Posted in The Classic Club

The Classic Club Spin #19 – The Result!

The Classics Club has decided to spin its wheel for the 19th time, the 3rd for Cleopatra Loves books and so I hesitantly checked out the result. Not because I have any books on the list I created that I’m really dreading but I have included some heftier books and it must be read, and reviewed by 31 January 2019.

The result came through and it is number 1 which for me means that I am to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote.

I’m going to do a little Q&A about the book so first things first and most importantly:

How many pages long is Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

Well I’ve done well since this was supposed to be a chunkster… Breakfast at Tiffany’s is only 160 pages long and technically a novella – whoops! 

Why did you choose to add this book to your The Classics Club list of 50 books?

Last year I finally got around to reading what is supposed to be the book that led the way in true crime writing; In Cold Blood and so I was already motivated to read something else by this author and let’s face it, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is iconic! 

Do you own a copy of the book?

Ah, that seems to be a no! I will do very soon though! 

What other books by this author have you read?

Just the one In Cold Blood which I suspect is an entirely different kind of read.

What is Breakfast at Tiffany’s  about?

Holly Golightly. Oh you want more? Well it’s about Holly Golightly who is a young woman who spends her days/nights being entertained by the wealthier inhabitants of  Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  She is hoping one of these men will marry her.

We hear her story through an unknown narrator who through the course of the book she reveals what is underneath her outspoken views that she’s not afraid to share and we learn more about  the girl, and her lifestyle.

When was Breakfast at Tiffany’s  first published?

It was first published in 1958 making it one of my newer classic reads for The Classics Club but before In True Blood which wasn’t published until 1966.

Tell me a bit about Truman Capote?

Truman Capote was an American novelist, short story writer, screenwriter playwright, and actor. He was born in 1924, had divorced parents and apparently decided he was a writer at the tender age of 8. He is also probably the only one of my Classic Club authors who elongated his fame by appearing on television shows.

Truman Capote by Jack Mitchell

What did you get fellow Classic Club Spinners?

Looking forward to everyone’s views on whether I should be celebrating my success or perhaps this book missed the mark where you’re concerned?

Posted in The Classic Club

Classic Club Spin #19


The Classics Club is holding its 19th Spin.

The idea is to list 20 of the books on your Classics Club list before 27 November 2018 when the wheel will turn and reveal the winning number. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 31 January 2019.

With that extra reading time the organisers strongly suggest we put all our chunksters on this list but since I didn’t fill my list with fat books to begin with I don’t think I have twenty to add here..

So here we go, this is my list!

1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
2. The Hireling by L.P. Hartley
3. Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon
4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
5. A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor

6. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
7. The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard
8. Barsetshire Chronicles (The Warden) by Anthony Trollope
9. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
10. The Lark by E Nesbit

11. East Lynne by Henry James
12. The Dubliners – James Joyce
13. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
14. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
15. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

16. Chocky by John Wyndham
17. The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison
18. Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude
19. Saplings by Noel Streatfeild
20. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolfe

I still have a sufficient mix on the outstanding reads to mean that these spins don’t hold too much terror.

What book do you recommend from this latest list?

Tune in next week to see what the result was.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, The Classic Club

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark

Classic
5*s

This book was chosen for one of the entries for The Classics Club list as I’d heard so much about it from so many admirers and so I had to see what Jean Brodie had to say about herself, I wasn’t disappointed.

As the book opens we meet Miss Jean Brodie as she is with her ‘set.’ The ‘Brodie Set’ is a group of ten-year old girls who she taught at Marcia Blaine School for Girls. It’s the early 1930s and Miss Jean Brodie declares to her willing listeners that she is in her ‘prime.’ What that means for a woman in these inter-war years is that she is ready and willing for new experiences, she loves art and she wants to be loved. Sadly the man who she loves is married.

Miss Brodie sees her role with these chosen girls to guide them to love life and to love learning and as far as she’s concerned the way to get the most out of life you don’t need to worry too much about history or maths, you’re much better listening to the story of her own lost love, Hugh who died in the war. She takes them to galleries, concerts and for walks around Edinburgh but it is the lost love that dominates the girls imagination in the early section of the book.

