… in which I realise just how many books I have about Sylvia Plath…


… and the results are rather scary! I’ve been reading Plath since my late teens – which is quite a while ago – and so I’ve gradually gathered a large number of books by and about her over the years. Reading “Eve Rhymes” recently and then trying to find a space to squeeze it onto the Plath/Hughes shelf meant that I ended up pulling all of them *off* the shelves for a dust, audit and reorganise. And here they are, spread out on the spare room bed – a rather large and scary pile!

Looking at them all set me thinking about how much has been written about Plath and Hughes, their relationship, their work, their legacy et al. And it’s not as if the subject has lost interest for the public – even after the passing of Plath, Hughes and their youngest child, there still seem to be restrictions on the availability of research material, accusations of the Estate controlling access and use of quotes, and bitterness on all sides.

Picking up and flicking through a few of the books brought back memories of reading these partial-biographies, attempts to get at the truth and the way that in some ways they’ve muddied the waters. I doubt the controversy will ever go away – at least, while some of the protagonists are still with us. I would like to see Frieda Hughes, a fine poet and artist in her own right, in control of the Estate as I feel personally she would bring a sanity and sense of balance to things.

I certainly don’t have all of the books on Plath/Hughes and I find myself wondering what would be the point of reading yet another version of their lives. The most valuable one I can think of at the moment *is* “Eve Rhymes”, for giving me back a vision of Plath as a complete artist. I’d love to see her complete “Letters Home” if they still exist, and I wish that all the journals, as well as the lost novel, could be found. But I doubt that will happen, and in the meantime I shall just return to Plath’s poetry and stories when I want to connect with her.

However, that does leave me with the rather difficult decision of whether I should put all these books back on the shelf, and whether I will ever read them again!!

Re-reading Mapp and Lucia


Back in the 1980s, I first stumbled across Mapp and Lucia, thanks to the very wonderful TV adaptation, starring Geraldine McEwan and Prunella Scales. The production was so brilliantly done that I fell in love with the characters and settings straight away, and was delighted to find, when I read the books, how faithful it was to them. Alas, my copies disappeared in a clear-out over the years (such a mistake, as always….) but I’ve often wanted to re-read them. So coming across a Bookcrossed copy locally was a treat, and it didn’t take me long to start on the book – actually while waiting for the bus home!

E.F. Benson looking jolly serious!

E.F. Benson looking jolly serious!

“Mapp and Lucia” is the fourth volume in E.F. Benson’s series of books about these two ladies, and it’s generally regarded as the one where the series takes off. Although the pair have crossed paths in previous books, the latter have been more about the individual escapades of either Mapp or Lucia. In this one, however, the ladies lock horns and a social battle ensues!

The book opens with a recently widowed Lucia contemplating returning to the social fray in her native Riseholme. Used to being the queen bee par excellence, she is unhappy about rival Daisy Quantock playing Elizabeth 1 in the local pageant and watching her machinations is a joy. But after her triumph she is a little jaded and decides she needs a change – sweeping off to the little seaside town of Tilling, with her loyal acolyte Georgie in tow, and renting Mapp’s house for the summer.

All kinds of social shenanigans follow, with the two protagonists vying for supremacy. But high drama at the end brings about a spectacular denouement which if you didn’t know it was coming (I did!) would perhaps be a little unexpected!

The wonderful cast

The wonderful cast

It has to be said that I’ve fallen in love with Mapp and Lucia and their adventures all over again. Benson’s writing is so wonderful – sparkling, witty, clever, readable; and he nails his characters perfectly. They are *appalling* people in many ways – snobbish, cliquey, bitchy and nosey – and yet I love them all! Lucia, of course, is magnificent – clever, forceful, imperious and determined always to get her own way. Mapp is her counterpart – equally determined to control the social events of Tilling, but mean-spirited, dishonest and sneaky. Georgie is a camp delight, with his painting, embroidery, loyalty to Lucia and dependence on his wonderful retainer Foljambe. The Tillingites, ranging from Diva Plaistow through Major Benjy to Quaint Irene are just a delight.

My Penguin edition comes with a fabulous introduction, musing on why we love these characters so much. I think with Lucia it’s because she is always true to herself, with a sweeping vision – although she may bully the others, she’s trying to do something big and epic. It will, of course, always reflect well on her, but nevertheless it’s always spectacular. Mapp, however, is much more parochial and stoops to much lower levels than Lucia. Seeing them duel is a real delight!

*Love* that frock!

*Love* that frock!

I remember adoring the production qualities of the TV adaptation – McEwan’s frocks were glorious and there was lots of lovely outside location filming. Because I have those actors fixed in my mind as the characters I don’t know if I shall watch the new version – but a revisit to the rest of the series of books is definitely on the cards!!

Midweek arrivals!


Yes, as if it wasn’t bad enough that the lure of the charity shops keeps increasing the amount of volumes making their way onto Mount TBR, this week has seen the arrival of a few extras in the form of a couple of books I’ve ordered and one lovely gift!

