Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

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‘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.

The story commences when Sophia and Charles, two art students, meet on a train, are immediately drawn to one another and decide to marry even in the face of severe opposition from Charles’s family, who believe that domestic responsibilities and marriage will hamper Charles’s artistic progress. Charles’s mother Eva, practically falls upon Sophia and accuses her of trapping her son.

Eva said I was not capable of love, only lust, and it was all a trap to catch Charles.

They are married in less than ideal conditions, in a church ceremony, presided over by an impatient priest, a handful of less then enthusiastic friends and relatives and the bride wearing an ugly green wrap-over skirt that had a tendency to unwrap at the most inopportune moments.

They arrange to live in a small flat on Haverstock Hill in London. With the ten pounds that a spiritualist friend gives them for a wedding gift they buy  furniture and household essentials.

We had a proper tea-set from Waring and Gillow, and a lot of blue plates from Woolworths; our cooking things came from there, too. I had hoped they would give us a set of real silver teaspoons when we bought the wedding-ring but the jeweler we went to wouldn’t so our spoons came from Woolworths, too.

Sophia earns two pounds a week with which she pays the rent, food and other household expenses. Charles stays at home painting. He sometimes tries to get work at commercial studios but nothing turns up in the face of the Great Depression. He is not troubled by the fact that he does not in any way contribute to the family. Sophia states:

Charles was quite happy just painting away, and as long as I earned two pounds a week and there were a few cheques in the drawer he hadn’t a care in the world.

This happiness is broken when Sophia quite unexpectedly discovers that she is expecting a child. At first she thinks her sickness is a result of eating too many strawberries but a visit to the doctors dispels that idea.

There is a quite memorable passage describing Sophia’s vague ideas regarding birth control:

I had a kind of idea if you controlled your mind and said ‘I won’t have any babies’ very hard, they most likely wouldn’t come. I thought that was what was meant by birth-control, but by this time I knew that idea was quite wrong.

Sophia although eager to be a mother is weighed down with the knowledge that Charles is terribly against being a father because he does believes they will not fit in with the kind of life he want to lead.

As time goes on, the stash of wedding cheques kept in a drawer whittle down and the couple find themselves living from hand to mouth, always guessing where the next few pounds will come from, to pay of their substantial debts. The descriptions of the poverty that Comyns describes are at times quite harrowing. They are told in quite a light manner though so that the reader does not feel excessively weighed down.

Sophia’s loss of job before having the baby signals the downward spiral that the couple find it hard to recover from.

I found the book to be quite compelling reading. The descriptions of Sophia’s child delivery in the hospital were at times quite funny but also shocking. The book quite brilliantly reflects the period that it describes, the hard circumstances of the Depression and the plight of women.

The book is very much a story about women, for women. Even in the depths of helplessness and despair for Sophia we are witness to her great strength and determination.

‘Our Spoons came from Woolworths’ is an exceptional domestic drama and Comyns displays consummate skill as a voluble spokesperson for the downtrodden women of that age.

December 2015, Book Wrap Up

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

1. Books

 I  read a total of five books in December.

1) The Sweet Dove Died (4/5*) by Barbara Pym.

2) The Thirty Nine Steps (4.5/5*) by John Buchan.

3) Emma- A Modern Retelling (3.5/5*) by Alexander McCall Smith.

4) Mystery in White (4/5*) by J. Jefferson Farjeon .

5) Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp.

2. Blogposts

 I published nine blogposts excluding this round-up post this month. Two were reviews of  children’s books: The Story of Babar and Miss Rumphius. The rest included reviews of the books-  Family Roundabout and Illyrian Spring. I also published bookish list posts: 12 New Authors I Would Like to Read in 2016Top 10 books of 201512 Classics I Want to Read in 20165 Endearing Christmastime Scenes from the Best Children’s Books and 2015: A Diary of Reading in 30 Instagram Pictures.

I wrote a blogpost for Mustlovefestivals.com interviewing the Latvian Tourism Board regarding the best upcoming Latvian Festivals in 2016. It was lovely chatting to Lelde Benke and learning about the Staro Riga Festival of Lights and the Cesis Town Fair.

3. Movies

The whole family sat down to watch ‘Home Alone‘ and the recent Disney adaptation of ‘Cinderella‘ during Christmas time. We adults watched ‘Brief Encounter‘ directed by David Lean. I highly recommend this movie, adapted from a minor play by Noel Coward. After reading Buchan’s ‘Thirty-nine Steps‘ we also watched the Hitchcock film by the same name. The story has been slightly modified for the big screen but both the book and film are exceptional.

4. Audiobooks

 I listened to the excellent BBC dramatization of Dodie Smith’s ‘Dear Octopus’ on BBC radio this month. I also listened to the BBC dramatization of a ‘Brief Encounter‘.

5. Miscellaneous

I purchased a number of Noel Coward plays on audible this month.

