A Birthday Mention


As it’s the birthday of one of my favourite ever writers, Richard Brautigan, I thought it would be worth linking to the posts I’ve done on him – and there are a couple, as I never tire of his wonderful prose!

A previous birthday post

Some thoughts on Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan 1084

And here is one of his poems:

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Happy birthday Richard!

Shiny New Loveliness!


Issue 4 of the wonderful Shiny New Books online reviews mag is live today!

SNB is always stuffed full of fascinating reviews, and the latest issue is no exception – prepare to have your wish lists expand! 🙂

I have been happy to provide a few reviews and I’ll point to you a couple of lovelies from Alma Classics which I covered here, and also on SNB:

Notes on a Cuff by Mikhail Bulgakov

cuffI reviewed this book towards the end of last year:

“My favourite Russian author (probably!) for quite a while has been Mikhail Bulgakov, and as an Anglophone reader I figured I’d tracked down just about everything of his that was in a form I could read. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that the lovely Alma Classics were bringing out a new collection entitled “Notes on a Cuff” – particularly as the publicity for the book trumpeted the fact that it contained previously untranslated works! ”

I’ve expanded my thoughts on SNB and  you can read them here!

In the Twilight by Anton Chekhov

chekhov-twilight-197x300This was another title I came to at the end of last year, and one I think is particularly exciting as it’s a collection of stories Chekhov assembled himself.

“Numerous collections have been released over the years, containing the compiler’s favourite stories, the ones they feel best represent him. However, the Alma Classics volume is a fresh translation of that rarest of things – a collection put together by the author himself!”

My updated thoughts on SNB here

So what are you waiting for? Off you go to get some great book recommendations! 🙂

Rediscovered Gems from a Gallic Genius


Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island by Colette

A year ago, I did a little post here to celebrate the birthday of the French author, Colette – a long-time favourite of mine, and an author whose works I’m always happy to revisit. I spent chunks of my twenties reading everything of hers which had been translated into English, catching up with a few books I’d missed in more recent years. So I was absolutely delighted to discover that a new collection of previously untranslated pieces was coming out and even more delighted when Middle Child presented it to me for Christmas!


“Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island” is translated by Zack Rogow and Renee Morel, and published by Excelsior Editions. The blurb lauds the translation as rendering Colette in idiomatic English; I was perhaps vaguely worried about this, hoping that the prose wouldn’t sound too different from the translations I was used to, but I needn’t have been concerned – Colette’s individual voice shines through with her wonderful phraseology and robust viewpoint. The translation reads beautifully apart from the occasional jarring error (broach pin, anyone???) and the book is incredibly readable.

SOATI contains short pieces, some only a page, some running to four or five, and covers the gamut of her work; from stories (many more or less autobiographical), through problem page answers, biographical sketches, music hall tales, advertising pieces and musings on life and living. Her responses to nature and animals are always intense and enjoyable, particularly her dogs and cats, and she can conjure up the atmosphere of Crecy Forests in such luminous prose:

The wind dies down under this tent of trees, where the air barely sways, heavy, musky. A soft waves of fragrance guides my steps toward wild strawberries, round as pearls, which ripen here in seconds, blacken, tremble and fall, dissolve slowly in a sweet, raspberried decay whose aroma mingles with a greenish honeysuckle, sticky with honey, and with a round of white mushrooms. They were born this very might, and their heads lift the crackling carpet of leaves and twigs. They are the fragile and matt white of new gloves, pearly, moist as a lamb’s nose; their fragrance evokes fresh truffles and tuberoses.

With a lesser writer, you might be forgiven for thinking that a book like this is just a case of scraping around at the bottom of the barrel for unused bits of writing. But with Colette, even the shortest, page-long piece is studded with gems of wit and wisdom, pithy and pungent points that have you thinking for days afterwards. There’s never a wasted word with Colette – her writing is just a joy and I would happily read every single thing she wrote.

Colette as she was known under her married name at the time of publishing the Claudine books

Colette as she was known under her married name at the time of publishing the Claudine books

If you love Colette and her writing, you need to have this book. If you’ve never read her, you have so many treats in store. This isn’t necessarily the ideal book to start reading this wonderful writer, but once you’ve fallen under her spell, you’ll definitely want to go out and get it! Probably my favourite Christmas gift so far….. 🙂

Margery Sharp Day – plus other bookish ramblings!