These are the culprits:


The George Konrad book is one of the Writers from the Other Europe series which I’ve been gradually collecting – it sounds like strong stuff, so I shall have to be in the right frame of mind to read it.

The Lawrence Durrell was an online impulse purchase following a lovely article about it in the “Slightly Foxed” magazine – and after a quick look at the first pages I can see that the prose is gorgeous so I hope this one will be a winner.

And finally, a lovely gift from my lovely long-time friend J in the form of Iris Murdoch’s “The Bell” – I have a couple of Murdochs on Mount TBR and this can join them, as it’s title I’ve often considered reading. J, who shared a wonderful visit to the Persephone Shop with me, spotted this in a charity shop and very kindly picked it up for me – what a lovely friend!

I’ve started keeping a little spreadsheet to track new arrivals, and it’s actually proving a little scary – when I see how many books have snuck into the house in the last few weeks I realise I really *will* have to take drastic action…… :s

George Orwell : 25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950


“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”

George Orwell at his typewriter.

Happy birthday to the very wonderful and profound George Orwell whose words are still as relevant today as they ever were.

“Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

This mortal coil….


A beautiful song sung by a wonderful singer.

These are a few of my favourite things… beginning with C!


Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book has come up with most wonderful meme, whereby we have to come up with some favourites, based on a particular letter – and that can be harder than you think! I have been allocated C, and after a lot of head scratching have come up with the following. Although these are favourites beginning with that particular letter, I’m not sure if I could ever pick one favourite *anything* – but for today, these will do!

Favourite book:


I’m going to pick “Cosmicomics” by one of my favourite authors, Italo Calvino. This is a bit fat collection of short pieces which I reviewed here, and they’re absolutely wonderful: short pieces musing on the universe, telling strange little stories and twisting our perceptions of what’s real and what isn’t. Originally published in a couple of translated volumes in this country, they were finally collected in The Complete Cosmicomics and you could do no better than start reading Calvino with this book!

Favourite author:

italo calvino 001
I suppose it’s fairly inevitable therefore that my favourite author with a C will be (Italo) Calvino! His book “If on a winter’s night a traveller” is a volume I would have to have with me on a desert island. It changed the way I read and the way I looked at books, and I developed a huge author-crush on Calvino (which I still have, if I’m honest). On Mount TBR is a lovely big volume of his letters, still in its shrink-wrapping – and I really hope to sink into it over the summer holidays!

Favourite song:

I’m going to pick a song that begins with C – (A) Child’s Christmas in Wales, by a musician whose name begins with a C – John Cale. Cale is a long-term obsession (I’ve seen him live at least 6 times) and his work is always challenging, exhilarating and different from anyone else. This song, though it shares the title of a Dylan Thomas book, doesn’t really have much to do with the latter although they have the common Welsh heritage they’re celebrating. Cale is a favourite musician and this song is one of his best.

Favourite film:

I’m not a huge film buff, if I’m honest, and I do tend to prefer older movies. Cabaret is definitely a long-term fave, not the least because of the presence of the wonderful Liza Minnelli. And seeing it again as a more grown-up person, I appreciate the sadness behind it as the civilised world disintegrates.

Favourite object:


A hard one. Chocolate? (I’m not supposed to eat it). Cups? (I love tea). Cheese? (Likewise). I think I’ll cheat a little and go for Chair (reading!) – because I don’t have a dedicated reading chair and I would very much like one!

This was a fun and thought-provoking meme – thanks Simon!

Recent Reads – The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson


My journey through the glorious Moominland continues apace, and I’ve reached book no. 4, “The Exploits of Moominpappa”. The story apparently has a bit of a chequered past, at least according to Wikipedia: The Exploits of Moominpappa, first published in 1950 and then considerably revised in 1968 under the title Moominpappa’s Memoirs, is the fourth book in the Moomin series by Tove Jansson. The story found in this book is mentioned in the previous Moomin books, as Moominpappa writes his memoirs in those stories. Unlike Comet in Moominland and Finn Family Moomintroll, both versions of the novel were translated into English.


My version is the current Puffin, so goodness which I’ve got! However, not to worry – it’s still going to be an engaging tale!

As Wikipedia says, Moominpappa has been writing his memoirs for several books, and in fact the first book opened with him being lost and Moominmamma’s search for him, so it’s intriguing to hear the story of his life. The story is told to Moomintroll, Sniff and Snufkin and turns out to feature the two latter character’s fathers (which is quite strange, because it was Moomintroll who met Sniff and Snufkin and brought them home, and there was never any mention of their fathers before!)

Moominpappa came from an orphanage, ran away to find his fortune and had a number of adventures with new friends Hodgkin, the Joxter and the Muddler. They sail away on a houseboat, rescue a bossy Hemulen, have a run-in with some Niblings, and find a new land where the Mymble family live. After setting up home on an island and befriending the resident ghost, they go on to have further adventures under the sea. And then we get to the part where Moominpappa and Moominmamma meet – and the book stops!