“To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.”

Having first met the girls at ten we see their personalities reflected through their teacher’s eyes, and each other’s. Considering the book is so slim, it has quite a lot to say – I can’t get the fate of poor Mary MacGregor who everyone dismissed for her stupidity but became a useful scapegoat by them all, out of my head.

Mary MacGregor, lumpy, with merely two eyes, a nose and a mouth like a snowman [and] at the age of twenty-three, lost her life in a hotel fire’.

When they move to the senior school the girls still meet with their mentor, having tea with her and her lover and the story takes a turn because of the shadow of disgrace should any impropriety be discovered which will most definitely ruin Miss Jean Brodie’s prime. It is when the girls become women that the betrayal occurs but it is left to the reader to decide how they feel about the betrayer and the betrayed.

What I was expecting from Muriel Spark’s chief protagonist was a woman making a difference in a world that still had such rigid expectations, an unconventional character who had passed down this way of being to the next generation, a feminist and a lover of life. What I actually got was something far less obvious. Our chief protagonist goes on holiday to Italy and over the years that the Brodie Set are in existence comes back to extol the way Fascism has transformed the country, for the better in her view and as the girls get older she becomes more obsessed with the idea that one of the girls, Rose, should have a love affair with the man who she loves but was sadly married to another. All very odd and unnecessary!

This is one of those books that is truly a classic because it creeps into your mind and takes up residence. It is a slim novel but one that has absolutely had me mulling over its sheer depth. There are layers of meaning, a brilliant depiction of the class distinction in 1930s as well of course the special restrictions placed upon the woman of that age.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is number 1 on  The Classics Club list and the eighth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

First Published UK: 1961
Publisher: Macmillan 
No of Pages: 144
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018, The Classic Club

The Shuttle – Frances Hodgeson Burnett

Classic
3*s

The Classic Club Spin number 18 picked The Shuttle by Frances Hodgeson Burnett for me which was one of my choices of children’s authors who had written books for adults too. Once it was picked I then decided to investigate a little more – you can read my full post here.

So I was a little concerned about the length of the book and with good reason given that I only finished the last page shortly before leaving for work this morning! But I was very impressed to find out that the garden at Great Maytham Hall near Rolvenden, Kent, as inspiration for the setting of this book, and The Secret Garden – more of that later.

Great Maytham Hall Garden by Stephen Nunnery

So what did I think of the book. Well although it was long at well over 500 pages most of the time the story flowed along although I have to confess there were times when the lengthy descriptions so common at this time wore me down but there were plenty of surprises, maybe not so much plot wise but I found the attitudes given the time that this was written in 1907 far more forward thinking than I expected.

The story opens in New York with Sir Nigel Anstruthers meeting the young and fairly insubstantial, in build and character, Rosalie Vanderpoel. Rosalie is an heiress of magnitude and Nigel Anstruthers was seeking just such a young woman to marry with the aim of using her wealth for the upkeep of Stornham Court. Nigel meets the parents, the younger sister Bettina and the couple soon tie the knot. As Sir and Lady Anstruthers they set sail for the UK and then by train to Kent where Stornham Court is far more dilapidated than Rosalie expected. But since by that time her husband has failed to keep his brutish nature under wraps she is already on edge. Meeting the dowager does nothing to improve her feelings and it soon becomes apparent that she is trapped.

Many years later her younger sister Betty comes to find her. In the intervening years the house has fallen into even more severe disrepair as all the money has been spent on Sir Anstruther’s own entertainment. Rosalie is in just as bad shape, having also fallen into disrepair, her one surviving son who has a deformity being the only meaning in her life. Betty is shocked but a strong-willed and ‘business-like’ young woman who takes the house and her sister in hand.

With echoes of what would become the healing nature of plants and flowers in the Secret Garden within this book as one of Betty’s first actions is to hire a Head Gardener to oversee the many younger men to bring the garden to life. There are walks round the garden, descriptions of various flowers and a sense that this beauty breathes life into her sister’s soul.

