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#1930Club – some previous reads!

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During our Club reading weeks, I always like to take a look back at books I’ve read previously from the year in question. 1930 turns out to be a bit of a bumper year; not only do I own a good number of books from that year, but I’ve read a lot too! So here’s just a few of them…

Just a few of my previous 1930 reads…

Some of these, of course are pre-blog: there’s two of my favourite crime writers lurking in the pile, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. The Sayers is “Strong Poison”, a book that introduced Lord Peter Wimsey’s love interest Harriet Vane. I adore all Sayers and I would have liked to revisit this during our weekly read. Christie’s “The Murder at the Vicarage” also saw a debut, that of Miss Marple (in novel form anyway – she’d already appeared in short stories). Again, I was so tempted to pick this one up, but I went for “Mr. Quin” instead as I know “Vicarage” so well. Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” is detecting of a different kind, hard-boiled American. I love Hammett’s writing (although not everyone has enjoyed him recently…) and again was very tempted.

Katherine Manfield’s “The Aloe” is also a pre-blog read; it’s a slim and lovely Virago I’ve owned for decades and the story is a longer version of her short work “The Prelude”. A revisit to this one would have been lovely too, as her prose is gorgeous. “The Foundation Pit” by Platonov is most likely the first of his books which I read; it’s an unusual, allusive book and his writing is very distinctive. Yet another writer I’d love to go back to.

As for titles I’ve reviewed on the blog, there’s the very wonderful Jean Rhys. I wrote about “After Leaving Mr. McKenzie” relatively recently (well – 2016 actually…), and so I didn’t re-read. Yet another excellent woman prose stylist, with a haunting main character, compelling prose and a bleak outlook for women of her time and kind.

Nabokov’s “The Eye” was also a 2016 read; it’s a fascinating, tricksy and clever novella, with wonderful writing and a marvellously unreliable narrator. I love Nabokov’s prose and since I have many, many of his books unread on the shelves I should get back to reading him soon! πŸ˜€

Gaito Gazdanov is a relatively recent discovery; a marvellous emigre Russian author, many of his works have been brought out in beautiful Pushkin Press editions. “An Evening with Claire”, however, is his first novel which was brought out in the USA by Overlook Press/Ardis, and it features his beautiful, often elegiac prose in a work often described as Proustian. I believe more Gazdanov is on the horizon from Pushkin – hurrah! πŸ˜€

Not pictured in the pile above is “Le Bal” by Irene Nemirovsky. I came a little late to the party with her books; I failed in my first attempt to read “Suite Francaise” but after reading a collection of her shorter early works I came to love her writing, and “Le Bal” was one of those titles. It’s a powerful little story, portraying the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship in all its horror and proves she was such a good writer.

So those are just a few of my previous reads, on and off the blog, from 1930. Really, it was *such* a bumper year for books, wasn’t it? So glad we chose it! Have you read any of the above? πŸ˜€

#1930Club – starting off the week with the Queen of Crime!

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And we’re OFF!!! Yes, the #1930club kicks off today, for a week of reading, discovering and discussing books from that year. As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, I found that I had a surprising amount of books from 1930 already in the stacks, including a number I’ve not read. However, I was *really* tempted to start off with a re-read, and the great Agatha Christie was calling. There are a few choices from 1930, but I ended up picking “The Mysterious Mr. Quin” – and what a joy it turned out to be!

No, I don’t know why the cover has horrible cats’ eyes either…. 😦

My copy of “Mr. Quin” is from 1982, and I reckon I probably picked it up in that decade, as I was making a concerted effort to read and collect everything Christie had written. I probably haven’t revisited it in a very long time, but I recall having a great fondness for it – and I still do. The book collects together 12 short stories featuring the elusive title character and his side-kick, the very entertaining Mr. Satterthwaite. The latter is an ageing bachelor – described by his author as oddly elf-like, he is comfortably-off, a lover of art and fine living, and something of a snob. His friendships with the rich and titled give him great pleasure, and he has a keen interest in those around him, being one of life’s observers. Mr. Quin arrives into his life in the first story, “The Coming of Mr. Quin”, which is set on New Year’s Eve. Mr. Satterthwaite is a house-guest (he’s a constant presence at any gathering worth attending) and there are unspoken tensions amongst the family with whom he’s staying. He and Quin develop an instant bond, and between them discover what’s causing the discord, setting things right before tragedy takes place. This sets a kind of template for what follows, although each story is individual and cleverly constructed – and in fact the whole set-up of the relationship between the two men is quite brilliantly done.

“Oh yes – I answer for Mr. Quin.”

