refresh and relax in the ‘lilac room’ by Mrs. Thatcham with little regard for the size and the accommodative capacity of the room. This poorly managed arrangement has quite a hilarious consequence as we discover later on in the story.

We find that ineffective management of events and household affairs is quite a hallmark of Mrs. Thatcham’s approach to the world. Her inconsequential fussing around the house is frequently interspersed with comments of:

“I simply fail to understand it!”.

Another comment that frequently graces her lips is the observation that the weather is uncommonly cheerful, even when, in fact, it is not.

“Oh, such a beautiful day for Dolly’s wedding! Everything looks so cheerful and pretty, the garden looking so gay. You can see right over across to the Malton Downs!”

As the guests gather together in the long hall at midday, we are introduced to them one by one.

There is the young cousin Robert, reader of ‘Captain’ magazine with

…eyes that were lustrous as two oily-black stewed prunes, or blackest treacle, and the complexion of a dark-red peach.

Robert is perpetually bullied by his older brother Tom and is asked to change his socks at frequent intervals.

“THESE ARE NOT PROPER SOCKS FOR A GENTLEMAN TO WEAR AT A WEDDING” said Tom, bending over the sofa.

To which we are treated to the short and memorable response from treacle-eyed Robert of-

“Go and put your head in a bag”

We meet Evelyn, the small, dark-haired friend of Dolly,  who makes jest of Mrs Thatcham’s habit of calling the most appalling weather conditions cheerful.

We also meet Kitty, the younger sister of Dolly, an innocent girl with romantic, if  somewhat unrealistic visions of life.

Then, there is the silent, brooding character of Joseph, an anthropology student studying in London and a previous beau of Dolly’s. Mrs Thatcham has her doubts about Joseph and the effect he has upon young, impressionable Kitty.

It seemed to her that he said deliberately disgusting and evil things in front of her young daughter Kitty

We are treated to just such an example of Joseph’s conversation with Kitty.

“How are your lectures going” asked Kitty…

“Very well, thank you” said Joseph and added:

“We heard about the practices of the Minoan Islanders upon reaching the age of puberty at the last one”…

“Oh really? How terribly interesting!” said Kitty.

“Yes, very. Like to hear about them?” offered Joseph.

“Kitty, dear child! Kitty! Kitty! Open the window  a trifle at the top will you! The air gets so terribly stuffy in here always! cried out Mrs. Thatcham very loudly.

We meet several other characters sequentially, all more wonderful than the other. Quirky, wonderful people with interesting things to say. The bridegroom, turns up unconventionally at the front door to announce that he is there to retrieve the bride’s ring (that she has taken for sizing and has not returned).

Meanwhile, the bride, Dolly,  is upstairs in her attic bedroom making adjustments to her toilette and surreptitiously swigging alcohol from a tall bottle of Jamaica rum.

She is interrupted by Joseph, who calls her from the stairs and asks her if she is ready yet. She avoids him by untruthfully saying she is not ready.

As the time for leaving the house for the wedding ceremony approaches, we wonder what else might occur on this unusual wedding day.  Will Dolly make it to her wedding in one piece? Will Joseph be able to unburden his heart to Dolly? He has never told her directly that he loves her.

Once, the previous summer at a large dinner party at a hotel in Malton, there had been a discussion about a crackly biscuit made with treacle, called a ‘jumbly’. Joseph, remarks to Dolly that she would adore them if she tried them.

But the point was, that through his face, and most especially his eyes, Joseph’s whole being had announced, plainly, and with a violent fervour, not “You would adore them,” but “I adore you.”

In ‘Cheerful Weather for The Wedding’ we meet a menage of unlikely characters. Many of them take an indirect approach to negotiating life. They often do not say exactly what they mean, what they say often detracts from the absolute truth, they have a roundabout, superficial approach to dealing with life’s little problems. Julia Strachey imparts great drama to the entire proceedings by interjecting these interactions with some very direct, candid conversations.

Like all good writers, she leaves you unsure of the actual circumstances and consequences of the story and compels you to re-read the story to fill in the details about the wonderful circus of characters she presents to you.