The Village by Marghanita Laski

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After having enjoyed Little Boy Lost last summer I knew I had to read another book by Marghanita Laski so I decided to buy myself The Village by the same author for Christmas. I think I expected something with the same tone and feel as Little Boy Lost, but this novel is quite different from that excellent novel. However, though the feel is not the same I enjoyed it for its view of a changing village in the years after WWII.

The novel revolves around the story of a secret romance between young Margaret Trevor, a girl who comes from an upper/middle class family and Roy Wilson, a veteran from a working class family. Their mothers worked together in a Red Cross Post during the war, but once the war is over there is no question of them socializing with each other ever again. This knowledge is unquestioned by Wendy Trevor, Margaret’s unsatisfied, bitter, highly critical mother. She sees Margaret as a failure because she’s shy, reserved and hasn’t done well in school like her younger sister has. Everyone in their social circle agrees that the only path for Margaret to take is that of wife and mother – and Margaret has no objection to this as it’s exactly the life she wants for herself. But of course they all see her with someone of their own class and not with someone like Roy Wilson.

Roy is kind, hard-working, ambitious and wants a family. He and Margaret quickly fall in love after meeting at a dance, but their romance is conducted very stealthily as Margaret knows that her parents would never consent to her marriage with someone from such a different background from herself.

This is all conducted against a background of an altered economic climate with the working class making money and the middle class living in genteel poverty. There’s also a definite sense that the middle class citizens in the village feel threatened by the new confidence the working class has gained since the war.

The young romance can’t stay hidden forever and there is an inevitable clash at the end of the novel – between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the young and the old. Laski skillfully uses the classic plot of star crossed lovers to play up all the ways that England was changing in the fifties. Her characters are perhaps not so complex, but they do powerfully portray the various factions in this new world.

The Village is a fascinating post-war novel yet I think Mollie Panter-Downes’s One Fine Day, which shares similar themes to The Village, is a superior post-war book – I’d recommend it highly if you’re interested in this time period.

Now I’ll move on to To Bed With Grand Music by Laski – another Christmas present to myself!

Margery Sharp Day 2016: Cluny Brown

clunySo sorry that this is a day late, but I had a very busy day yesterday and didn’t find the time to finish up my post – better late than never, I suppose!

I was so pleased when Jane from Beyond Eden Rock announced her second annual Margery Sharp Day. I really enjoyed reading Britannia Mews last year and had good intentions to read another of Sharp’s novels before 2015 ended. However, we all know how good intentions can fall by the wayside when it comes to reading. So, I was happy to have this opportunity to try Sharp again and fortunate to find a 1944 copy of Cluny Brown at Tumbleweed Books in Pueblo, Colorado.

Cluny Brown is set in 1938 and starts off in London. We first learn about the main character, Cluny Brown, from other’s opinions and views of her. Her Uncle Arn, with whom she lives, strikes up a conversation with an older woman in Kensington Gardens and tells this woman that Cluny ‘doesn’t know her place’. And that is the crux of Cluny’s problems – she thinks she can do things that young women of her station and skills wouldn’t normally do. It perplexes her uncle and frustrates other relations and after she makes an ill-advised decision regarding an older man and his bathroom her uncle and his sister-in-law steer her into service.

She lands in Devon at Friars Carmel, the home of Sir Henry, Lady Carmel and their son Andrew. Mostly resigned to her fate she settles in as a housemaid among the very gracious family, their Polish refugee house guest, Adam Belinksi, and the other household staff. She also meets a kind if dull chemist who gives her hope for a different life.

In the end, Cluny makes a decision that is wholly unexpected yet wholly and utterly perfect. She’s known all along that she doesn’t want the life most expected for women of her status and the reader doesn’t want that for her either. For Cluny is curious and energetic, unafraid and full of natural charm. She’s meant for more than the life of a housemaid.

Like Britannia Mews, Cluny Brown is a dream. I loved all of the characters so much that I didn’t want to leave them. Sharp creates real and delightful worlds with a slightly fairy tale quality that completely envelop the reader – I was enchanted.

Now to decide – wait for next year’s Margery Sharp Day to read another of her novels or jump straight in to one now?

My History by Antonia Fraser

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I’m not a particular fan of Antonia Fraser (I’ve only ever read The Wives of Henry VIII by her) but I couldn’t resist this memoir about her pre-war/wartime childhood and post-war teen years and the experiences that turned her into a historian. Both of Fraser’s parents were politicians and very well-connected so she had a colorful childhood of campaigning for her parents and growing up with seven siblings in a household that encouraged curiosity and learning. When Antonia was a girl she became enchanted with Mary Queen of Scots and her passion for this tragic figure runs all through the novel leading to her writing her first major historical biography of Mary in the late sixties, which kickstarted her career.

