Monday, 16 May 2016

Persephone: Greenbanks - Dorothy Whipple

I love Persephone publications, bringing back books which are worth the trouble to republish.  I was in at the beginning, when someone bought me their first book.  Every so often I treat myself to a couple of those lovely grey paperbacks, all with matching covers and a bookmark to match the endpapers, again a treat, as every book has endpaper from a fabric or wallpaper issued at about the same time as the original publication of the book.

Dorothy Whipple is (or was) a lost author, that is until Persephone republished her,  but I have never read one of hers that wasn't worth reading, and Greenbanks is a gem.  Telling the story of a house and the family that live in or just pass through it, along with in laws, friends  and acquaintances sounds pretty mundane.  Not a bit of it, for Louisa, the mother and grandmother is the glue that holds this book and the characters in it together.  How she feels about her errant husband colours her views on others' mistakes in life.  Her love for Charles, her youngest son is, I guess, how lots of mothers feel about their youngest child.  Her childrens' choice of partners worry her somewhat, but in keeping with the times, her view is that at least most of them actually have partners.    There are some loathsome characters too, but I wonder if they were just a result of the age they were living in, for if we take Ambrose, one of Louisa's son-on-laws as an example, he thinks that women are at their very best when listening (hard) to a man explaining something to them, and looking a little confused.... Actually, I found the man odious for many reasons, but mainly because he was always right even when he wasn't.   And of course there is the grandchild, Rachel, who loves Louisa and is loved back unquestioningly - both of them understanding each other and the rest of the family.

This is an observation of a middle class family in the early part of the 20th century, but with a few tweaks, this could be any class, any house, any time.  Dorothy Whipple had an"eye" for characterisation, and although a reader might at first think her style old fashioned, think again - and if you want to read her, this book wouldn't be a bad place to start!

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Before the Fall - Noah Hawley

I don't like this kind of book. But this time I am making a H U G E exception because this is a really good read, a page turner, a book which every so often made me gasp and say "no!". Noah Hawley is the man who wrote the scipt for the TV series "Fargo", and I didn't watch that because I loved the film. Now I wish I had because this was a real rollercoaster of a read, a book that gave me all the info I needed, page by page, and by the end, had me attempting to speed read the last half a dozen pages even though I knew from the first chapter that there had been a plane crash, and there were only two survivors.

There are some great but flawed characters here including Gus, the investigator for airline safety, who is cold and mechanical on the surface, but needs to get everything right so that mistakes are not glossed over; Scott, recovering alchoholic and one of the two survivors; Bill, the news reporter who is actually a shock jockey who made it to TV - and who made a fortune for the company that employed him. David, the CEO of that company, who should have retired but loves the thrill of business. Every character gets plenty of pages, we learn what makes them tick, we take decisions on whether we like them or not, we dismiss them as not important when maybe they are? And, very near the end of the book we find out how the plane went down. I read the 400 pages in 24 hours - could not put it down. High praise from me, a reader who does not like thrillers.



Saturday, 14 May 2016

Badgers, love 'em or hate 'em

Badger adults and three month old cub foraging in leaf litterFirst of all I must thank Jack A Bailey for this pic I found on a site about badgers (and there are many others so, if you are interested......). 
I just wanted a good pic of badgers because there are still folk out there who don't know much about them, apart from what's in the news from time to time about Badger culls, TB etc.    Certainly they are rather handsome beasts.  Wikipedia  has a good page about them.

So why am I posting?  I got up yesterday morning, and noticed some divots pulled up from my grass (it would be foolish to call it a lawn as it's not posh enough for that).  Whilst hanging out the washing, I glanced at all those misplaced lumps of grass and thought to myself "that blackbird had a good worm harvest this morning".  Finished hanging the washing up and then went to look closer.  The holes left behind were certainly bigger than the beak of a blackbird, but it still didn't register.  It was half way through breakfast that I had a lightbulb moment - B A D G E R S ! ! ! ! 

I went back out into the garden to make a closer inspection, and yes the holes were very big, and had been made with something very sharp.  Their claws are awsome!  I thought about this a lot, because in 14 years I have never seen badger damage here, even though we are right on the end of the town - 50 yards and it's fields.  My late (deceased)  neighbours, who moved into the house next door around 30 years ago when the housing estate behind us was a field with walnut trees and horses,  had seen badgers in that field when they first arrived but this was a new one on me.  I think it was a solitary badger, possibly strayed from it's usual run, because there was certainly not enough damage for a family and I have never found badger droppings in the garden.  Whilst nature and wildlife can be thrilling, I don't really want them to come again.  Because I get a visit from a hedgehog from time to time, and each of my boundaries has hedgehog spaces, so that they can travel through to the next bit of their territory - and they are a badger delicacy. Badgers are are meat eaters - they were certainly looking for worms under my grass.

I don't ever see the hedgehog(s), only their droppings, and I never saw the badger either - although had I known he was out there I would have switched on our outside light and observed him.


Friday, 6 May 2016

A Month in the Country = J L Carr

England, 1920.  A painting restorer has been employed to uncover a large wall painting in a village church.  Still recovering from WW1, and with a wife who has left him (not for the first time), he takes his summer slowly; unearthing the picture little by little, eating his lunch on the tombstones with another war survivor, an archaelogist who is seeking the tomb of a long dead villager;  and gradually finding himself again.

The pace is slow, the characters wonderfully formed, the feeling of a time long gone - especially on the day of the Sunday school treat when everyone goes by horse and cart to the moors on a picnic - is right there on the page; and everything about this short novel is exquisite.  It is a fine example of one of my favourite kinds of books where "nothing happens, beautifully".   I would read this one again, just for the beauty of the words, but do take the chance to find and read this even if you think beautiful words are just too much (or not enough) for you.  Will he finish the painting?  Will he declare his love for the vicar's wife?  Will he remain in the village when his work is done or go home to another life altogether?  You will find the answers to all of those questions as you read, but take my word for it, it doesn't matter about the answers, it's the words that suck you in, take you there and make you, like him, never want summer to end.

  England

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Mrs Mac Suggests - what to read in MAY

Yay! it's May!   And what are we reading?  Suggestion is a funny thing all round.  I find a subject of some kind, I suggest it to you by throwing it out on the internet, and I never have any idea at all whether or not anyone takes any notice at all of my mutterings!  Still, got to press on, haven't you?

So for May, I am going to suggest that you read
A book that makes you laugh out loud "But how will I know  until I have read it?" you ask.  Well.... you don't really, do you.  But perhaps you have a book in mind and on reading it found that it will make you laugh out loud!

If you can get hold of a copy, may I suggest a book with a really "English" sense of humour -

Down With Skool 
                by Geoffrey Willans, and with wonderful sketches drawn by Ronald Searle. 

This is a book that is not funny if you read it aloud. But hopefully it will make you laugh out loud It is a book to read on your own, imagining how poor Nigel Moleworth ever got through school at all.  Remember too that this is not a new publication.  This was published back in the 1960s, and is about life in a public (private for US readers) school.  I read it several times in my teens, and I have a copy in the house now for guests to read.  Whether they do or not is another thing - but it's there!