There is also the inevitable romance playing out alongside the younger sister’s careful plan to extricate her sister from her awful marriage. This is a very modern woman who while approaching life somewhat differently given the slightly less rigid American lifestyle to that expected in an English village must surely have spoken to the Edwardian women who read this book at the time of publication. That along with a cautionary tale to those in America not to be taken in by a title alone. There is much said about what constitutes a married woman’s property what separating would mean for a woman not only in terms of her standing in society but that she would lose custody of her child. I couldn’t help but wonder what those women who were living under just such a regime took from this story.

There are dramatic scenes before the climax of the book which definitely allude to the particular power a man has over a woman, even a strong and clever woman, which while not in any way explicit was quite unexpected.

So in conclusion this was a good choice as one of  my Classic Club reads as there was much to enjoy within these pages that include travelling salesmen, hop pickers and magic wands aplenty in the form of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of money. I did mark it down by one star because it was a little bit of a slog in places but in all honestly I don’t think I’ll forget the many and varied characters I met during this read.

The Shuttle is number 46 on The Classics Club list and the seventh of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

First Published UK: 1907
Publisher: Persephone Books
No of Pages: 536
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in The Classic Club

The Classic Club Spin #18 – The Result!


The Classics Club has decided to spin its wheel for the 18th time, the 2nd for Cleopatra Loves books and so I hesitantly checked out the result. Not because I have any books on the list I created that I’m really dreading but because I’m not quite sure when I’m going to fit in a book to August’s already bursting schedule and the book must be read, and reviewed by 31 August 2018.

The result came through and it is number 9 which for me means that I am to read The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I’m going to do a little Q&A about the book so first things first and most importantly:

How many pages long is The Shuttle?

Over 500 and according to my kindle it is about 9 1/2 hours worth of reading time – so possibly not the best choice for August!

Why did you choose to add this book to your The Classics Club list of 50 books?

I have pondered about all those authors I repeatedly sought out as a child and wondered what books, if any they had written for adults, as a result when I came to draw up my list I decided to include a small selection of these to read over the next 5 years.

Do you own a copy of the book?

Yes, my copy for kindle was purchased in December 2013 so it has been at the back of my mind to read it for some time. At least the spin result didn’t mean I had to purchase a new book too!

What other books by this author have you read?

I was a huge reader of classic children stories. I was the child in the wider family who was known as ‘the bookworm’ and as a consequence got given many beautiful copies of books for birthdays and Christmas as well as having access to the copies my mother had read as a child.

I had a particularly lovely book with a story at each end with Little Lord Fauntleroy at one end and The Little Princess at the other. complete with what I felt essential as a child (and still do), a ribbon bookmark! I also had a copy of The Secret Garden, one of my favourite books of all time and I can still remember lying down to sleep imagining I was Mary – sadly, less green fingers than mine are rarely seen!

What’s The Shuttle about?

An 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 modernise ‘Stornham Court’. Persephone Books

When was The Shuttle first published?

In 1907 so a couple of years after The Little Princess and before The Secret Garden although apparently The Shuttle and The Secret Garden used Great Maytham Hall near Rolvenden, Kent, as inspiration for the setting.

Great Maytham Hall Photo by Stephen Nunney

Tell me a bit about Frances Hodgson Burnett?

Frances Eliza Hodgson was born at 141 York Street, Cheetham Manchester on 24 November 1849, one of five children born to an Ironmonger who owned a business and his well-to-do wife. Sadly her father died of a stroke in 1853 and Frances’s mother took over the running of the business. The family emigrated to America in 1865 settling near Knoxville, Tennessee.

Soon after her early scribblings were transformed into ‘proper’ writing and she had her first story published in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1868. Funds from her writing meant that in 1872 she was able to fund her first trip back to the UK and then returned to Tennessee to marry Swann Burnett. The couple had two children and Frances continued writing.

In 1884 publication of Little Lord Fauntleroy secured her reputation as a writer and in 1887 she travelled to England for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and made yearly trips thereafter. In 1890 her eldest son died of consumption.

By the mid 1890s her home was Maytham Hall and in 1898 she was divorced from Swann by seemingly mutual agreement. She was to marry again to a man ten years her junior, it wasn’t a happy union and it was during this time she wrote The Shuttle. She was to divorce fairly swiftly afterwards and returned to the United States in 1907. She died on 29 October 1924 aged 74.

