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

Our Spoons Came From Woolworths – Barbara Comyns

Classic
4*s

What a brilliant way to kick off my first read for The Classics Club with the voice of a young woman who tells her story as a young mother in 1930’s London. The poverty is almost overshadowed by this young woman’s grit and her conversational tone when underplaying with a light touch some equally delightful and heart-wrenching events. I couldn’t help feeling that she would be appalled by the social media age where every day occurrences seem to be blown into a major drama.

Here the part which is used for the title perfectly sums up the style used throughout the novel:

I had hoped they would give us a set of real silver teaspoons when we bought the wedding-ring, but the jeweller we went to wouldn’t, so our spoons came from Woolworths, too.

We start with the young, and she was very young only twenty-one, woman embarking on married life, against the wishes of practically everyone, to Charles who is an artist. Sophia is a commercial artist but of course Charles needs to concentrate on his art rather than actually find a job and bring some money into the household. That’s Sophie’s job which she does with good humour. In the early days their love gets them through but at a time when contraception is not discussed Sophia soon discovers she’s having a baby.

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 this was what was meant by birth-control, but by this time I knew that idea was quite wrong.

The problem was that Charles did not want babies as they would disrupt his life and so Sophia is apologetic and fearful of how he will react.

As readers we know that this is a fictionalised autobiography of the author’s first marriage and that the events in chapters ten, eleven and twelve really happened. This covers the birth of Sophia’s son Sandro in a charity hospital in 1930’s London. It is horrific! Sophia is pulled from room to room having to lug her suitcase with her. Alone with the rude nurses she is as ever stoical about the experience which simply serves to make the revelations all the more horrifying from the perspective of eighty years later.

As the book goes on, the poverty bites and Sophia is in a constant battle between trying to keep Charles happy, to give Sandro what he needs and to keep the family’s head above water. Sometimes she is more successful than others. Inevitably the book takes a darker turn although the book’s tone never does as our protagonist continues to talk about events in an almost unnerving even voice.

There was no point being good or bad; everything was so dreadful in any case.

What a heart-breaking sentence! No major drama but those few words conjure up a whole level of misery that my longing was for someone to give this young woman some hope to keep her going. Of course all I could do was to keep reading and see where Sophia’s life led her…

I loved the book and I’m glad to say Sophia’s life does improve and we are reading about something she relayed to her friend Helen after the events.

I told Helen my story and she went home and cried. In the morning her husband came to see me and bought some strawberries, he mended my bicycle, too, and was kind, but he needn’t have been because it all happened eight years ago, and I’m not unhappy now.

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is number 10 on The Classics Club list and the first one of my fifty reads that I’ve read and reviewed. A cracking start which had me riveted to this semi-biographical novel and one that makes me truly grateful that I was born when I was.

 

First Published UK: 1950
Publisher:Virago 
No of Pages: 209
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US