I did a few paintings for my art journal on Instagram.  It is my favourite social media platform!

Wish you all a very happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year!

Have you been reading/listening or watching anything nice this month?

2015: A Diary of Reading in 30 Instagram Pictures

I’ve really enjoyed being part of the bookish Instagram community or ‘Bookstagram’ as its popularly called in 2015. Here is a peek at my year in Instagram pictures; set in chronological order.

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"Good heavens!" said Grace;and dropping down upon a rock, she stared incredulously about her. The white rocks, the flowers, their blade like silvered leaves, all glowed in the strong sunshine with an effect that was quite literally dazzling. Nicholas sat down beside her…Grace was aware of the strong current of feeling set flowing within him at the sight. And this time, with a curious precision and certainty, she was aware of something more-how her own presence increased and heightened his delight, his response. Unspoken and unexpressed, this awareness grew and deepened, and with it her own pleasure in the sight. And for a short space of time, forgetting everything else, she gave herself up to this wordless sympathy, this peculiar accord between them, which made of the shared moment something more delicate and wonderful than it could have been for either alone. ———————————- 'Illyrian Spring' by Ann Bridge is a part travelogue, part love story set in 1930's Croatia, along the picturesque Dalmatian Coast. World-renowned artist, thirty-eight year old Lady Kilmichael, the wife of an eminent economist and mother to three grown-up children, leaves her family and all that she holds dear and escapes to Venice and Croatia's remote Dalmatian Coast. She fears for her marriage, suspecting her husband of embarking on a possible affair and also is saddened by the strained relationship she has with her daughter. In Venice she meets a disillusioned young man, Nicholas, a man on the verge of being coerced into an architectural career by his parents but desperately yearning to paint. By chance, Grace and Nicholas find themselves on the same cruise to the Dalmatian Coast. Grace is persuaded to guide and train Nicholas in his artistic endeavours and together they spend several idyllic weeks together painting and enjoying each other's company. However, when young Nicholas falls in love with Grace, she finds she must choose between following her better judgement or her heart. Full review of this beautiful travelogue on the blog. Link in profile. Happy Friday friends!

A post shared by Arpita Bhattacharya (@bagfullofbooks) on

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Are you an Instagrammer? The ‘Bookstagram’ community is such a friendly, wonderful community to be part of: there are tags you can participate in, photo challenges, ‘shelfies’ and monthly reading round-ups to follow. You can be sure that your ‘to be read’ list will get higher and higher and higher…

Lastly, here is a snapshot of my nine most popular Instagram pictures of 2015.

200th Anniversary of Austen’s Emma

Just a quick little post. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and received lots of bookish favours. A gift from my husband included the 200th anniversary edition of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’, which I am excited to re-read as part of my classics challenge next year. I will see you again in a few days with what will most likely be the last post of this year.

5 Endearing Christmastime Scenes from the Best Children’s Books

I love to give and receive the gift of books at Christmastime. One particular Christmas, my mother gave me four beautiful new Puffin Classics books. They included the titles ‘Little Women’, ‘What Katy Did’, ‘The Children of the New Forest’ and ‘The Water Babies’. I will always associate the memory of Christmas with these books. Here are some endearing Christmastime scenes, taken from five of my favourite childhood books.

Little Women

 

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“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.”

Can anyone forget the first New England Christmas that the March girls spend  during the American Civil War? They are gathered around the fire, feeling very sorry for themselves, because their mother has said that there will be no gift giving this particular Christmas, when so many people are facing extreme hardship. Each of the sisters is grievously planning what they will do with their own personal funds. Amy means to buy pencils for herself, Beth some sheet music, Jo a new book and Meg yearns for pretty little trifles. Then they observe their beloved Marmee’s worn slippers and it has a sobering effect on them. They resolve to sacrifice their own happiness to buy something for their mother.


Anne of Green Gables

Do you the remember the Christmas when Matthew insists on puffed sleeves for Anne? One grey December evening Matthew notices a bevy of small girls practicing  for a play in Green Gable’s sitting room. As he observes them from a distance he notices that Anne looks different from her friends. After a while he realizes that it is due to the fact that Marilla dresses Anne in very plain, unattractive clothing. Matthew decides that a Christmas present is a good excuse to give Anne a dress with puffed sleeves.

He arrives at the store, but he is so embarrassed to enquire about the dress that he walks away with several garden rakes and many pounds of coarse brown sugar instead! In the end, Mrs Lynde helps him, by agreeing to make a dress for Anne and the following scene ensues on Christmas morning at Green Gables.