Frances Hodgson Burnett
           Aged approx 40

The Shuttle was republished by Persephone Press in 2007 bringing this ‘lost’ story to a new generation of readers.

What did you get fellow Classic Club Spinners?

Looking forward to everyone’s views on whether I should be celebrating my success or perhaps this book missed the mark where you’re concerned?

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018, The Classic Club

Off With His Head – Ngaio Marsh

Classic
2*s

Well before I picked this book as one of my Classics Club Reads, I noted that I did so because although she’s widely acclaimed, she is not an author I’ve actually read which is shocking considering that I consider myself quite widely read in this genre having been a fan since discovering Maigret and Agatha Christie in my childhood. I have to confess on the whole I found this a difficult read which I will attempt to explain.

The setting of the early scene was really well done when we met Mrs Bunz a German woman with an academic interest in folklore visiting the village of South Mardian in order to witness the “Dance of the Five Sons,” a mixture between a mummers play and a sword dance which has been performed in the village for generations at the time of the winter solstice. Fortunately for the time when we met the performers there were five sons all alive to accompany their father, even older, to give the villagers a show. Sadly the snow has kept the audience to a minimum, but no matter, Mrs Bunz is determined to document a rare example of an ancient tradition.

After lots, and lots, and lots, of build-up, through rehearsals and arguments, the dance is performed only for the father to be found with his head cut off at the finale. Shocking stuff indeed!

The villagers on the whole are a strange bunch, characterised by low education and an odd dialect. In short the five sons are portrayed as buffoons, particularly the youngest who has epilepsy causing the other four to endlessly chorus soothing noises whenever he gets agitated. Their father is the blacksmith, William Anderson, known to all as the “Guiser,” an unpleasant fellow who is prone to shouting and who cut off his daughter when she chose to marry someone from a different class to them. I know that this was written in a different time when attitudes were very different, but I found it distasteful because the family were at the heart of the action and even by the end we knew little more about them.

So I already had a problem with the ordinary folk but when you combine that with the way the wealthy of the village both acted and were deferred to by everyone, including our esteemed detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn who was bought in when the local bobbies were unable to decide who, out of the entire village (as they all had a motive for murder) had committed the act. With everyone loudly telling each other to keep quiet or disappearing because they don’t like visitors my main source of tension was created by the very real sense that Inspector Alleyn would don his wellington boots and leave without solving the crime because he seemed a little reluctant to ask the questions that seemed blindingly obvious. Consequently by the time we had the reveal, and the solution to a few more of the little mysteries that had occurred, I’d either worked it out for myself, or I was pretty much past caring.

For all that, I did like the parallels with King Lear, the murder itself was well plotted and the isolation of such a village in winter is one I could easily imagine. Sadly I wasn’t anywhere near as fond of the class obsession the writer enforced on her readers.

Off With His Head is number 30 on The Classics Club challenge list and the sixth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

 

First Published UK: 1957
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018, The Classic Club

The Lodger – Marie Belloc Lowndes

Classic
5*s

Talk about setting the scene! We first meet Mr and Mrs Bunting fretting over their lack of money. These respectable ex-servants now run a boarding house, the only problem is, they have no boarders. Money is tight and many of their prized possessions have been sold, or pawned, although Mrs Bunting would never lower herself to enter a pawnbrokers shop. The pair are hungry and down to their last pennies.

The boarding house is on the Marylebone Road in a very foggy London circa 1913 but it has been furnished nicely. It is just before Christmas when the couple decide to put the light on in the hallway and a stranger, with little luggage knocks at the door.

Mr Sleuth is just the sort of lodger the couple want in Mrs Bunting’s opinion. She judges him to be a gentleman, and so although he is a bit fussy about keeping his rooms locked, oh and only wants Mrs Bunting to serve his food, and he’s a vegetarian, but he’s paying a handsome sum for the privilege which means Mr Bunting can go back to buy the daily paper and his tobacco.