Once again, Jansson’s storytelling is wonderful and the illustrations are just lovely! However, if I’m honest, this is probably the Moomin book I’ve enjoyed the least (and that’s not to mean I didn’t enjoy it at all) – possibly because it’s told from a different voice, or possibly because it just introduces so many different settings and characters without any warning. It kind of has the feel of retrospective writing, bringing in characters and plot that weren’t there earlier, and so it sits less comfortably with what I’ve read so far than I expected.


Nevertheless, the Moomin world is always a magical one – the creatures are original and unexpected, the adventures quite challenging at times and of course the drawings are magical. Jansson can convey so much with just line illustrations, bringing alive the wonderful little characters who populate her books. The next book in the series is “Moominsummer Madness”, which will no doubt appear on Mount TBR very soon!

Anna Akhmatova: June 23, 1889 – March 5, 1966



The Muse (1924)

All that I am hangs by a thread tonight
as I wait for her whom no one can command.
Whatever I cherish most – youth, freedom, glory –
fades before her who bears the flute in her hand.

And look! She comes … she tosses back her veil,
staring me down, serene and pitiless.
“Are you the one,” I ask, “whom Dante heard dictate
the lines of his Inferno?” She answers: “Yes.”

(Translated by Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward)

in which there *will* be casualties…


Yes, I’m afraid I really *will* have to start pruning after this weekend’s arrivals – and try to decide which of the books on Mount TBR I am realistically likely to read, and which will have to go…

Clearing out bookshelves is not something I enjoy doing, as I always regret it – my Mapp and Lucia books, for example, and “Madame Solario” – both of which I’ve missed recently. But there are only so many shelves and only so much time left to read – the house will only hold so much before it bursts 😦

These are this week’s culprits:

and I have perfectly good reasons for buying them all!!

The Antonia White diaries is a Virago – which is reason enough, particularly as her “Frost in May” has the honour of being the first VMC! ‘Nuff said.

“Recovery” by Stephen Benatar sounded intriguing – Benatar himself sounds intriguing! Plus I have his “Wish Her Safe At Home” on Mount TBR and this can keep it company. And it’s signed by the author too!

“Twelve Horses….” is by Gladys Mitchell and it’s a vintage green crime Penguin, so once again that’s a no-brainer – there’s no way it was going to stay on the Oxfam shelf.

Zamyatin’s “We” – well, of course, I already have two other editions of this book. But I owned this particular edition with its lovely cover once and loaned it to Eldest Child for a university module. I don’t recall seeing it since…. so of course felt the need to replace it.

And lastly Heinrich Boll – an author I’ve never read, although since he’s a Nobel winner I should have. This is his first novel and it’s short too – so I was intrigued enough to try it.

Now for some painful violence on the shelves…..

Recent Reads – The Stonehenge Letters by Harry Karlinsky


Although I was born in Scotland, I spent a lot of my young life growing up near the Hampshire border and Stonehenge was just a stone’s throw away (ha!) It was a place we visited when we had relatives or friends staying, intriguing and mysterious, and in those days you could wander among the stones, sit on the fallen ones and really soak up the atmosphere; I think there’s even a small fuzzy photo somewhere of me in amongst them with grandparents.

So I’ve always had an attachment to the place, which meant that the offer of a review copy of this intriguing-sounding book was extremely welcome. This is Harry Karlinsky’s second novel – it proclaims itself as such on the cover – yet it’s a fascinating book that defies categorisation and plays with the genres. If you like, it could be described as fiction masquerading as non-fiction.


The book’s narrator is an unnamed psychiatrist, puzzled as to why Sigmund Freud never received the Nobel Prize. He finally gains access to the Nobel records to try to find out the reason, but instead stumbles across something hidden – there was once a secret Nobel prize, only open to previous winners, and to be awarded to the person who solved the mystery of Stonehenge.

The book goes on to explore the background of the prize and the theories of the Nobel Laureates who entered; ranging from Marie Curie via Theodore Roosevelt to Rudyard Kipling. Was there a solution? Was the prize awarded? And why did Freud never receive the Nobel?

This is a delight of a book, the most wonderful interweaving of fact and fiction. Karlinsky captures wonderfully the tone of a dry, academic psychologist, albeit one with a strong sense of curiosity. It’s lively, entertaining and very unputdownable, particularly the various submissions purporting to be from the Nobel winners. I was particularly impressed with the one attributed to Kipling, as this is framed as a short piece featuring Dan, Una and Puck from “Puck of Pook’s Hall” which I read recently, and Karlinsky brilliantly captures the voice of the book. Intriguingly, he’s actually a psychiatrist in real life, which adds another layer to the many on display here.

TSL is also very dry and witty, and some of the one-liner notes in particular are really funny. Karlinsky’s taken the concept of crank letters to the Nobel authorities and created a most wonderfully readable fiction. Satisfyingly, the notes at the end reveal enough of what is fact and fiction to clear the reader’s mind. The book is scattered with illustrations and the end section has some fascinating biographical facts.


This is a really inventive piece of fiction, blurring the lines between the real and the made up in a most entertaining way. I’m not always a great fan of modern fiction, but TSL was an excellent and enjoyable read and deserves to be much more widely known – highly recommended!

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