Today is the 110th birthday of author Margery Sharp, and Jane at Fleur in her World has declared it “Margery Sharp Day” in celebration. Sharp is an author much-beloved in blogging circles, particularly those of us who congregate around the LibraryThing Virago group – and in fact the imprint has brought her book “The Eye of Love” back into the public eye, though sadly most of her adult work seems to be out of print.

A number of bloggers are featuring her work today, including Jane herself, as well as HeavenAli and Kirsty at the Literary Sisters. I’m sure there are going to be many, many more posts today, so keep an eye on Fleur in Her World to see what’s happening. Hopefully the following that Sharp has might interest a publisher enough to make them consider some reprints – we can but hope!

As for me, I own two Margery Sharp titles and here they are:


I had a minor crisis recently when I couldn’t find “The Nutmeg Tree” (not an uncommon occurrence, with the piles of books lying about the house) but it did turn up – a lovely old paperback I picked up from Claude Cox Books a while back. Alas, I am currently submerged in review books so I haven’t been able to read either of these titles – but I’m sure I will get to them eventually! In the meantime, happy birthday Margery!



Meanwhile, I almost felt like declaring yesterday Rebecca West day, thanks to some new arrivals!  A lovely LibraryThinger from Canada, Cathy, had sent me a copy of West’s “The Thinking Reed” some time ago; it’s one of her titles I’ve been keen to read and Cathy had a spare. It popped through the door yesterday and I’m very excited – and the cover, as with most original green Viragoes, is just lovely. The West theme continued when I discovered a pristine copy of “Cousin Rosamund” for £1 in the Sue Ryder Charity Shop. I already have quite a good version but was happy to upgrade!


Other new arrivals shown in the stack of books came from the Oxfam:

parade madrid

“Parade’s End” was there two weeks ago when I was last in, and I was strong and didn’t buy it, and then instantly regretted it. Fortunately, it was still there yesterday…. And the Mendoza title is from MacLehose/Quercus and so picking it up was a no-brainer.

The final books in the pile are from the library:


Both the Fitzgerald and the Modiano are books I want to read – but whether I shall get round to them is another matter! 🙂


And last, but not least (as they say) – today is also the birthday of the wonderful Virginia Woolf, one of my favourite writers ever. Nobody uses words like Woolf.

Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by his heart, and his friends can only read the title.
Happy birthday Virginia!

Vintage Crime Shorts Redux


It’s been a little while since I last picked up my lovely collection of vintage crime short stories, “Dead Witness”, but I had a little lull between books recently and figured it was a good time to revisit! Time is progressing in the anthology, and the stories I’m reading now are from the turn of the 20th century.


The Haverstock Hill Murder by George R. Sims

The informative intro to this tale gives a fascinating insight into author Sims’ life, and his detective creation, Dorcas Dene, is certainly an engaging one. Here, Dorcas is retained to investigate the case of a gentleman convicted of murdering his wife and confined to an asylum. His mother is convinced of his innocence and asks Dorcas to clear his name. An expert in disguise, she turns up unexpectedly all over the place, unrecognised by the narrator (who knows her well) and then finally explains all. Alas, experienced reader of criminal stories that I am, I got the solution almost immediately – which is no disrespect to the story, which I still found enjoyable and nicely written. Dorcas is a lovely detective and I’d like to read more of the stories, as those with a female central character were still a rarity at the time. I’ll just have to try a little less hard to work out the plot….

The Stolen Cigar-Case by Bret Harte

As soon as I started this tale, I realised that I’d read it before. It’s a very funny and very wonderful parody of Sherlock Holmes and I suspect I’ve come across it in the brilliant “Faber Book of Parodies” – I’d go and check, but the chances of finding my copy are probably very slim…

The great detective Hemlock Jones features as the investigator in this story, and the narrating doctor is so convinced of his genius that he gets down and kisses his feet at one point. But Jones’s cigar case has gone missing and the tortuous processes of his mind bring him to a very alarming conclusion!

The pastiche is brilliantly done, catching all of Holmes’s mannerisms and eccentricities to a T! Highly recommended if you love Sherlock and want a laugh!