Christmas morning broke on a beautiful white world. It had been a very mild December and people had looked forward to a green Christmas; but just enough snow fell softly in the night to transfigure Avonlea. Anne peeped out from her frosted gable window with delighted eyes. The firs in the Haunted Wood were all feathery and wonderful; the birches and wild cherry trees were outlined in pearl; the plowed fields were stretches of snowy dimples; and there was a crisp tang in the air that was glorious. Anne ran downstairs singing until her voice reechoed through Green Gables. “Merry Christmas, Marilla! Merry Christmas, Matthew! Isn’t it a lovely Christmas? I’m so glad it’s white. Any other kind of Christmas doesn’t seem real, does it? I don’t like green Christmases. They’re not green—they’re just nasty faded browns and grays. What makes people call them green? Why—why—Matthew, is that for me? Oh, Matthew!” Matthew had sheepishly unfolded the dress from its paper swathings and held it out with a deprecatory glance at Marilla, who feigned to be contemptuously filling the teapot, but nevertheless watched the scene out of the corner of her eye with a rather interested air. Anne took the dress and looked at it in reverent silence. Oh, how pretty it was—a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pintucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves—they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon. “That’s a Christmas present for you, Anne,” said Matthew shyly. “Why—why—Anne, don’t you like it? Well now—well now.” For Anne’s eyes had suddenly filled with tears.

“Like it! Oh, Matthew!” Anne laid the dress over a chair and clasped her hands. “Matthew, it’s perfectly exquisite. Oh, I can never thank you enough. Look at those sleeves! Oh, it seems to me this must be a happy dream.”

 

 

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What Katy Did at School

The two sisters, Katy and Clover Carr, whom we first met in the book, ‘What Katy Did’, have been sent off to boarding school in the book ‘What Katy Did at School’. On Christmas Day, the entire school is snowed in. Only Katy and Clover’s Christmas box magically arrives, laden with Christmas goodies from home. It is a delightful box, holding such wonderful treasures. When I was little, I read and re-read the contents of the box several times. Here is an excerpt that describes part of the contents of the box.

The top of the box was mostly taken up with four square paper boxes, round which parcels of all shapes and sized were wedged and fitted. The whole was a miracle of packing. It had taken Miss Finch three mornings, with assistance from old Mary, and much advice from Elsie, to do it so beautifully. Each box held a different kind of cake. One was of jumbles, another of ginger-snaps, a third of crullers, and the fourth contained a big square loaf of frosted plum-cake, with a circle of sugar almonds set in the frosting. How the trio exclaimed at this!”I never imagined any thing so nice,” declared Rose, with her mouth full of jumble. “As for those snaps, they’re simply perfect. What can be in all those fascinating bundles? Do hurry and open one, Katy.” Dear little Elsie! The first two bundles opened were hers, a white hood for Katy, and a blue one for Clover, both of her own knitting, and so nicely done. The girls were enchanted. “How she has improved!” said Katy. “She knits better than either of us, Clover.”

…Never was such a wonderful box. It appeared to have no bottom whatever. Under the presents were parcels of figs,prunes, almonds, raisins, candy; under those, apples and pears. There seemed no end to the surprises.

 

 

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The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Pevensie children, Peter, Susan and Lucy are on their journey across the Narnian countryside in search of Aslan, after they discover their brother Edmund has betrayed them to the White Witch. They are accompanied by Mr and Mrs Beaver. Narnia is a country, which under the magic of the White Witch is assailed by a constant Winter, but never Christmas. Slowly, the Witch’s magic is broken because Aslan is on the move. Quite unexpectedly, the children come face to face with Father Christmas who bestows them with important gifts. It is moment of great joy and hope for change, that might shape the future of the country.

“Didn’t I tell you,” answered Mr. Beaver, “that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!”
And then they were all at the top and did see.
It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly-berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world—the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn. “I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”

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Little House on the Prairie

Laura Ingalls Wilder provides the best descriptions of Christmas. These are not the Christmases of extravagant gifts and yuletide excesses. The Christmases are plain, heartfelt and filled with simple joys.

The children’s stockings are stuffed with peppermint candy cane, a tin cup (because the children had to share from the same cup before this), a heart shaped cake sprinkled with white sugar and a shining penny, wedged into the toe of the stocking. Their requirements are so simple and the children are so grateful. It is a wonderful reminder to me, that receiving a lot does not always equal greater happiness.

 

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And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny!

They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny.Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.

There never had been such a Christmas.


 

Which books are your favourite Christmas time reads?

I like to read a little Miss Read, this time of year and of course there is always the quintessential ‘A Christmas Carol’. For a look at my Holiday Booklist for the Booklovers in your life please click here.

I wish you all a peaceful and very happy holiday season!

 

Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge

‘Illyrian Spring’ is the first in the series of novels I am reviewing as part of the series -‘Books that take me to faraway places’. 