Fraser’s memories about her childhood and education are fascinating and reading about the famous figures she knew as a child is impressive and jaw-dropping. This is a woman who had both Christine Longford and Anthony Powell in her family and received letters from her parents’ friend Evelyn Waugh, among others. I really enjoyed the book up through her school years. However, once she goes off to Oxford I think it dragged a bit, became overly name-droppy and wasn’t as interesting. But, overall, this is a wonderful account of the making of a historian and of what it was like to be a privileged child in England in the 30’s and 40’s.

It has inspired me to seek out some of her books – I’d especially like to read her book on Marie Antoinette.

Have you read Antonia Fraser’s historical biographies or other works?

Choosing Book Club Titles for 2016

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Hello! I’m so sorry I disappeared there in December. The holidays and my trip to Colorado seemed to come upon me sooner than I expected and I didn’t write the holiday posts that I had planned – I suppose there’s always next year – onward to 2016!

My book club is going into its 4th year of existence (our anniversary is in March) and I decided that this year we needed to find a new way to choose our books. The first year we voted every month on a list of titles that I compiled, the second year I chose all the books for the year in advance, and last year we took turns choosing titles every month. This year I wanted the process to be a bit less…contentious. Perhaps that’s not the right word – anonymous is probably better. All the members of my book club are lovely people, but there have been instances of dissatisfaction, irritation and disagreement from time to time with the books we choose and the process that we’ve used to choose them. So this year I did something a little bit different.

Back in November I used Survey Monkey to solicit 3 suggestions from each member. Since we decided to focus on classics this year all suggestions needed to be published before 1970. Once I had the suggestions I compiled them and sent out another Survey Monkey link to where everyone could vote for their top choices. Everything was completely anonymous. We only chose for the first six months because I wanted to make sure this worked and I thought trying to choose 12 books might be overwhelming for our first time with this new process. After all the votes came in I made a list of the 6 books that got the most votes and those are the titles that we’re reading from now until June. What did we choose? Here are our selections:

January – Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

February – My Antonia by Willa Cather

March – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

April – Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

May – The Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

June – Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

I think this was a successful way to choose our books and that we all enjoyed the voting process and finding out which books got the most votes. Though I administered it all I was just as surprised by the selections as anyone else was. I think we have a good variety of books and I look forward to reading all of them. This method will definitely reduce the level of indecision about what to choose and the small disagreements or resentments that happened sometimes in previous years.

Have you read any of these titles? How does your book club choose books?

#Emma200th: Volume 1

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This is the first post on my Emma thoughts for the readalong this month. Unfortunately, I read the first volume about two months ago and sadly have no vivid, charming comments that are floating to the surface of my aging brain right now. So, these will have to do:

  • Emma is a wonderful, entertaining, frustrating, amusing character. It’s hard to dislike her even when she is being so insufferably obtuse. Yet, when you step back from the humor and the sheer confidence she displays you realize that her actions, though cloaked in a tone of lightheartedness, really do have serious consequences that could ruin lives. Her sense of her own rightness borders on the dangerous.
  • How endearingly annoying is Miss Bates? We have many Miss Bates’s at the library – men and women (though mostly men these days) who spend their entire days in the library and take advantage of any slow times at the desk to bombard the staff with their thoughts, descriptions of their small daily outrages and pleasures and complaints about their health. I admit to feeling very Emma-like toward them some of the time and am very relieved when someone needing help approaches the desk and I can turn away. If I have time I do try to give them attention (except for the creepy ones…but that’s a different story) and these Miss Bates’s are always grateful, but they do try our patience.
  • Austen is really skillful at building up interest in and curiosity about Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, isn’t she? By the time they arrived in Highbury I was so dying to know if they were really as described by the various characters and by their letters.
  • The amount of walking the characters do is impressive! And it also seems that a lot important of thoughts and conversations are had by them while walking.
  • I love the scenes at Randalls on Christmas Eve. The snow worries of Mr. Woodhouse, the cheek of Mr. Elton, Emma’s confusion about his lack of concern about Harriet and then the scene in the carriage on the way home – fabulous.

This week I’ll immerse myself in volume two and very happily. After an unfortunate experience attempting to read Jonathan Franzen this weekend I need something that is more of my taste to brighten my days.

Are you reading Emma this month?