The Absent-Minded Coterie by Robert Barr

The next story features the detective Eugene Valmont – I read “The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont” nearly a year ago and enjoyed it very much, reviewing it here. However, oddly enough I recognised this particular tale as one I’d read previously, and so it’s obviously often anthologised. As I said at the time, “The character of Valmont himself is an engaging one – Barr manages to create a very convincing-sounding Frenchman, with the verbosity, gallantry and intolerance of British law and police that you would expect from one of our Gallic cousins of that era! He is susceptible to fine wine and beautiful women, and very occasionally you think that Barr might be hamming up the stereotype a little, but this is never so much that it distracts from the puzzle. And these puzzles are very good – from minor mysteries of stolen money to larger concerns of bombs and anarchy. Valmont’s cases stretch as far as America, and he is much more fallible that Holmes – he fails in some of his cases, and at times acts outside the law in a way that the resident of 221b would never do!”

So an enjoyable trio of tales – here’s to the next few in the book! 🙂

18 Years…..


Remembering the late, great Billy Mackenzie (27/3/1957 – 22/1/1997)

(there’s a great post over at the Vinyl Villain)

War, and the Decline of the Aristocracy


A Share of the World by Hugo Charteris

As anyone reading this blog might have guessed, I’m a bit of a sucker for forgotten and neglected novelist. So one of my ideal publishers is Michael Walmer, and he’s rediscovered a cracker in the form of Hugo Charteris, whose first novel “A Share of the World” has just been reissued by the imprint. Coming with an interesting introduction by the author’s daughter, it seems a good place to begin!

Charteris is a charismatic-sounding man; of aristocratic lineage (he was the grandson of the 11th Earl of Wemyss), he led a peripatetic life, moving through Eton, Oxford, Malaya, Java, Sutherland, finally ending up in Yorkshire where he died at the age of 48 in 1970.

During his life he wrote constantly alongside a military career, a period in PR and much journalism. Probably nowadays he would be best remembered for his TV work, including the series “Take Three Girls”, and his novels seem to have very much disappeared from the scene – which is a shame, judging from this, his first.


“A Share of the World” tells the story of John Grant, who narrates; based, I’m sure, on Charteris himself, Grant is an office in the middle of the Italian campaign of the second world war. From an upper-class background, he would obviously be part of the officer class but he seems singularly ill-equipped to deal with his role.

Throughout part one of the book, the elliptical, poetic prose slips between Grant’s present (planning and carrying out a patrol to check on the presence of Germans) and various incidents in his past (nightmares and visions as a child; trials at schools; falling in love with a 14-year-old). And the common thread is that at any point of importance in his life he seems to experience a kind of paralysis, having to force himself to take action.

The nature of the fear felt in nightmares is hard to describe by relating it to other things and hard to remember except by chance. It is akin to hysteria, vertigo, impotence, and for those people like John who sometimes used the word Evil with a capital E, as though it existed outside the mind of man, it is akin to Evil. It seldom breaks through into waking life except in the elusive and transitory taste of a sudden association. In the natural world the commonest similar experience seems to be in the eyes of a rabbit fixed by a stoat, screaming with good reason before it’s hurt, but not able to move easily away as it could.

This paralysis seems strongest when in the company of one of his men, Bright; the latter is an unpleasant, dishonest person and he serves in the story almost as a kind of demon pursuing Grant, who feels trapped in the web of his own existence, unable to act and almost an unreal person.

The patrol, of course, goes horribly wrong, and Grant’s war is over. The second part of the book deals with his life post-war. The old certainties have gone, the aristocracy is crumbling and John Grant has no place in the world, feeling like some kind of un-person. He becomes fixated with Jane Matlock, daughter of Sir Wilfred and Lady ‘Neenie’, and sister of Christopher Matlock, who Grant knows slightly. John is convinced that if he marries Jane he will become a ‘real man’, a person with an existence instead of a kind of ghost presence. However, Christopher, who has been much affected by the war and has taken to drink, believes that Jane is so locked into her role as a kind of Lady Bountiful that she doesn’t exist as a real person either. So John’s attempts to ground himself in the modern world seem doomed to disaster, as he and Jane are at cross-purposes most of the time. Meanwhile, the ancient order continues to collapse, John spends a bizarre Christmas with the Matlocks, and Christopher is refusing to take over the family home, Edgeby.