Excerpt: This book is a part travelogue, part love story set in 1930’s Croatia, along the picturesque Dalmatian Coast. World-renowned artist, thirty-eight year old Lady Kilmichael, the wife of an eminent economist and mother to three grown-up children, leaves her family and all that she holds dear and escapes to Venice and Croatia’s remote Dalmatian Coast. She fears for her marriage, suspecting her husband of embarking on a possible affair and also is saddened by the strained relationship she has with her daughter. In Venice she meets a disillusioned young man, Nicholas, a man on the verge of being coerced into an architectural career by his parents but desperately yearning to paint. By chance, Grace and Nicholas find themselves on the same cruise to the Dalmatian Coast. Grace is persuaded to guide and train Nicholas in his artistic endeavours and together they spend several idyllic weeks together painting and enjoying each other’s company. However, when young Nicholas falls in love with Grace, she finds she must choose between following her better judgement or her heart.

  • Title: Illyrian Spring
  • Author: Ann Bridge
  • Published: 1935 by Little, Brown, and Company
  • Location of the story: Illyria or Croatia in the 1930s
  • Main Characters: Lady Grace Kilmichael, Nicholas, Walter Kilmichael

At the start of the novel, beautiful thirty-eight year old Grace Kilmichael has taken the quite drastic step of leaving her family and has embarked on a solo trip to Venice and thereon to the remote Dalmatian Coast. Unsure of her intellectual husband’s regard for her and suspecting him of being attached to another woman, she decides that rather than confront him, it is wiser to leave him for a while to make his own decisions.

Lady Kilmichael, though she did not realize it, was beginning (rather late in the day) to feel the pressure of one of the more peculiar aspects of English life-the moral and intellectual subordination of women to their husbands.

Lady Grace is mother to twin boys who are away at college and a younger débutante daughter and part of her unhappiness is linked to the fact that she has become estranged from her daughter and doesn’t know how to communicate with her.

Grace is a painter of quite considerable international repute although members of her family do not give her art as much respect as is due. Armed with a painting contract for several American newspapers, Grace takes her sketchbook, art supplies and her grievous heart and arrives in Venice.

One day while visiting the off shore island of Torcello, Grace meets a personable young man named Nicholas who is a little older than her sons. They begin to talk to one another and start studying a set of ancient stone stone slabs that have a unique scribe that Grace feels will be of interest to her archaeology studying son. Nicholas misses his boat from Torcello and Grace offers to share her boat ride back to Venice. On the night time boat ride, Grace and Nicholas talk companiably about music and literature among other things.

For the remainder of the time spent in Venice, their paths do not cross. However, as luck would have it, they find themselves on the same boat that is cruising down the Dalmatian Coast. As Grace starts to learn more about Nicholas’s background and character, she discovers that he is being coerced, by his family, into a career as an architect, although he yearns to paint. Grace, without revealing the famous name that she is known by in art circles, promises that she will take a look at Nicholas’s paintings and guide him, wherever possible.

Grace receives a letter from her husband Walter, informing her of her foolishness and telling her to return home to her family. The highhanded tone of the letter and the lack of tenderness, convinces Grace that she must continue on her solo endeavour and somehow ‘find herself’ again after many years of moulding herself  to suit the needs of her family.

Grace and Nicholas disembark in the ancient town of Spalato (Split), and seek accommodation in a boarding house. What follows is an idyllic period where Grace and Nicholas, paint the beautiful scenes and countryside of the Dalmatian Coast. They fall into a pleasant companionable routine of painting, eating leisurely lunches together and exploring the countryside.

Whether working or sight-seeing, of course she and Nicholas talked. It is surprising the amount of talk that two people will get through during a week of solid tete-a-tete. Now in modern life it is an extreme rarity, outside marriage, to get a week of uninterrupted companionship with any human being.

Nicholas shows incredible skill in his painting and Grace is happy to find herself useful to someone and appreciated after a long time. During her long discourses with Nicholas, she questions him about the peculiar characteristics of the youth of his age so that she might gain insight into where she is going wrong in her relationship with her daughter.

A few weeks into her sojourn with Nicholas, Grace is appalled to discover that Nicholas, a man young enough to be her son, has fallen in love with her. Conversations with a common friend, a Philosophy Professor,  who lives locally confirms this fact, as he has upon independent observation, arrived at the same conclusion.

The remainder of the novel deals with how Grace deals with this circumstance, how she reciprocates Nicholas’s love and the repercussions of these romantic feelings.

Illyrian Spring is an in depth look at the romantic relationship between an older woman and a younger man. At the start of the novel, when the reader has an inkling of what may follow, it seems absurd that a man and woman, severely  separated in years, might have a romantic relationship. We witness, however, a burgeoning of Nicholas’s soul through his discovery of painting and he remains highly indebted to Grace and in many ways, highly dependent on her. Their compatibility is undeniable. Grace also finds herself, gaining in confidence, feeling happier than she has felt in many years, in her beautiful surroundings and a newly developed appreciation of her own self. The idea of ‘ amour propre’ or self-love as a means of appreciating oneself, independent of how others see one is a recurring theme in the book.

