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

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote

Classic
4*s

The Classic Club Spin number 18 picked Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote for me which was one of the few novellas on my list – not exactly the chunkster the organisers had urged us to choose for the extra long time period allowed – but I was pleased since my last classic seemed to go on for an age!

Once it was picked I then decided to investigate a little more – you can read my full post here.

This is an intriguing novella that I can imagine packed quite a punch when it was first published in 1958.

Holly Golightly (what a fab name) is the object of our narrator’s fascination. He lives in an apartment above hers in a brownstone apartment in Manhattan’s Upper East Side where he writes. Holly is a country girl although her past is a bit of a mystery. She has no job she lives off others good favour including Sally Tomato, who she visits in prison, every week. For this service she gets paid $100. In between times she is treated well by the wealthy men and she assumes that sooner or later she will marry one of them.

Of course to the reader, Holly Golightly is not just a good time party girl. It is far more likely that she is an expensive sort of call-girl but one that I think that appeals to the female readers of the book as the fictional men who clearly like her.

In many ways the novel is a snapshot of a place and time. We have the bar owner who knows both Holly and our narrator, being conveniently situated as a bartender of nearby bar. But it is Holly who has the spotlight shone on her at all times. In many ways her background is a complete mystery, the only ‘fact’ seems to be is that her brother is called Fred, the name she ascribes to our narrator out of some sort of affection for him although she claims “I’m going to call you Fred. After my brother. He’s very stupid, too.”

The story told seems on the surface to be quite a simple one. It certainly isn’t long and yet there is something very captivating about it, both in terms of the characters and the writing style. Truman Capote is one of those writers whose work does not seem to have dated in so many ways. The style used is of the enquiring nature of the narrator that blends perfectly with not an urgent need but a more gentle yearning to understand this young woman more.

For me the key seemed to be in the past, I had the feeling if we could unwind far enough we would see the foundation to the creation that ‘our’ Holly clearly is. This meant almost back-to-front as usually we want to know where a character is going, but perhaps I knew ultimately where that would be and so I felt if we could go back first, maybe a slightly different path could be walked. Who knows? What I do know was that I was as charmed by this young woman in a way I simply did not expect to be. I felt sorry but wholly unsurprised as she was thoughtless and careless with others and equally sorry for our narrator and the barman who had this bright young thing in their orbit, and then they lost her.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is number 14 on The Classics Club list and the nineth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed. Yup, I’m a little bit behind!

First Published UK: 1958
Publisher: Random House
No of Pages: 160
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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 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

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, 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

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
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Uncategorized

The Classics Club

I’ve joined The Classics Club today and therefore aim to read the following list of 50 books by 27 January 2023.

Fortunately the rules are simple, the definition of a classic book is not set in stone, so I have used the easy formula that if a book was published before 1970 it goes on the list.

Some readers may be surprised that I am joining this club, on the occasions when I have talked about them either on my own blog or as a comment on other blogs, I have received surprise that I’m interested in classics at all. Yes, I love crime fiction, psychological thrillers have been a pull and I enjoy a well-written contemporary novel but I have been a reader long before the blog was born. I am a child who read all the childhood classics, as a teenager, I read the popular bonk-busters of the day, but I also read Dickens and Austen amongst a whole host of other classic writers of the era. My dreams were full of Heathcliff and these were in addition to the books we read because they were on the syllabus. Even in the (many) intervening years I have revisited old favourites and found others to enjoy, but, and here is the one of the few downsides of blogging, somehow  my focus has veered away from this area and so one of my New Year Resolutions was to read six classic books this year. Then came the peer pressure principally from FictionFan’s Book Reviews who somehow persuaded me if I was going to commit to six I may as well commit to fifty!!

So to the list – You’ll note this has two sub-sections for Classic Crime which is a larger section and the smaller Author’s of Children’s Classics, Adult Novels. I’ve tried to limit to one book per author except for two notable exceptions and not to include too many re-reads although there are a sprinkling to keep me going.  Quite a few of the books on the list I already possess and as another of my resolutions is to use the library I will be making frequent trips to try and source most of the others.