Before I dig a little deeper, it has to be said that these stories are incredibly entertaining, and I found the book quite unputdownable. I’ve always found Christie’s writing utterly compelling and I absolutely loved reading these tales again. However, this time round I think I appreciated her sheer artistic achievement more, and I was aware of a number of elements in the book which I particularly love in her writing. For a start, many of the stories feature Christie’s favourite trope of looking back and resolving a mystery from the past; as Quin regularly points out, you can often see things better with perspective, picking up on things you might have missed at the time. It’s one of the things I’m most fond of in her books.

“That is a curious idea of yours,” said Mr Satterthwaite slowly. “That one sees things better afterwards than at the time.”

“The longer the time has elapsed, the more things fall into proportion. One sees them in their true relationship to one another.”

The Quin/Satterthwaite stories also allowed Christie to combine her three kinds of writing: crime, romance and a touch of the supernatural. Certainly, some of the stories gave me a spooky kind of shiver down the spine! Quin and Satterthwaite often act as nemeses (another Christie trope) and are on the side of the lovers, the dead and those at the end of their tether. Christie’s strong sense of justice always came through in the books and it’s wonderful to watch her characters solve probles and avert catastrophe.

“I have a certain friend – his name is Mr Quin, and he can best be described in the terms of catalysis. His presence is a sign that things are going to happen, because he is there strange revelations come to light, discoveries are made. And yet – he himself takes no part in the proceedings.”

Interestingly, although Harley Quin is the title character of the book, it’s very much Mr. Satterthwaite who takes the central role; perhaps as the male equivalent of Miss Marple? Quin is described by Satterthwaite as a catalyst, helping the latter to take action – he acts as Quin’s ’emissary’. And Mr. Satterwaite himself is a fascinating creation, containing elements of both of Christie’s great detectives. Like Miss Marple, he is an observer of life, but that tendency has given him insight and he sees similarities everywhere. And like Hercule Poirot, his detection is mostly detection of the mind; he too uses his ‘little grey cells’ to puzzle out the solution to a problem, egged on by the elusive Mr. Quin. All three of these protagonists of Christie’s are single; spinster or bachelors; and interestingly both of her male characters have strong female characteristics, of which the novelist reminds the reader regularly. Satterthwaite himself has moments of anguish, even despair, as he thinks he’s had a wasted life; but Quin often reassures him that he has seen life and is making a difference.

“You have seen much of life,” said Mr. Quin gravely. “More than most people.”

“Life has passed me by,” said Mr. Satterthwaite bitterly.

“But in so doing has sharpened your vision. Where others are blind you can see.”

As the stories progress, Mr. Quin himself becomes more and more elusive, and a slightly darker character, until in the final tale “Harlequin’s Lane” he becomes almost sinister. I’m not going to discuss the individual stories, because I don’t want to give anything away. But suffice to say, each story contains Christie’s signature twists and sleight of hand, and I found myself marvelling at her incredibly fertile mind!

You might have seen Simon’s recent post about the Charles Osborne book “The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie”; it’s a book I’ve had in my collection for decades (in fact, I think Mr. Kaggsy may have bought it for me in our early years together). Despite the Internet being handy, I always go back to Osborne when I read a Christie; his insights and thoughts are always spot on. “Mr. Quin” allowed Christie and her characters the room to philosophise a little; and as Osborne points out, her writing is superb in places, something she’s not always given credit for.

The characters initially only appeared in this one book together, although Mr. Satterthwaite also appears in “Dead Man’s Mirror” (part of the “Murder in the Mews” collection) and “Three Act Tragedy”. However, as my burrowing into the Osborne book revealed, there are actually another two uncollected stories featuring the detecting duo. This triggered a frantic rummage in my Christie shelves to see if I had them, and indeed I have; in a later anthology “Problem at Pollensa Bay”.

“The Love Detectives” is from 1926, so could slot into the original collection (but maybe nobody wanted to have 13 stories…); it involves Quin and Satterthwaite solving an obscure murder whilst saving a pair of lovers from the gallows. “The Harlequin Tea Set”, intriguingly, is later Christie, published in 1971. It’s a longer short story, and Christie makes reference to her dynamic duo having last met in the final story of the original collection. The writing is perhaps not so sharp, and the narrative maybe more fanciful than her early works; nevertheless, it’s a gripping and involving tale of Satterthwaite and Quin, and allows them to make a welcome final return visit.

So tempted to read these soon….