We are privy to Grace’s emotions and feelings at every step of her relationship with Nicholas. Therefore, towards the end of the novel it does not seem so absurd that Grace should find herself  capable of loving Nicholas.

The  conclusion of the novel is managed quite be beautifully. We walk away feeling, that in Ann Bridge, we have found a writer, not only of considerable skill but that of infinite sense and sensibility.

The Travelogue Embedded in Illyrian Spring

Ann Bridge was the wife of a diplomat and travelled widely with her husband. Her several books, therefore, have a strong sense of place.

Illyria, was historically considered from Greek antiquity, to constitute the western part of the Balkan peninsula.

It is also known as Dalmatia or the Dalmatian coast and forms one of the four historically separated regions of Croatia, the others being Slavonia, Istria and Croatia proper. The coast extends from the island of Rab in the north to the Bay of Kotor in the south. The largest city of the region is Split, followed by Zadar, Dubrovnik and Sibenik.

Places mentioned in the book include the Italian city of Venice and then Spalato or Split  where Lady Grace and Nicholas visit the ancient palace of the Emperor Diocletian, the little medieval town of Traü, the hill fortress of Clissa with its abundance of flowers and the hilly town of Ragusa- where the majority of the novel is set.

Modes of travel mentioned in the book include the Channel steamer,  the Simplon Orient Express and the Adriatica Steamer boats taking the traveller down the Dalmatian coast.

Illyrian Spring is a beautifully written book that will appeal not only for its romantic story line but also its detailed travelogue. There are quite lovely descriptions of nature and the flora and fauna native to the Dalmatian Coast. After reading it one feels compelled to add Croatia to the never-ending travel bucket list.

“Good heavens!” said Grace;and dropping down upon a rock, she stared incredulously about her. The white rocks, the flowers, their blade like silvered leaves, all glowed in the strong sunshine with an effect that was quite literally dazzling. Nicholas sat down beside her…Grace was aware of the strong current of feeling set flowing within him at the sight. And this time, with a curious precision and certainty, she was aware of something more-how her own presence increased and heightened his delight, his response. Unspoken and unexpressed, this awareness grew and deepened, and with it her own pleasure in the sight. And for a short space of time, forgetting everything else, she gave herself up to this wordless sympathy, this peculiar accord between them, which made of the shared moment something more delicate and wonderful than it could have been for either alone.

 

Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton

I’ve always been a fan of Richmal Crompton’s ‘William’ books for children. Liberally peppered with hilarious incidents and cringeworthy escapades, it is hard to think that Crompton could be capable of writing a sentence that was not funny. I was therefore, intrigued to discover Crompton was a prolific writer of adult, ‘serious’ novels. ‘Family Roundabout’ published by Persephone books, is my first experience with Crompton, writing a non-William book and I must say that I rather enjoyed this alternative voice of Crompton too!

Excerpt: This Persephone book looks at the complex relationship between two neighbouring families, the Fowlers and the Willoughbys,  whose outlooks on life, are on one hand in opposition to one another, but on the other hand, find their paths unavoidably intertwined. Both the matriarch’s of the families, keep a close eye on the fates of their beloved families, but employ different styles in guiding them. Mrs Willoughby, has control of the family fortune, and dictates the actions of her family members by way of controlling the money she endows them. Benevolent Mrs Fowler, watches silently, as her children fall in and out of their individual problems. Most of her children appeal for her help when they require it. But despite, however, much the mothers’ try to resolve their children’s problems, new troubles, recur in cyclical events, almost like a roundabout.

  • Title: Family Roundabout
  • Author: Richmal Crompton
  • Published: 1948 by Hutchinson , later published by Persephone Books in 2001.
  • Location of the story: rural England, in the years preceding World War II.
  • Main Characters: the two families: the Fowlers and the Willoughbys.

Family Roundabout, essentially deals with the domestic events occurring in the neighbouring households of the Fowlers and the Willoughbys. At the start of the book, both the patriarchs of the families have died, leaving their wives at the helm of family affairs.

Mrs. Fowler or Millicent has for so many years moulded her personality to suit the requirements of her husband and family, she has forgotten that she has an individual voice of her own. Quite interestingly, in the first few pages of the book we are introduced to the concept of Millicent having a split personality of sorts- that of the muddle-headed, self-effacing, diminutive ‘Milly’ and also that of ‘Millicent’ – a more discerning, quick-witted, astute individual with a sharp intellect.

Stupidity is not an easy quality to assume, and there had been times when her real self had broken through the barricade

We see in the course of the novel, Mrs Fowler, taking judicious steps to guide the progress of her family but always hiding proof of any deliberate intentions under the ruse of the bemused ‘Millie’.