Classic Fiction

1. The Prime of Miss Brodie – Murial Spark
2. Lady Audely’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon
3. Miss Pettigrow Lives for a Day- Winifred Watson
4. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
5. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
6. Barsetshire Chronicles (The Warden) – Anthony Trollope
7. The Hireling – L.P. Hartley
8. Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
9. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolfe 
10. Our Spoons Came From Woolworths – Barbara Comyns
11. A Wreath of Roses – Elizabeth Taylor
12. The Quiet American – Graham Greene
13. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
14. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
15.Bleak House – Charles Dickens
16. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
17. Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell
18. The Long View – Elizabeth Jane Howard
19. Chocky – John Wyndham
20. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
21. Bonjour Tritesse – Françoise Sagan
22. East Lynne – Henry James
23. The Gowk Storm – Nancy Brysson Morrison
24. Sunset Song – Lewis Grassic Gibbon
25. The Dubliners – James Joyce
26. Nicholas Nickleby – Charles Dickens


Classic Crime

27. The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
28. The Sign of the Four – Arthur Conan Doyle
29. The Poisoned Chocolate Case – Anthony Berkeley
30. Off With His Head – Ngaio Marsh
31. The Lodger – Marie Belloc Downes
32. Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm – Gil North
33. The Clocks – Agatha Christie
34. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding – Agatha Christie
35. Crooked House – Agatha Christie
36. Five Little Pigs – Agatha Christie
37. A Murder is Announced – Agatha Christie
38. Sussex Downs Murder – John Bude
39. The Moving Toyshop – Edumund Cripsin
40. Calamity Town – Ellery Queen
41. A Pin to See the Peepshow – F Tennyson Jesse
42. The Franchise Affair – Josephine Tey
43. The Wheel Spins – Ethel Lina White

Author’s of Children’s Classics

44. Saplings – Noel Streatfeild
45. The Lark – E Nesbit
46. The Shuttle -Frances Hodgeston Burnett
47. The Greengage Summer – Rumer Goddon
48. One Man’s Meat – E.B. White
49. Who Calls the Tune – Nina Bawden
50. The Red House Mystery – A.A. Milne

It has taken me weeks to build the list because I’m not great at committing quite so far into the future and I’m sure I will veer off at points and choose more of some of the featured author’s works.

 

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote #20booksofsummer

Non-Fiction – True Crime 5*s

As a lover of true-crime it is shocking that it has taken me quite so long to read the one book which is arguably one of the best known and according to many the book which led the way. And what better way to relax by the pool than to read about the brutal slaying of a household of four with all aspects of the crime and its outcome dissected in the minutest and most vivid detail.

The book starts benignly enough as we travel to Holcomb, Kansas and view the house where the moderately wealthy Herb Clutter and his reclusive wife Bonnie lived with their teenage children Kenyon and Nancy. We see Bonnie through Truman Capote’s recreation of her following his exhaustive research dreading the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday as she is depressed but equally cautiously hopeful that the doctors have finally after years of suffering found a reason, and cure, for her depressive episodes which have seen her hospitalised more than once. We watch her prepare for bed in her beautiful home, we know what sits on her bedside table and all the time we know that this scene of troubled tranquillity will be shattered forever, and so it is.

This book is shocking but not because there are endless lurid descriptions of what happens after the foreign sounds shatter the Kansas night but because Truman Capote has so meticulously created within this new brand of true-crime a real feeling of character for all the players. We get to know the investigators, the other people in the small town who while they watch the investigators fruitless search for a motive and perpetrator and then eventually we meet Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. When we do get to know this pair, they aren’t presented as senseless criminals, we get to know them in-depth, we know what their childhoods were like and we get a sense of what may have led to that fateful November night in 1959.