Those daily papers are filled with stories of murders, bodies found with a note from ‘The Avenger’ Mrs Bunting is seriously unimpressed with everyone’s, well mainly Mr Bunting’s, salacious interest in the case, something only increased by their young friend, Joe who is serving with the Metropolitan Police and not at all adverse to giving titbits out about the investigation. But even with the intrepid Joe playing his part the bodies keep on mounting. With the arrival of Mr Bunting’s teenage daughter Daisy who Joe has taken a shine to, Mrs Bunting begins to suspect their lodger of being The Avenger. She doesn’t know what to do as I suspect she is secretly in agreement of doing away with those fond of drink which seem to be the main victims. That said she doesn’t want to be an accessory after the fact and of course, as the papers say, this could be Jack the Ripper.

This slow burning novel is mesmerising. Even this level-headed reader some one hundred years into the future couldn’t help but be drawn into Mrs Bunting’s mounting apprehension and horror. This middle-aged woman is a fascinating character, even more so than Mr Sleuth with his Bible reading and odd habit of prowling the streets in the fog doesn’t quite compete. She is one of those women of a certain age who seem to relish having no enjoyment in life and looking down on those who do. The only pleasure she seems to approve of is Mr Bunting’s chair, bought as a treat for him to sit in after a hard day’s work. Her attitude to young Daisy is so cutting at times that it seems that Daisy is quite unlike modern teenagers who I’m sure would, in the main react in any other way other than helping Mrs Bunting sweetly with her chores, which is what this lovely girl does. It’s not as though she doesn’t have a spark to her personality which is shown by a visit Joe takes her on to the Black Museum, although sadly for the pair Mr Bunting gate-crashed this romantic trip.

As a classic piece of crime fiction with a psychological bent, this has to be up there with the best and so I urge you to take a trip through the foggy streets of London to revel in the descriptive and yet modern feel to the writing. There on those streets or perhaps upstairs in the boarding house, you will find out the truth of the matter!

The Lodger is number 31 on The Classics Club list and the fifth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

 

First Published UK: 1913
Publisher: The Crime & Mystery Club; UK
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018, The Classic Club

Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Classic
4*s

I added Lady Audlley’s Secret to my TBR back in 2015 after hearing that it contained echoes of the real crime committed by Constance Kent, a case picked up and written about in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale along with the knowledge that the author set the book at Ingatestone Hall in Essex following a visit there. Back in 1860s my ancestors lived in Ingatestone, not at the Hall I hasten to add, although one or two of them may well have scrubbed the scullery in their time, but this of course meant it was a sure fire in to be added to as part of my Classics Club challenge.

The Gatehouse of Ingatestone Hall

Although I wasn’t at all disappointed that it won The Classics Club Spin #17 I was a tad concerned that a Victorian sensation novel might feel a bit dated given my contemporary tastes of recent years. I needn’t have worried, reading this book confirmed that a story told well, makes for great entertainment no matter when it was written. The language was straightforward and easy to read although it did feel longer than many contemporary novels that is probably because it was originally written in instalments for her lover’s magazine in 1861 and even when it was published in 1862, it was split into three parts.

The book starts by taking us to the courtship of the beautiful and childlike blonde Lucy Graham by the somewhat older widower Sir Michael Audley who falls deeply in love with her and hopes she feels the same. She wisely promises nothing but agrees to become his wife which is a major step-up in society since she is currently the governess for a local doctor.

She had been the chief attraction of the race-course, and was wearied out by the exertion of fascinating half the county.

For you see Miss Lucy Graham was blessed with that magic power of fascination by which a woman can charm with a word or intoxicate with a smile.

Soon afterwards we meet up with Sir Audley’s nephew Richard who is meeting his friend George Talboys, who has returned from Australia having made his fortune in the gold rush. Despite his absence of three years he is keen to see his young wife who he left with a mere note following a bit of a row. George and Heleen Talboys had a baby but he doesn’t seem to have the same pull on dear old George’s vision of a happy homecoming. Anyway Richard and George meet up but a notice in the newspaper puts a spanner in the works and they soon have to make a trip to the Isle of Wight on the trail of the missing Helen.