The Fowlers are a large family who live in Langley Place, a country house located in the small village of Hurstmede, three miles away from the country town of Bellington. When Henry Fowler dies, he leaves behind Millicent, and their five children: Matthew (28) (living abroad in Kenya), Peter an architect (26)(married to Belle), Anice (24), Helen (22) and the youngest Judy, a schoolgirl of 16.

Willoughby, the owner of a large paper-mill, leaves his money in its entirety to his wife, Mrs Willoughby who chooses to distribute this money to her children as she sees fit. As a result she has complete control over the movements of her children. Dasg and dash, wedded to dash and dash respectively, respond to Mrs illooghby’s beck and call much to the consternation of their husbands. But household expenses, clothes and school fees are paid for so there is little or no protest. Max, as the eldest son, takes over as the de facto head of the mills. The youngest son, Oliver, has literary aspirations to publish a novel but his ideas are met with strong disproval from his mother and he forced to at least appear to work in the family business.

While Henry  Fowler and Willoughby were alive the two families paths seldom met. They were separated from one another by a vague idea of class difference and contempt for each other’s standing in society.

The Fowlers were of the county, while the Willoughbys were of the town.”

After the death of the two patriarchs Max and Helen decide to marry, thus unavoidably intertwining the paths of the two families.  Cool and calculative Helen  meets with her mother-in-laws approval and is usually consulted regarding all family affairs. The two youngest children of the respective families, Judy Fowler and Cynthia Willougby are close friends and go to school together. They share a shared juvenile obsession for a famous contemporary author.

Slowly, we are introduced into the individual lives of the Willoughbys and Fowlers. We learn that Peter Fowler has an unhappy home that he shares with his neurotic, manipulative wife Belle and their young daughter Gillian. Peter has a close bond with his brother Matthew, who lives in Kenya , but who frequently writes to their mother about his intentions of returning to his family home.

Anise, close in age to Helen, has grown up in her beautiful younger sisters shadow, marries a poor bookshop employee four of  love and lives an unhappy life constantly trying to compete with her wealthy sister Helen. Judy, grows up to be a beautiful young woman, and she and Oliver , the youngest Willoughby fall in love with one another. Mrs Willoughby, disapproves of the alliance, and tries to discourage Oliver from marrying her. Judy, yearning for the city life, cajoles Oliver into forsaking his position in the family business and tries to convince him to live an independent life in the city as a writer, However, timid Oliver finds himself constantly mustering up the courage to make this tremendous leap into financial insecurity.

Mrs Fowler, silently witnesses the trial and tribulations of her family. She waits in the sidelines, anticipating each wrong turn that her children and grandchildren might make and silently tries to steer them in the right direction. She suffers silently and is often unable to make matters right.

Mrs Willoughby, on the other hand, rules her family with an iron hand. Though she is benevolent and kind to her extended family, several of them poor and aged, she is often dictatorial and uncompromising with her immediate family.

Both women have the well being of their families foremost in their minds, whatever, their methods of dealing with their family problems might be. At the end of the story the two women have a remarkable conversation about family troubles, recurring at cyclical intervals,almost like a constantly moving roundabout.

Family Roundabout by Crompton is a well written, critical observation of domestic drama  and complex familial relationships. Crompton  simultaneously relates the interplay of several plot threads. Each of the characters and their relationships are described with remarkable clarity. Foibles in human character are acutely observed. None of the characters are perfect. Each one of them has their own individual shortcomings and they are remarkably  human. They are prone to make mistakes, and just as their mother’s rush to their sides to offer them assistance, so too do they awaken the sympathy of the reader.

 

The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

 

  • Title: The Story of Babar
  • Author and Illustrator: Jean de Brunhoff
  • Published: 1933
  • Main Characters: Babar (a little elephant),

Short Synopsis of the Story: A little elephant called Babar grew up under the care of his mother in a big forest. One day, some cruel hunters killed Babar’s mother before his very eyes. In a wild panic, Babar fled and ran and ran until he came upon a large town. Once in the town, he met an Old Lady who was kind enough to be Babar’s benefactress. Babar went to a large clothing store and bought himself fine clothes. With the help of a learned professor, Babar received a good education and together, he and the Old Lady spent a happy few years in polite, civilized, social circles in the big city. Despite the comfort and security in his town life, Babar missed his life in the forest. One day, Babar came upon two of his cousins, Celeste and Arthur, who had mischievously escaped from the forest. He spent a few happy days with his cousins, showing them about town and his way of life. When Celeste and Arthur’s mothers come from the forest and find their children it is time to go back. Babar decided that he would go back to the forest with his cousins. Despite feeling sad at leaving the Old Lady, Babar was ready to embrace his old life. When Babar, Celeste and Hector, arrived back in the forest they found that the King of the Elephants had suddenly died from eating a poisonous mushroom. All the elephants proposed that Babar should be their King. Babar accepted their proposal on the grounds that they accept Celeste as their queen. There was a grand marriage ceremony with much celebration and enjoyment and all the animals of the forest attended it. King Babar and Queen Celeste leave on their honeymoon on a big hot-air balloon, eager for new adventures.

