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Goodbye, July – and August reading plans!

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I’m really not sorry to see the back of July – it was a long and busy month, and I spent a lot of it reading one book, Dostoevsky’s “The Adolescent” (the review for which will be appearing in the next Shiny New Books). It wouldn’t normally take me so long to read 600 pages, but I *was* busy and I *was* tired! The minute I finished work for the summer, I raced through the rest of the book….!

So, with July out of the way, do I have plans for August? Well, yes – there are a number of challenges up this month and I’d like to take part if I can.

hudson river

First of all there’s All Virago/All August, which the LibraryThing Virago group organise. I never go for reading nothing but Viragos for the month, because I would fail – like Jane at Beyond Eden Rock, I prefer the approach of “Very Virago/All August” and just read the ones that fall in with my mood. This month, I hope to catch up with the Dorothy Richardsons I’m behind on, and also read a large and interesting-looking Edith Wharton, “Hudson River Bracketed”.

PMP6

I’d also like to keep up the impetus with the Penguin Modern Poets project; the next one is volume 6 and it features two poets I know of (and at least one I’ve read) so it should be an interesting experience.

Keun

August is also Women in Translation month. Goodness knows I have a ton of books by translated women, but choosing will be hard! There are two lovely Irmgard Keun titles lurking on the shelves so I may pick one of them.

baum colette

There’s also “Grand Hotel” which I’m doing for Shiny. Plus I may well re-read my favourite Colette, “Break of Day”, as I picked up the Capuchin edition in a charity shop!

woolf orlando recollections

Last, but most definitely not least, I want to dip into HeavenAli’s #Woolfalong; the current phase is biography of all sorts and I’m considering “Orlando” or possibly “Recollections of Virginia Woolf”. Knowing me, I may end up reading neither of these, but I do want to read something Woolfish soon!

So those are the plans for August as they stand on the first day of the month – watch this space to see what materialises! 🙂

A Quick Round-Up and Update!

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As a new month dawns and autumn starts to hit (I like autumn!) I thought I’d update and take a quick look back at August’s reading. I got through a surprising amount of books, many of which I actually planned to read – which is quite unheard of really, and also some nice re-reading. There were two challenges I dropped into during the month – Women in Translation month and the LibraryThing Virago Group’s All Virago/All August.

virago press logo

To take Women in Translation first, I actually read several books from that category as follows:

Paris Tales (I’m counting this as it contains a Colette!)
Tove Jansson – Moominpappa at Sea
Colette – The Blue Lantern
Irmgard Keun – Child of All Nations
Francoise Sagan – A Certain Smile
Clarice Lispector – The Hour of the Star

This was a really enjoyable challenge and one I could quite happily dip into regularly!

For All Virago/All August (where we include Persephones as well as Viragos) I didn’t do quite so well, only managing a few titles:

Eleanor Graham – The Children Who Lived in a Barn
Rosamund Lehmann – The Swan in the Evening
Diana Gardner – The Woman Novelist and Other Stories

Of the three, my favourite was definitely the Gardner book which I loved to bits.

Current reading involves the Big Books, with which I am making reasonable progress – I have got to the end of the first part of “Our Mutual Friend” and am loving it. Don Quixote is funny, but best in short bursts; and the Ballard and Aldiss short stories are marvellous, the hardest thing being not to gobble them up. Poetry-wise I’ve finished book two of the Penguin Modern Poets; and I confess I’ve sidetracked into a couple of other books, reading a review volume for SNB, and also “Howard’s End is on the Landing”, which I couldn’t resist.

dead witness

I’ve also finally come to the end of “The Dead Witness”, the anthology of vintage crime I seem to have been making my way through for ages. It’s been a wonderful read and the last two sets of three stories will be reviewed here shortly. However, looking up one of the detectives set me off on a rather frustrating rummage through my bookshelves, as I was reminded of the collections of stories entitled “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes”. Back in the day I vaguely recall some of these being televised (I was too young to watch them) and in my early crime reading days I owned copies of the “Rivals…” books. However, a lot of digging about on shelves of double stacked books convinced me I must have discarded them at some point – which is very, very annoying….