This story is above everything else, fun. I could spend an age explaining that it became popular, if not revered in the way the ‘serious’ novelists of the time were, because it played on the Victorian’s fear that the home wasn’t always the safe haven that they liked to pretend it was. It is here that the parallels with Constance Kent were drawn. A respectable family, a step-mother and murder all play their own part in Mary Elizabeth Bradon’s dramatic tale. But I won’t do that, nor will I add more than a sentence about the breakdown of the old order by pretty young women seducing foolish old men thereby usurping the old order of things.

The characters are all seen through our omnipresent narrator’s eyes and ears, and yes, there is a certain amount of stereotyping some of them. Fortunately, I’m not a snob about such things, after all stereotypes are created for a reason and there is enough drama and subversion of the ‘old order’ to quibble that the rough husband of Lady Audley’s maid, Phoebe Marks is a bit of brute with no redeeming characteristics when at the heart of the novel is a woman whose beauty doesn’t translate to the ideals of the day.

The omnipresent narrator is there from beginning to end but once Richard Audley’s story begins we are also treated to less remote view of the scenes that unfold.

“You seem to have quite a taste for discussing these horrible subjects,” she said, rather scornfully; “you ought to have been a detective police officer.”
“I sometimes think I should have been a good one.”
“Why?”
“Because I am patient.”

But if you are expecting the fair Lady Audley to give you some insight into her secret, you will be disappointed, that is a matter of deduction for the reader and even if you reach the truth before our amateur detective Richard Audley, you will need to continue to find out how it all ends, surely the purpose of a good book. However if you’d like you might like to reflect on the pronouncement made in this sensationalist novel, take note that this was written over one hundred and fifty years ago – what would Mary Elizabeth Braddon make of the modern woman’s opportunities?

To call them the weaker sex is to utter a hideous mockery. They are the stronger sex, the noisier, the more persevering, the most self-assertive sex. They want freedom of opinion, variety of occupation, do they? Let them have it. Let them be lawyers, doctors, preachers, teachers, soldiers, legislators — anything they like — but let them be quiet — if they can.

Once again I’m delighted with my Classic Club read, I meanly knocked a star off because it was a bit long-winded in places and so far I’ve given all my classic reads the full five stars, but in all honesty this has ignited an intent to read more books by this author and more books in this genre.

Lady Audley’s Secret is number 2 on The Classics Club list and the fourth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

 

First Published UK: 1862
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 512
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, The Classic Club

The Moving Toyshop – Edmund Crispin

Classic
5*s

Written in 1946 this is actually the third in the author’s series featuring the Oxford Professor of English Language and Literature Gervase Fen, but the first one that I have read and this one is featured in Martin Edwards’ brilliant book The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

In this book we meet famous poet Richard Cadogan who is seeking inspiration and so taps up his publisher for some money. That gets him just enough for a short holiday to Oxford. Clearly not very good on the organisational front after some hitch-hiking he finds himself on the deserted high street late at night and enters a toy shop, as you do, and finds a body of an elderly woman, clearly murdered. Poor old Richard is knocked out and locked in a cupboard by an unknown assailant. So it isn’t until the morning that he can alert anyone, by which time when he leads the finest of Oxfordshire’s constabulary to the high street, the toyshop has vanished.

Ultimately this is a locked room puzzle that needs a mind of a particular type to unlock the mystery and of course the local police aren’t terribly interested there being no body, no toyshop and therefore one has to assume no crime. Richard Cadogan isn’t to be thwarted though, he knows what he saw and so he calls on his old friend Gervase Fen to help. Gervase hops into his temperamental and somewhat erratically driven car, Lily Christine to investigate.

The unravelling of the mystery involves a legacy, one of the most often used device of the time but no less compelling for that, a sprinkling of limericks and a suitably complicated execution of a crime – fictional criminals of this era seemingly wanting to make things as difficult for themselves as those who may wind up investigating it.
Of course our duo don’t hand their suspicions over to the police, after all a poet and a university professor are quite entitled to work things out for themselves, even roping others into helping out

“I don’t think this is going to work,” Mr. Beavis remarked with some apprehension.
“It will work,” Fen responded confidently, “because no one expects this sort of trick outside a book”

The wonder of this novel is not so much the mystery, although that was well-executed, but the brilliant double-act that are Fen and Cadogan. While they are racing around in cars or sitting in bars stalking out various characters, they play silly games to pass the time such as unintentionally loathsome characters in literature, horrible classics and the most unreadable books of all time. All great fun although I have to admit that the use of unfamiliar phrases and words meant I am fully aware I didn’t quite get every humorous message, but I got enough to keep me fully entertained. Being set in Oxford even the local policeman is interested in literature..