Notes: This is a wonderful story with a subtle moral. Babar returns to his old life in the forest, thus relinquishing his life of comfort in the big town. His experiences in the city, placate him in the elephant society and he is deemed worthy of being their King. Babar and his Queen, seek further adventures. Adventure and experience, bring worldliness and hence wisdom.

Apart from having a lovely storyline that will capture the imagination of little children, the illustrations by de Brunhoff are exceptional. Particularly those of Babar dressed in his fine clothes, partaking of amusements that are popular in genteel society. This is deemed to be one of the first graphic novels of it’s kind and de Brunhoff is often referred to as being the father of the contemporary picture book.

I did find the references to Babar’s mother being killed a little shocking though and my three year old daughter was clearly affected by the incident and kept asking about it. Perhaps, death is a fact that needs to be dealt with, however, young we may be. It is a point that I am still pondering.

Top 10 books of 2015

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In terms of the number of books read, 2015 was a disappointing year for me. We are in the first week of December and I am yet to reach my yearly goal of reading 50 books. Things were progressing fairly well, I was reading a book a week and then summer came…

Here are my excuses: we went on a long summer vacation to meet family in India after five long years. There, I also met my brother and his girlfriend whom I saw for the very first time. They were visiting from Europe.

I caught up with school friends, met aged relatives, did a little bit of sightseeing in Kolkata, where I had lived for 18 years, dealt with my daughter’s severe bout of diarrhea (too much information, I know) and dutifully visited our local dentist several times. My summer was hence, bookless.

In 2015, I started this blog and it took me a few months to find my feet (I still am!). I was also involved in managing and writing content for a few online projects. It was a busy but interesting year.

I have a few other excuses but I’ll shush now. At the end of the day, I try to remind myself why I read. And I feel personally, it shouldn’t be about me chasing after a random number. Questions I should be focusing on are: did I learn something from the books I read? Did they inspire me? Did they cheer me up when I was having a bad day, week or month? Did they make me passionate about reading more? The answers to these questions are a resounding yes.

So at the end of this long monologue, I should mention that despite the paucity of books read, I was lucky enough to pick up several great books in 2015. Coincidentally, all the books described in this blogpost are written by authors who I have read for the very first time, excluding HE Bates. Here in no particular order are my Top 10 Books of 2015. All of them are exceptional reads.

1) They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple

Three sisters marry three very different men. Lucy, the eldest is happily married to William. Charlotte, is besotted with Geoffrey who is a cruel, dominating husband and Vera, the beautiful youngest sister marries caring, wealthy Brian, whom she marries for  security. The story deals with the fact that choosing a life partner can have far-reaching consequences, and that this decision can dictate to a large extent a person’s individual happiness and the happiness of their families.Whipple delivers a masterful plot and powerful cast of characters. She creates extraordinary drama and turbulence within the boundaries of everyday domestic occurrences. For a full review see here.

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2) 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This is an account of the correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer in New York and Frank Doel, an employee of a used antiquarian bookstore in London. The correspondence is spread over the years 1949 to 1969, documenting the lively dialogue between two people, with nothing in common but a knowledge and love of good books. Set in the years after World War II, the reader is treated to an insight of the reality of what it was like to live in the aftermath of the war. The book is funny and poignant and shows how people separated by great distance and circumstances can nonetheless, touch each others lives and create the most beautiful of relationships.For a full review click here.

 

 

 

3) Illyrian spring by Ann Bridge

This book is a part travelogue, part love story set in 1930’s Croatia, along the picturesque Dalmatian Coast. World-renowned artist, thirty-eight year old Lady Kilmachael, the wife of an eminent economist and mother to three grown-up children, leaves her family and all that she holds dear and escapes to Venice and Croatia’s remote Dalmatian Coast. She fears for her marriage, suspecting her husband of embarking on a possible affair and also is saddened by the strained relationship she has with her daughter. In Venice she meets a disillusioned young man, Nicholas, a man on the verge of being coerced into an architectural career by his parents but desperately yearning to paint. By chance, Grace and Nicholas find themselves on the same cruise to the Dalmatian Coast. Grace is persuaded to guide and train Nicholas in his artistic endeavours and together they spend several idyllic weeks together painting and enjoying each other’s company. However, when young Nicholas falls in love with Grace, she finds she must choose between following her better judgement or her heart.