We have only one life as far as we know. One third sleep. Why make another third even more negative than sleep? ‘Doing something in which we cannot express ourselves, deepens ourselves before death.’

Charteris’ writing is really rather wonderful and individual. The prose is fluid, shifting from one perspective to another in a way that’s almost dream-like. He portrays a man with a tenuous grip on reality who seems unable to take any kind of decisive action at all. I presume that the paralysis he reflects here is meant to be symptomatic of a decaying aristocracy, and certainly the less aristocratic members of the cast are much more capable of deeds than Grant – particularly the devious and malevolent Bright, whose influence runs through the book like a constant and nasty thread, and who turns up most alarmingly when least expected with a very unpleasant smile on his face!


I enjoyed my first experience of reading Hugo Charteris very much; his individual style of prose, his rather dreamy and troubled characters and the wonderful way he had of conjuring up atmosphere made this a compelling book. So well done to Michael Walmer for re-issuing the title, and I’ll look forward to exploring more of Charteris’ work in future.

A bookish jaunt – and the loveliness of Viragoites!


Despite my best efforts, the books continue to pour in at the Ramblings (much to the consternation of OH, who starts to wonder where we’re going to put them all, particularly if we manage to retire to a bungalow one day…) However, I’m trying to be strict with what I keep and I suspect some may be passed on to interested readers after I’ve enjoyed them – well, that’s the theory anyway

There’s been something of a splurge of review books – which is lovely, but sometimes unexpected – and these are pressurising me to read them – I’m doing quite well and reviews will follow! Here are some of the lovelies:


Two *very* interesting titles courtesy of Hesperus Press. Gertrude Bell was of course a pioneering woman traveller and her work has been published by Virago in the past. The Pankhurst book looks fascinating and I know of several women (Middle Child, for example!) who may well want to read it after me!

pearlmanThe Edith Pearlman book comes courtesy of Bookbridgr and John Murray Publishers, and I’m very excited about this one as her fiction has been lauded everywhere.

Then there is the ongoing Virginia Woolf obsession… Having read everything there was available in the 1980s, I now find there is more – in the form of a 6 volume set of her complete essays and her early journals. The latter managed to make its way to the Ramblings this week:

woolf journals

However, the essays are proving a little more difficult as they are often large and expensive. So far, I have tracked down reasonably priced copies of the first three volumes:

woolf essays

The rest will have to be an ongoing project…

As for the bookish jaunt – this was to London, to meet up with Elaine, a fellow LibraryThing Viragoite who was visiting from the USA. She’s managing to take in a couple of LT gatherings, and yesterday we were joined by the lovely Claire and Luci, plus Simon from Stuck-in-a-Book (who alas had to dash off early), all of whom I’d met before at my first LT get-together last year. The trains were a bit of a nightmare (involving changes at Stratford plus Tottenham Court Tube being closed) and I had my usual “what shall I read on the train?” crisis; eventually settling for this:


Annabel had given it a rave review on Shiny New Books and I had recently snagged a bargain copy, so I grabbed it on my way out – and it proved to be just the right thing for the journey (a review will follow)!

After meeting up at Foyles, we spent a lovely day pottering around the Bloomsbury Oxfam, the Persephone shop, the LRB bookshop (and very wonderful cafe) plus lunching at My Old Dutch Pancake house – yum! There were bookish finds all round, and Elaine came across an original Virago she’d been after so that was good! Star of the day must be the wonderfully generous Luci, however, who seems to turn up at get-togethers with bags of books to donate – either to charity shops or to those of us who would like them! Such kindness is a wonderful thing and I’m beholden to Luci for several treasures this weekend:


I’ve become a real convert to Tove Jansson recently, so to be presented with two collections I don’t have was a real treat!ghost milkI first read Iain Sinclair a few years back, pre-blog, in the form of “London Orbital”, which I loved, so I’m very keen to explore his work further.

hall and mansfield

And finally from Luci, a Virago title I don’t have and the Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield. These are all wonderful books and I feel very blessed to have been gifted them