Gervase, has it ever occurred to you that Measure for Measure is about the problem of Power?”
Don’t bother me with trivialities now” said Fen, annoyed, and rang off.

And even the lorry driver that gave Richard a lift at the start of the book reads from the circulating library citing “lady’s somebody’s lover” as an example of a recent read.

Most of all this book is fun with a capital F. I’ll be honest I wasn’t sure quite what to expect but I fell in love with the characters, the bizarreness and the rattling pace which was enhanced by the humour.

The Moving Toyshop is number 39 on The Classics Club list and the third of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed. A great introduction into my Classic Crime Fiction.

 

First Published UK: 1946
Publisher: Penguin 
No of Pages: 245
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, The Classic Club

Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton

Classic
5*s

Well, if you are looking for a cheery book, this isn’t for you! But if you want a book that eloquently takes you further and further down a despairing path, you’ve knocked on the right door, much as our enigmatic narrator does when one bleak winter he finds himself stuck and he’s welcomed, well almost, into the Frome’s home.

By the time our narrator hears the story we already know that Ethan looks older than his years, he walks with a pronounced limp and is taciturn in the extreme, but as to his past, the other residents of Starkfield, Massachusetts are not inclined to say. Our narrator is then treated to this tragic tale which involves Ethan, his wife Zeena and her cousin Mattie.

A story of a marriage which has turned sour although it’s clear that Zeena was a different woman, at least in Ethan’s eyes when she first came to Starkfield to care for Ethan’s mother but a mere seven years later, Zeena is unwell. It is up for debate that her reliance on doctors and patent medicines is a necessity or hypochondria.

“Ethan looked at her with loathing. She was no longer the listless creature who had lived at his side in a state of sullen self-absorption, but a mysterious alien presence, an evil energy secreted from the long years of silent brooding.”

Ethan life is cheered when Mattie comes to live in their house to help the ailing Zeena because she brings conversation and a sparkle to the miserable cold life that the pair share. And of course he can’t help but compare the two women and no prizes for who comes off better out of such a comparison. With his habitual reticence Ethan becomes fonder of Mattie and the wheels are set in motion for a tragedy of epic proportions.

For such a slim novel it soon becomes apparent why this is a classic. The writing is beautiful and it effortlessly conjures up the Frome house, the winter in Starkfield that almost becomes a character in its own right.

“The village lay under two feet of snow, with drifts at the windy corners. In a sky of iron the points of the Dipper hung like icicles and Orion flashed his cold fires. The moon had set, but the night was so transparent that the white house-fronts between the elms looked grey against the snow, clumps of bushes made black stains on it, and the basement windows of the church sent shafts of yellow light far across the endless undulations.”

The author really allows the third person narrative to paint the picture for us, her readers in a way Ethan never could do – after all he barely speaks which prompts the thought of why he decides to bare his soul to the man who is seeking shelter in his house. But out rolls the story of the misery of Ethan’s life. First his father’s illness curtailed his brief foray into the world where he studied engineering. Ethan was dragged back to the farm and mill, already floundering would literally become a millstone around his neck. Then his mother fell ill and Zeena cared for her only to marry Ethan and become an invalid herself. Oh but dear reader, this is just the start!

In the hands of a lesser writer all of this unhappiness could have got too much but I finished the book with a huge lump in my throat and yet a deep-seated longing that the book would last just a little bit longer.

Ethan Frome is number 8 on The Classics Club list and the second of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed. A tragedy of mammoth proportions that stole a piece of my heart.

 

First Published UK: 1911
Publisher: Penguin UK
No of Pages: 128
Genre: Classic Fiction
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