It is the minutiae of the details especially when the spotlight is turned onto characters who in a straightforward account of a crime would barely get a mention that makes this book so rich, for instance we know so much about Nancy Clutter:

Where she found the time, and still managed to “practically run that big house” and be a straight-A student, the president of her class, a leader in the 4-H program and the Young Methodists league, a skilled rider, an excellent musician (piano, clarinet), an annual winner at the county fair (pastry, preserves, needlework, flower arrangement)—how a girl not yet seventeen could haul such a wagonload, and do so without “brag,” with rather, merely a radiant jauntiness, was an enigma the community pondered, and solved by saying, “She’s got character. Gets it from her old man.”

A stunning read which manages to simultaneously remain detached from the subject, yet so up and personal that it the story it tells isn’t with the overt disgust that the remaining Clutter family and the inhabitants of the town must have felt. So humanising is the research that Capote undertook(with the assistance of Harper Lee) that I felt some measure of sympathy, for one of the perpetrators at least, whose life had seemingly been overtaken by events. It is the contradictions of the make-up of this man which I found so troubling, it is this aspect that has lingered over the last few weeks and why I stand-up with the critics and affirm the prizes one, and confirm that In Cold Blood truly is an outstanding read.

In Cold Blood is my 6th read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: 1966
Publisher: Penguin Classics 
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Non-Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Harriet Said – Beryl Bainbridge

Classic 5*s
Classic Fiction
5*s

Set in Formby soon after the end of the Second World War, Harriet Said is one of the darkest and most disturbing fictional books I have ever read, and those of you who read my reviews will note that I tend towards the dark side! There is something very frightening about young girls, and Harriet and her nameless friend our narrator, are just thirteen and fourteen years old at a time when we imagine that generation to be cloaked in innocence.

At the beginning of the summer holidays our narrator, having returned from boarding school is awaiting her older friend’s return from her holiday in Wales, but when Harriet returns she fears their bond is not as strong as their previous time together, one where they flirted with the Italian prisoners of war close to Formby beach and then Harriet dictated their escapades to be written in their shared diary. Harriet is painted as the more attractive, confident and daring of the two girls and as the title alludes to, the one who dreams up all their schemes for amusement. Harriet’s father is fierce, his wife subservient and Harriet herself is pretty much left to her own devices. Both girls go out in the evening most often to the beach where our narrator converses with Mr Biggs, who the girls have nicknamed ‘The Tsar’.

The contrast between their assumed innocence and the knowing way they engage the middle-aged Mr Biggs attention, baiting him, spying on him and his wife all the while determined that this summer they will top all their previous adventures. We know that this pair have transgressed in the past, this is the very reason why the younger of the two was sent to boarding school. But, this book isn’t all about what their plans are for Mr Biggs, it is about the almost obsessional relationship between the girls who seem to crave each other’s attention whilst vying for supremacy, for while Harriet is said to be the leader, the turn this book takes makes that seem far from certain.

If you are looking for a book with likeable characters you can relate to, don’t choose this book where just about everyone has a deep character flaw or at best odd. This is despite the fact that it is Harriet who shows this side the most, in the way she sweetly behaves in front of her elders, charms even those in the village who distrust her and patronises her mother without her even realising it. This is a girl who will turn up at her friend’s house and converse with her mother, a woman who surely is aware that this girl has been the cause of trouble in the past, even if it isn’t of the magnitude of the here and now! And no, I haven’t broken my only rule of reviewing, this is not a spoiler as we know from the beginning that something happens which the girls are covering up, what and why is not revealed until the end of this slim book, I thought I knew but, as usual I was a little off the beaten track!

I was finally prompted to buy my copy of this book after reading Ali’s wonderful review on her blog; Heavenali, and have since found out that Beryl Bainbridge wrote this book after being inspired by newspaper stories of a murder committed in Christchurch New Zealand in 1954 by two teenaged girls. This was the author’s first book, rejected because of its content and not published until 1972 when she was already the darling of the literary world. I am now looking forward to reading more by this author. For those of you wondering how such a dark book can have such a beautiful cover, there is a scene at a fairground which neatly highlights how young these two girls actually are, yet youth doesn’t always infer innocence.

If anyone can recommend me another book by this author, I’d really appreciate it.