I took two cameras on my trip to England back in October – my primary camera and my backup camera. On the day we went to Westminster Abbey, the Churchill War Rooms and Kensington Palace I was very glad to have that backup. My number one camera failed to charge the night before (user error I’m sure) so I pulled out my second camera and didn’t have to miss taking photos that day. As you can see it was a pretty grey and rainy day and I ended up not taking as many photos as I usually do as I was huddled underneath an umbrella trying to stay dry. And that might have been why I forgot that I had these at all. I downloaded a few when I got back, but just remembered on Saturday that I had more on this camera than I had thought. I thought I’d share them here to remember what I lovely time I had and as a reminder to start being more frugal so that I can afford to go again next year.
‘What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.’
I’m enjoying June. The bright, shiny skies, the languid dusks, the busyness of the library. Yes, it’s hot, but it’s still the dry heat that feels like cuddling in a warm blanket just out of the dryer.
I’ve been reading lots and it feels really natural to go from book to book with no need to take a breath – isn’t that what summer reading is?
How is your June?
This is the last day of Mary Hocking Reading Week (although by the time I post this I think it will be Monday in the UK and I officially missed the deadline) but I am just now getting my impressions about A Particular Place gathered and recorded. I finished the book sometime last week on vacation and haven’t really known what to say about it. And I still don’t feel like I can do it justice, but I am going to do my best to tell you what I think.
This short novel is set in a small town in the West Country and focuses on a small group of parishioners who are connected through their church participation. The vicar, Michael Hoath, is a very intense, serious and traditional man who is married to the cold and beautiful Valentine, an amateur actress. Everyone in the novel is in some kind of crisis, whether emotional or faith-related or family/marriage based. Michael doesn’t really think or know that he is until he falls in love with a rather flaky woman in the congregation and has to come to grips with his own inner turmoil in the midst of helping members of his parish through their various struggles.
So there really isn’t a plot – it’s more a collection of scenes wherein the characters examine themselves, their motives, their beliefs and try to connect with God or their families or their fellow parishioners. The description on the books says it’s a successor to Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor – I feel it’s probably much closer to Taylor as there is hardly any humor in the novel (which started to wear on me) yet I feel it’s unlike Taylor in that Hocking does show a smidge more compassion for her characters than Taylor does. The tone of this novel is hard to pin down. It is melancholy, woeful, at times hopeless, yet there is a transcendence that overshadows it all that makes it luminous.
Did I like it? I’m afraid to say I don’t think I really did, in the end. I admire it and like the writing and the style, but the tone is so dark and the characters so desolate that I couldn’t enjoy it. I think this is a case where I probably don’t understand this novel at all and am misreading everything about it. I am glad that I read it, though, and it won’t prevent me from trying another Mary Hocking novel.
I haven’t bought very many books lately, mostly because I’ve bought these – and they are not cheap. The shipping alone from Persephone is a pretty penny, but one that I feel is completely justified – and the same goes for the Slightly Foxed editions. Quality over quantity for me these days!
I’d always planned to order London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes from Persephone when it was released last month. When I was placing the order online I decided to also get the latest novel published by them, Vain Shadow by Jane Hervey, and I also ordered Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson. I’ve already read a big chunk of London War Notes and am so glad I have it and the others to look forward to over the summer.
I have a subscription to the Slightly Foxed Quarterly, which I just love, but I’d never bought any of their books. When I saw a post on Facebook about Silver Ley by Adrian Bell I was really intrigued. It’s Bell’s story of learning to be a farmer in Suffolk just after WWI. I adore stories about people ‘going back to the land’ so I ordered this right away. Reading more about the book on the SF website I realized that Silver Ley is a sequel to Corduroy – so I ordered that too!
Have you bought any exciting books lately?
At my book club’s April meeting I presented three books for the group to choose from and the overwhelming vote was for Someone by Alice McDermott – because it is quite short! However, I was pleased with the choice as this is a novel I’ve contemplated reading for quite a while now and Sunday over at Ciao Domenica had nothing but praise for it which piqued my interest even more.
This is one of those books that is more of a character study than anything – there really isn’t a traditional plot arc that holds it all together. In fact, the narrative moves in out and between the present and the past with no discernible transitions so it takes about 20 pages to realize what McDermott is doing and to become comfortable with the structure. Once you do, though, it’s quite easy to ride the wave of the main character’s memories.
The novel is told in the first person by Marie Commeford, an elderly woman who grew up in Brooklyn during the thirties and forties. Most of her memories center on the years of her childhood and young adulthood. Her family is Irish Catholic and live in a predominately Irish Catholic neighborhood and she is close to her beloved father and older brother who’s already been chosen to attend seminary at a young age. Most of her memories have that tender, almost yearning quality that we have as adults looking back on our childhoods. There is a lot of death and a lot of disappointment in her life, but she tells her story very straightforwardly with little regret. As I’ve mentioned, there isn’t a lot that happens in the novel yet Marie’s unexceptional story is riveting, more riveting to me than that of a spy story or an adventure story. Reading about ordinary people is always fascinating because most of us are ordinary – yet when you read something like this you realize that everyone has an interesting life and that, truly, everyone is ‘someone’.
How did my book club like it? Well, I think the majority of us appreciated it, but there were two members who didn’t – they didn’t see the point of the meandering style and just didn’t enjoy reading about Marie’s life. Despite that we all managed to have a pretty lively discussion about the book and I think it really set off a lot of related examination of our own memories and life stories. All in all, I’d recommend this for book clubs as it is a) short and b) brings up a lot of issues that will lead to a thoughtful discussion.
Have you read Alice McDermott?