You would think that would be enough for one day, wouldn’t you, but I did slip in a couple of other purchases (well – more than a couple, really). From Foyles came this – no explanation needed really:


From the Bloomsbury Oxfam came these:

blms oxAnd from the Persephone shop came Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg and some missing bookmarks:


But of course the best part of the day is the company – it’s lovely to chat all things bookish with people! Here’s hoping Elaine’s meet up with the Birmingham Viragoites is just as lovely! 🙂

A little underwhelming…


News from Berlin by Otto de Kat

Seventy years after the end of the second world war, the conflict remains a popular topic for contemporary novelists. Last year I reviewed “HHhH” and “Look Who’s Back“, both books having been very successful and taking WW2 as their starting point in some way. A new book arrived from MacLehose Press at the end of 2014, “News from Berlin” by Otto de Kat, which promised to cover similar territory and it looked as if it might be the kind of thing which appealed to me.


So what would you do if you were in the middle of a war and you came into the possession of some vital information about the conflict; but if you pass it on, you could put your family members into mortal danger? That’s the intriguing idea behind NFB, and it is the main character, diplomat Oscar Verschuur, who is given a hint about the date of Operation Barbarossa by his daughter Emma, married to a ‘good’ German. His estranged wife Kate is nursing in London and the whole set-up seems a little fanciful, frankly. Oscar as the perfect diplomat, adept at keeping secrets; so he can keep this one as well to safeguard his daughter. However, his wife seems less concerned about their daughter’s safety and wants Oscar to take action; her view may be affected by her nursing experiences in London, and her contact with an injured soldier from the Congo, Matteous. Having seen the effects of war more directly, it may be that she is seeing the bigger picture, while Oscar is only thinking of his daughter.

However, if I’m honest, despite the interesting premise, this novel(la) – it’s quite short – doesn’t really deliver. The book just feels too thin (artistically as well as physically!) – the characters aren’t developed enough to let you care about them, and you end up wondering what exactly was the point? Compared with say “HHhH”, the tale feels very surface level, which is a shame because the plot had the potential to develop into a substantial moral dilemma. As it was, I just ended up feeling too uninvolved with the story and the characters – the book has no real clout.


Author Otto de Kat (a pseudonym of retired publisher Jan Geurt Gaarlandt) has written a number of novels set in the 1930s and 1940s which have been well received, and he’s apparently been praised for “his observant, hushed style”. The Dutch Foundation of Literature comments that “He creates a rather detached atmosphere in which people travel the world without ever finding what they are looking for or escaping their fate.” That may be so, but NFB seemed to me to be lacking in depth. I can read between the lines when necessary (Christa Wolf being a good example) but here there is nothing there to read.

I’d be interested in tracking down more of de Kat’s fiction as he comes highly recommended – but unfortunately this particular book was not for me.

(Review copy kindly provided by MacLehose Press)

An emotional little blast from the past…


Back in the day, as the saying goes (or to be more precise, the 1980s!) I used to spend a good number of my weekends in London visiting the bookshops of Charing Cross Road with my female friends – mainly my good friend J. It pleases me that we still do the same thing all these years later, although I rue the loss of many of the bookstores; and one in particular was brought vividly back to me recently by an unexpected find in the Oxfam:

silvery moon
“By the Light of the Silvery Moon” was published in 1994 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Silver Moon bookshop; based in Charing Cross Road, this was a women-only establishment, housing a feminist bookshop on the ground floor with a cafe in the basement. And to allow it to remain women-only, you had to sign up to membership (like a Men’s Club) which J. and I duly did (in fact, I probably still have the membership card lurking about somewhere). The shop was quite small when we visited, so I suspect this was the original premises at no. 68; but although small, it was stuffed with interesting titles, and I still have many books I bought there.

Alas, the shop closed in 2001 and was amalgamated with Foyles; by then, I had lost touch with it owing to the rigours of family life and child raising (how ironic!) But I remember happy times there, with tea and cake and book shopping, and I shall think of the shop while reading the stories collected here…

(As an aside, I had a little look online while writing this to see if there were any pictures of the place – and found this: https://tanglycottage.wordpress.com/tag/silver-moon-womens-bookstore/ – so pleased someone snapped the place!)

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