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4) The Eye of Love by Margery Sharp

This is an unusual, quirky, humorous fairytale romance story. An unlikely hero (portly, middle-aged Henry Gibson) and an unlikely heroine (angular, past her prime Dolores Diver) meet at a Chelsea Arts Ball dressed as a brown paper parcel and Spanish dancer respectively. Thus springs an unusual decade long love affair that is threatened by economic situations. Enter an unemotional orphaned niece with a large appetite for food and drawing random objects, a few unusual characters and situations, lots of candor, romance and intelligence and you have the makings of a fine novel. ‘The Eye of Love’ by Margery Sharp is a fantastic read. For a full review click here

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5) The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford is her fifth novel published in 1945. It is the first novel in a trilogy of which Love in a Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred form a part. The Pursuit of Love was the first novel that brought Mitford popularity and is semi-autobiographical. The time frame of the story is set in between the two world wars. The threat of impending war and its repercussions play a major role in the unfolding of the story. However, at the heart of the tale is the story of a young woman’s lifelong quest to find love.

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6) Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

This is a feel good Cinderella-esque love story set in 1930s rural Essex. What sets it apart from any other frothy romance novels is Gibbon’s exceptionally witty writing style, her simultaneous interweaving of several plots and her sometimes very profound observations about life.

 

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7) Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Four English women seek respite from their personal troubles during a month-long holiday in a rented medieval castle in Italy.  The change of scenery strikes an indelible change in each of these women. They find themselves embracing circumstances and causes they had long given up on. The book positively resonates with the beauty and warmth of the location. Elizabeth von Arnim supposedly visited an Italianate castle perched high up on a cliff, in the location of beautiful Portofino and the place inspired her to write Enchanted April.

 

8) A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

This is Peter Mayle’s year long diary-style narrative of moving to and spending a year in a small village in Provence. Each month chronicles not only the events taking place in the author’s personal life, but also the events typically occurring in a small Provencal village. The weather, seasonal produce and farming, summer markets and festivities are all deliciously captured through discerning descriptions. The writing style is simple yet descriptive. This is a beautiful travelogue. I tried to read a chapter a month this year, corresponding to the month described in the book. For a look at my art journal entry based on the cover illustration look here.

 

9) Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

This is the most unusual book I have read this year yet so very wonderful. This is a Persephone Classic. It describes at length the wedding day of a young girl who is reluctant to get married. The bride takes to glugging a bottle of Jamaica Rum in her bedroom to quell her fears whilst downstairs a strange collective of characters have assembled to participate in the wedding celebrations. There are eccentric relatives, friends, a former beau who wishes to propose and yet is not certain of himself and a bevy of peculiar servants who help in the wedding preparations. The book is interspersed with memorable dialogues. I highly recommend this book!

10)The Darling Buds of May by HE Bates

This book is just ‘perfick’ to read in the summer if you should choose to use Pop Larkin’s (the protagonist of the book’s) favorite adjective. A young tax collector comes to Pop Larkin’s Essex farm for an audit only to find himself totally carried away by the love, laughter and excesses of the Larkin family. He falls in love with Mariette, the eldest Larkin daughter, Ma Larkin’s cooking and also Pop Larkin’s philosophy of living life to the lees. The descriptions of nature, summer and especially food make this an exceptional book.

What were your favorite books of 2015? Do you have a yearly goal of reading a certain number of books?

12 New Authors I Would Like to Read in 2016

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Now that I’m approaching my fourth decade of life, I feel more confident about the choices that I make in life. For example, I know when I enter a Starbucks, to be confronted by a bewildering array of choices, that I am NOT a green tea latte type of person. Most definitely not. For me, it is the subtle aroma of the simple cappuccino, made with a hint of sugar, that gives me pleasure.

Similarly, I have accepted the fact that I will never be the ‘skinny jeans wearing type of gal’ with the permanently furrowed brow. Give me the comfortable boyfriend jeans and I will sink comfortably into my favourite couch, to reach for that reassuring book.

When it comes to book choices too, I have finally reached that beautiful place, when I am able to appreciate in advance, exactly what kind of book I will enjoy reading, even when I have never read a single line written by that author.

Most of them are modern classics, written in and around the twentieth century and deal with stories related to the home and society.

Here in no particular order, are the twelve authors whom I have never read, but I expect (and hope!) will give me many hours of unadulterated reading pleasure in 2016.

1) E.M. Delafield-  The Diary of A Provincial Lady

2) Elizabeth Jenkins-  The Tortoise and the Hare

3) E.F. Benson- Mapp and Lucia

4) D.E. Stevenson- Mrs Tim of the Regiment or Miss Buncle’s Book

5) Monica Dickens-Mariana

 

 

6) Penelope Lively- Consequences

7) Muriel Spark-The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

8) Beryl Bainbridge- The Bottle Factory Outing

9) Winifred Holtby- South Riding

10) Barbara Comyns- Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

11) Elizabeth Taylor- Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

12) Josephine They- The Franchise Affair

Please let me know if you enjoy reading these particular authors and which books you have enjoyed reading by them.

Which books do you look forward to reading in 2016?

Here’s to a great year of reading ahead!