Still trawling the internet trying to decide what Reading Challenges to undertake in 2018 – there’s so many that are calling me!! HELP!!
But the uppermost aim of the challenge must be to get books on my shelves READ!! There are way too many just sitting there looking pretty and not being opened!! So that is why one of the challenges I will be setting myself is the PERSEPHONE BOOK CHALLENGE – I started collecting their gorgeous books a couple of years ago now after spotting a couple in a charity shop, and have added to the shelves since then!! So now there are 13 of the grey stunners on a special shelf… now is the time for me to read them!! The plan is to read 12 – one a month – but hopefully I can get them all read as they differ in length!! So here’s a look at the titles I have ahead of me in 2018 thanks to Persephone Books.
The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
The setting for this, the third novel by Dorothy Whipple Persephone have published, is Saunby Priory, a large house somewhere in England which has seen better times. We are shown the two Marwood girls, who are nearly grown-up, their father, the widower Major Marwood, and their aunt; then, as soon as their lives have been described, the Major proposes marriage to a woman much younger than himself – and many changes begin.
There were no windows by Norah Hoult
This 1944 novel is about memory loss and is the only book we know of, apart from Iris about Iris Murdoch (and arguably There Were No Windows is wittier and more profound), on this subject. Based on the last years of the writer Violet Hunt, a once-glamorous woman living in Kensington during the Blitz who is now losing her memory, the novel’s three ‘acts’ describe with insight, humour and compassion what happens to ‘Claire Temple’ in her last months. ‘A quite extraordinary book,’ was the verdict of Cressida Connolly in the Spectator, ‘unflinchingly, blackly funny, brilliantly observed and terrifying.’ And because Claire Temple is an unrepentant snob, ‘the novel gives a sly account of the end of an entire way of life.’
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
Miss Pettigrew, an approaching-middle-age governess, was accustomed to a household of unruly English children. When her employment agency sends her to the wrong address, her life takes an unexpected turn. The alluring nightclub singer, Delysia LaFosse, becomes her new employer, and Miss Pettigrew encounters a kind of glamour that she had only met before at the movies. Over the course of a single day, both women are changed forever.
Gardener’s Nightcap by Muriel Stuart
Muriel Stuart was a successful and well-known poet during and just after the First World War. She then had two children, gave up writing poetry and took to gardening with enormous enthusiasm and dedication. She wrote only two books, Fool’s Garden (1936), about creating a garden in Surrey, and Gardener’s Nightcap (1938). After the war, for thirty years, she was a well-known columnist for gardening magazines. Although a great beauty, Muriel Stuart was shy and self-contained – and happiest in her garden.
This work of hers is indeed a ‘nightcap’: a soothing tonic to take in small doses just before bed. The subjects covered are many and variegated. They include: Meadow Saffron, Dark Ladies, Better Goose-berries, Good King Henry (‘quite a good substitute for asparagus’), The Wild Comes Back and Phlox Failure. Each of these pieces is only a few lines in length yet tells the gardener far more than extensive essays or manuals.
Gardener’s Nightcap, a bestseller in its year of first publication, is illustrated by charming Rex Whistler-type drawings. And we end with the opening sentence: ‘There is an hour just before dark, when the garden resents interference.
Its work, no less than the gardener’s, is done. Do not meddle with the garden at that hour. It demands, as all living creatures demand, a time of silence…’
Gardeners’ Choice by Evelyn Dunbar
The writing is quite serious and is for the truly dedicated gardener – there are detailed descriptions of the plants that the two devoted gardeners would ideally choose for a garden. But the main delight of the book is the drawings – black and white illustrations that have never been reproduced since their first publication in 1937.
The New House by Lettice Cooper
‘All that outwardly happens in The New House,’ writes Jilly Cooper, ‘is over one long day a family moves from a large imposing secluded house with beautiful gardens to a small one overlooking a housing estate. But all the characters and their relationships with each other are so lovingly portrayed that one cares passionately what happens even to the unpleasant ones. ‘The New House, first published in 1936, reminds me of my favourite author Chekhov, who so influenced Lettice’s generation of writers. Like him, she had perfect social pitch and could draw an arriviste developer as convincingly as a steely Southern social butterfly.’