So my first read for the #1930Club was a wonderful one! I’ve said before that I could happily sit down and spend a month reading all of Dame Agatha’s books from start to finish, and every time I dip into one that feeling is reinforced. The main problem I have at the moment is that instead of reading other books from 1930, I’m desperately drawn to pick up at least the two Christies above… ;D

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As you’ll see, there’s a page here on the Ramblings where I’ll put links to other posts, and my co-host Simon will be doing some linking too – make sure you check his blog out for more #1930Club loveliness! And do leave a comment with a link – we’re so looking forward to seeing what everyone else reads! πŸ˜€

Looking ahead – to the past? ;D #1930Club

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Those of you paying attention will have noticed that we’re edging ever closer to October; and during that month Simon at Stuck in a Book and I will be co-hosting one of our regular six-monthly reading Club weeks! If you’re new to these, basically we pick a year and encourage everyone to discover, read and discuss books from that year. You can review on your blog, post on other social media or just comment on our blogs. We love to hear what gems you’ve discovered or want to share, and the whole thing is great fun. Simon came up with the idea and as you can see from the different Club pages on my blog, we’ve done quite a few…:D

The next year we’re going to be focusing on is 1930, and as I usually try to read from my stacks I thought I’d have a nose around and see what I have that would be suitable. I was surprised (and not displeased!) to find that I own quite a substantial amount of books from that year and more than ever I think I’m going to find it very hard to choose what to read! Normally, I don’t share much ahead of the Club weeks as it’s fun to be surprised by what people read. However, there are so many books on the pile that I feel impelled to have a look now in the hope that some commenters might be able to recommend ones they think are particularly good. The mystery this time is going to be what books I actually choose!

A large stack of possible reads from 1930

So asΒ  you can see, the pile of possibles from books I already own is quite large… Let’s look a little more closely!

1930 Viragos

It should be no surprise, really, that there are several Virago titles from 1930 and these are all from my collection of green spined lovelies. I’ve definitely read the Mansfield; probably the Delafield and Coleman; and possibly not the Sackville-West or Smith. All are tempting for either a new read or a re-read.

Classic Crime from 1930

Again, no surprise that there should be classic crime from 1930. Sayers is a favourite of course (yes, I have two copies of “Strong Poison” – don’t ask…) and this would be a welcome re-read. The Christies are again books I’ve already read, and I know “Vicarage” very well, so the “Mr. Quin” book would be a fun choice. Hammett too would be a re-read. Not sure here what to choose, if I end up re-reading.

1930 Russians

There are indeed Russians from 1930, which might be unexpected bearing in mind the events that were taking place amongst the Soviets in that troubled era. Certainly, Platonov was probably written for the drawer; and Nabokov and Gazdanov were in exile, as was Trotsky. Mayakovsky’s last play was published in 1930, the year he died. Well. I think I’ve read the Platonov, the Nabakov, the Gazdanov and the Mayakovsky definitely. Not so sure about the Trotsky. All are very appealing.

A selection of other titles from 1930

And here’s a pile of general titles from the year in question. The Rhys is again a book I’ve read (fairly recently); “Last and First Men” was purloined from Eldest Child who I think might have studied it at Uni; “War in Heaven” I’ve had for decades and have probably read – I do love Charles Williams’ oddness so that’s a possible. I confess that the Huxley at the top of the pile is a recent purchase, as I saw it was published in 1930. It’s short stories, in a very pretty old Penguin edition, and I’d like to read more of him.

As for the two chunksters at the bottom, well thereby hangs a tale… I’ve owned these books by John Dos Passos for decades and never read them (oops); “U.S.A.” is a trilogy of three novels, and the first of these was published in 1930. Dos Passos was known for his experimental writing and why I’ve never picked them up is a mystery to me. I’m thinking that if I can motivate myself to read the 1930 novel it might set me on the road to reading the rest – we shall see…

Oh – in case you were wondering what the paper on top of the pile of books was, it’s this:

Woolf On Being Ill…

I hoped to find some Virginia Woolf to read for 1930, but the only thing could see was her long essay “On Being Ill”. I couldn’t easily find it in the essay collections I own, but I managed to track down a scan of the original magazine publication online. I love Woolf in all her forms, so this one may well get some attention.

So what can we be sure will be on the Ramblings during the #1930Club? Well, for a start there’s likely to be a guest post from Mr. Kaggsy (which is becoming a regular occurrence!). I hope to read at least one Agatha, and also something of substance. I’d like to try to really work out which of these books I’ve actually read and which I haven’t, going for new reads instead of re-reads. Apart from that – well, watch this space to find out what I finally pick for the #1930Club! πŸ˜€

#1944Club – some previous reads

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Usually, when we do our week of Club reads, I always manage to dig out some previous reads from the year in question. However, 1944 is proving to be an odd one.. I haven’t managed to identify many books that I’ve read from that year, and I’m hampered by the fact that it’s only recently that I’ve started to record the publication date of the books I’ve finished. However, there are a few that I can pinpoint…

Transit by Anna Seghers

I read Transit back in 2014, and found it to be a powerful work. I found itΒ  “a haunting and gripping novel which is relevant today, in a world which is still troubled by wars and refugees. Seghers gets inside the mind of people in exile like no other writer I’ve read, and β€œTransit” is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the effect of WW2 on real, ordinary people, reduced to fleeing for their lives.” Alas, I don’t think much has changed, has it? 😦

The Custard Heart by Dorothy Parker

This is drawn from Parker’s 1944 collection “The Portable Dorothy Parker”, so I’ll count it! I reviewed this little Penguin Modern recently and was impressed once more by Parker’s writing. Such a sharp wit, and yet such an astute understanding of women’s lives.

A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

As I mentioned in my introductory post for the #1944Club, there are several Persephones which were published in 1944 and I own two of them, having read this one. It’s one of my favourites from the publisher, and I read it and loved it pre-blog. However, I find I put a review on LibraryThing in which I said “This is a remarkably good novel about the way war affects those who are fighting and those who have to stay at home and ensure. The contrast between the two types of war is beautifully written by Playfair who, although she does not go into detail about the horrors, gives us enough to imagine what is going on.” I’ve kept this one on the shelves which says a lot about how much I liked it.

And then there are the Agathas….

I’ve read all of these; I’ve read everything the woman published, dammit! But this was all well pre-blog so I can’t point you to a review or tell you anything much about them. Except that the woman was a damn genius writing machine.

And that’s all I can find in the way of previous #1944club reads. No doubt if I was more organised mentally and had more time to research the shelves I might reveal a few more. But no matter – there are plenty of lovely books from 1944 to be read and tomorrow I’ll review one of them (which is actually a re-read…) πŸ˜‰

The #1944Club launches!

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Yes, it’s that time of the year again! Those of you who’ve been following for a while will be aware that I co-host a biannual reading week with Simon at Stuck in a Book. He came up with the fun idea of focusing our reading on a particular year, and we’ve done six so far with people joining in on their blogs, social media etc. We got as far as the 1970s before deciding to go for a random year earlier in the 20th century, and 1944 came out of the hat!

It’s a year that has a lot of potential for interest; World War 2 was of course still underway, and so it might be thought that publishing would have been limited. Also there could be a tendency for books to focus very much on what was happening in the world, or conversely provide escapism. And works published in parts of the world away from Europe could be less affected by those world events.

A quick look at the big books from the year throws up some intriguing titles. There’s “The Razor’s Edge” by W. Somerset Maugham (which I’m sure I have somewhere); Christianna Brand‘s atmospheric “Green for Danger” was a classic crime novel which captured the tension of the times; Margery Sharp‘s “Cluny Brown” made her debut; and of course Agatha Christie was as prolific as ever with no less than three works (one of which was under her pen-name of Mary Westmacott). In fact, crime fiction features strongly on lists of books from 1944, and maybe the format, with a crime being committed and all being put to rights at the end, was something that appealed to readers in times of conflict.

In fact, there are a number of Persephones which were published in 1944 (which I found out thanks to Simon’s excellent post about them!) and I’ve read one and own another. I *would* like to read the Mollie Panter-Downes stories, as I loved her “One Fine Day”, but I don’t know if time will be on my side…

I have a few books in mind for this week, as well as a guest post, and it will be fascinating to see what works people choose to read and write about. As usual, I’ll have a dedicated page on the blog where I’ll gather up as many links to everyone’s 1944 posts as I can – so don’t forget to leave a comment so I know what you’ve said and where it is! Simon will no doubt be having a post that does the same and so between us we can hopefully make sure everyone is featured.

So do feel free to join in with the #1944Club – there are some interesting and varied books to be read from that year, and I’m looking forward to everyone’s thoughts!

#1977club – some previous reads

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Well, we’re halfway through our week of reading from 1977, and I thought I would take a look at some previous reads – both on the blog and off. Interestingly, I don’t seem to have covered many books from 1977 here on the Ramblings, but I don’t record the publication dates so I may have missed some. Anyways, as they say, here are a few I’ve written about before:

Interestingly, I guess you could possibly say that these are what might be called ‘difficult’ books; Clarice Lispector, who I wrote about here, definitely has a reputation as not being a straightforward read. The Strugatskys wrote some marvellous speculative and sci-fi books – this one is a wonderfully twisty tale and you can read my thoughts on it here. And the Lem was one of a series of re-issues by Penguin. Again writing under a Soviet regime, so lots of subtexts, I covered it for Shiny New Books here.