‘It is tempting to describe Rhoda Powell, the 30-plus, stay-at-home daughter of a widowed mother, as Brookneresque,’ wrote the reviewer in the Guardian, ‘even though Lettice Cooper wrote this wonderfully understated novel several decades before Anita Brookner mapped the defining features of quietly unhappy middle-class women.’ While Kate Chisholm in The Spectator described Lettice Cooper as ‘an intensely domestic novelist, unraveling in minute detail the tight web of family relations’ but one who is also ‘acutely aware of what goes on beyond the garden gate. The exposé of a family under strain because of changing times is curiously more vivid and real than in many novels about family life written today.’
Greengates by RC Sherriff
A man retires from his job but finds that never were truer words said than ‘for better, for worse but not for lunch’. His boredom, his wife’s (suppressed and confused) dismay at the quiet orderliness of her life being destroyed, their growing tension with each other, is beautifully and kindly described.
Then one day they do something they used to do more often – leave St John’s Wood and go out into the countryside for the day. And that walk changes their lives forever: they see a house for sale, decide to move there, and the nub of the book is a description of their leaving London, the move, and the new life they create for themselves.
Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson
The Countess of Lochlule marries Sir Hector, owner of the estate next to ‘Keepsfield’, the palatial Scottish mansion where she lives. But one day she meets someone on a park bench in Edinburgh. This novel is about dreams and the hard world of money and position and their relations to one another.
The Far Cry by Emma Smith
Teresa’s elderly, willful father drags her off to India to spare her from the clutches of her mother.
Greenery Street by Denis Mackail
PG Wodehouse described this novel as ‘so good that it makes one feel that it’s the only possible way of writing a book, to take an ordinary couple and just tell the reader all about them.’
Greenery Street can be read on two levels – it is a touching description of a young couple’s first year together in London, but it is also a homage – something rare in fiction – to happy married life.
Ian and Felicity Foster are shown as they arrive at 23 Greenery Street, an undisguised and still unchanged Walpole Street in Chelsea. Their uneventful but always interesting everyday life is the main subject of a novel that evokes the charmingly contented and timeless while managing to be both funny and profound about human relations.
Denis Mackail was a grandson of Edward Burne-Jones on his mother’s side and son of JW Mackail, the eminent classical scholar ; his sister was the novelist Angela Thirkell. He wrote nearly a book a year for thirty years.
The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Shuttle is about American heiresses marrying English aristocrats; by extension it is about the effect of American energy, dynamism and affluence on an effete and impoverished English ruling class. Sir Nigel Anstruthers crosses the Atlantic to look for a rich wife and returns with the daughter of an American millionaire, Rosalie Vanderpoel. He turns out to be a bully, a miser and a philanderer and virtually imprisons his wife in the house. Only when Rosalie’s sister Bettina is grown up does it occur to her and her father that some sort of rescue expedition should take place. And the beautiful, kind and dynamic Bettina leaves for Europe to try and find out why Rosalie has, inexplicably, chosen to lose touch with her family. In the process she engages in a psychological war with Sir Nigel; meets and falls in love with another Englishman; and starts to use the Vanderpoel money to modernize ‘Stornham Court’.
The book’s title refers to ships shuttling back and forth over the Atlantic (Frances Hodgson Burnett herself traveled between the two countries thirty-three times, something very unusual then).
The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens
The Winds of Heaven is a 1955 novel about ‘a widow, rising sixty, with no particular gifts or skills, shunted from one to the other of her more or less unwilling daughters on perpetual uneasy visits, with no prospect of her life getting anything but worse’ (Afterword). One daughter is the socially ambitious Miriam living in commuter belt with her barrister husband and children; one is Eva, an aspiring actress in love with a married man; and the third is Anne, married to a rough but kindly Bedfordshire smallholder who is the only one who treats Louise with more than merely dutiful sympathy. The one relation with whom she has any empathy is her grandchild.
The Happy Tree by Rosalind Murray
‘A 1926 novel which begins with the death of a young man during the war, flashes back to his happy childhood shared with the young woman who is the narrator, and then describes how the war – inevitably – took them unawares, destroyed their happiness and has left her, the young woman, emotionally maimed. ‘
A variety of books there for me to get through in 2018! Hopefully I can get through all of them within the year! Has anyone read any of the Persephone books? I’ve seen good reviews of a number of these and really looking forward to seeing if my reading likes will be challenged and maybe a few new favourite authors will be found!