However, in pre-blog times I’ve read some substantial books from 1977, including these:

I went through a phase of reading Diana Wynne Jones in the 1980s (and was lucky enough to meet her once). She was a marvellous author (much better than a certain HP writer, in my view…) and this is one of her Chrestomanci books. She always twisted reality rather wonderfully. The Tolkien came out not long after I had discovered The Lord of the Rings , and I was keen to read anything by the author; although I’ve never found anything that matched up to the trilogy.

The very fat Agatha book was essential reading for any fan of the great Christie and I read it back in the day although if you asked me for specifics I would collapse in a heap of poor memory. As for the Woolf diaries – well, I came upon these in the early 1980s (which is when I think they first appeared in paperback). I had a daily train commute at the time and I immersed myself in Woolf’s diaries and letters and all the wonder and strangeness of Bloomsbury – developed a real obsession with the group, in fact. I would love to read them all again – maybe in retirement – but time isn’t going to permit that during this week.

I also recall that I once owned and read a copy of “In Patagonia” and I think I rather enjoyed it – but it, and my memories of it, have I’m afraid flown off in the wind…

So – some previous reads on and off the blog. I’m still planning a mix of new and old reads this week, and it’s actually nice that our club reads give me what I feel is an excuse to re-read. What are you enjoying from 1977 this week?

Dipping into Detection

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Yes, I’m afraid there’s been *more* dipping going on at the Ramblings! I think it must be a necessary counterpoint to all the Big Review Books I’m reading at the moment; I’ve obviously felt the need to also read something I can actually *finish* fairly quickly…

“Great Tales of Detection”, an unassuming looking collection (the cover is a bit dull, isn’t it?) from 1936, which was reprinted in 1976, came from a charity shop trawl recently; and I picked it up a) because it was edited by Dorothy L. Sayers and b) because the contents were by lots of lovely favourite crime authors and I think several are stories by them I haven’t read! So it was definitely one to come home with me. From the Oxfam if I recall correctly, and not too pricey (they seem to have had a bit of an overhaul since and the cost of some of their books seems to have suddenly spiked – which is a bit daft, because this has made me put several back on the shelves…)

Anyway, I have dipped, reading a short extract entitled “Was it Murder?” by Robert Louis Stevenson with a very entertaining take on how you actually define murder if the murderer wasn’t present and nothing can be proved! But the other story I found myself glued to was “The Yellow Slugs” a very dark little tale by H.C. Bailey, whom I’ve read before. Bailey’s detective was Reggie Fortune, a doctor with a strong hatred of cruelty, and I first made his acquaintance in the wonderful British Library Crime Classics collection “Capital Crimes” back in 2015. The stories there impressed me, and I did say how keen I was to read more about Reggie. Now, I know there is an e-book lurking somewhere on my tablet, but I always forget about those, so this was the first story I turned to in this anthology.

“The Yellow Slugs” opens with a tragic-sounding case; a teenage boy apparently going off the rails and accused of trying to drown his younger sister. Is the boy insane or just a nasty piece of work? Reggie is called into the case in his role as a doctor, but he soon sees there is more to things than meets the eye and of course starts to investigate.

It’s not a straightforward crime; all the evidence supports the boy being a bad lot, and the pious and upset parents, as well as their genteel lodger, seem blameless. However, an actual murder is discovered and it takes all Reggie’s persistence and ingenuity to get to the truth of the matter – which is clever, chilling and quite fiendish.

I was just as impressed with Bailey’s storytelling as when I first read his Reggie Fortune stories and I really *can’t* understand why his work is out of fashion. The plotting and characterisation are excellent, the scenario dark and compelling and it’s edge of the seat stuff while you desperately will Reggie on to sort things out. Bring back Reggie Fortune stories, I say!

The rest of the book looks to have plenty of treasures too: there are a number of authors here who have been picked up and celebrated by the British Library Crime Classics imprint, including John Rhode, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts and R. Austin Freeman. A number of other familiar names are here, too, from my readings of Detection Club composite works, such as Father Ronald Knox and Milward Kennedy. And of course, there are Agatha and Dorothy…

So a positive cornucopia of delights into which to dip as an alternative to Big and Intense Books: you can look forward to hearing more about the stories in this volume when I need a quick crime break! πŸ™‚

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