But there *was* a bit of serendipity involved, because whilst digging I came across this:

forties
A lovely Penguin Poetry anthology for the collection which I’d forgotten I had, and I probably bought for the lovely John Piper cover. So all is not lost, I’ve added it to the heap (which now looks like this)

updated poetry

and I shall be keeping my eye out for any “Rivals…” books on my travels!

Leaving July Behind – and thinking about August reading

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July is a month that I’m going to be happy to leave behind, for obvious reasons. It’s not been easy, but books have as always been a place to hide. I’ve found non-fiction to be quite a support and I’ll catch up on the reviewing eventually.

August, however, is traditionally designated as “All Virago/All August” as readers of this blog will know and we members of the LibraryThing VMC group always try to read as many Viragos or Persephones as we can this month. I, of course, being rubbish at challenges never commit to a whole month of these books, but I’ll try my best to fit some in.

Interestingly enough, I was browsing the shelves to see which volumes appealed, with half an eye out for translated works to fit them into August’s Women in Translation Month, and I was surprised at how few of my Viragos were actually translated books. There’s at least one Persephone I have on the TBR that’s translated, and so I’ve come up with a collection of possibles for August:

august

I think there’s quite a nice selection of books in there with a lot of variety and I’m sure some will be ones I want to pick up. Then again, contrary as I am, I may end up reading something completely different that isn’t any of the ones above….. 🙂

All Virago/All August – will I stick to any plans???

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And let’s face it, I’m not knowing for succeeding with reading schedules! 🙂 However, August is the month designated by the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics to read just Viragos (and Persephones, which are counted as honorary Viragos!). I managed quite a few last year, but I didn’t restrict myself to only lovely old green volumes – I would go mad if I did – but I shall try to get through as many as I can this year….

One author I would like to get started on is Storm Jameson. I have several of her volumes of fiction in Virago, plus her autobiography, but I got bogged down in the one book I did begin to read (Company Parade). Maybe Women Against Men, a collection of shorter fictions, might be more accessible.

As it is, I have been reading madly and have several books stacked up for review – so time to play catch-up!

All Virago/All August – The Harsh Voice by Rebecca West

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Over on the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group, many of us are taking part in a month-long celebratory read of Virago books which seems to be an annual event (and is always a good excuse to reduce the size of Mount TBR a little…..) I can’t promise to only read Viragos, but I’m certainly going to be doing my best to read several!

harsg

Rebecca West is an author I’ve felt I wanted to read for some time, and there are certainly several on the pile, so I thought I would start with “The Harsh Voice” – a lovely green volume which collects together four long short stories/short novellas themed around the harsh voice of the title – that heard when money talks.

I thought I would run through the four stories – all set in the late 1920s/early 1930s – separately first, because I’m not personally convinced they’re all focusing on the same theme – but we shall see.

Life Sentence

The first story in the book is set in American and tells the grim tale of Corrie and Josephine, whose relationship is ruined by her grasping financial acumen and his weakness. The story opens with Corrie trying to pluck  up the courage to tell Josephine he cannot marry her as he doesn’t love her enough. But through sheer force of personality she wins him over and they set off on their life sentence. Josie is a modern American woman, financially astute and with an aptitude as a property developer. She buys the old estate Corrie loved to play on as a child, and turns it into luxury houses, destroying the only happy times he had. Eventually the differences become too much and the couple divorce. Both remarry, but never entirely shake off the influence of the other. When the financial crash comes, both are concerned that the other will need money and meet again. Despite their emnity, they are still locked together in a life sentence proving what a thin line there is between love and hate.

There is No Conversation

This story is set in Paris and American and is narrated by an unnamed English woman. She encounters in France the an old acquaintance, Etienne de Sevenac, a lightweight aristocrat, whom she does not really like spending time with. However, he accosts her and insists on taking her back to his flat to tell her how he has been ruined by an American woman, Nancy Sarle. Etienne’s narrative tells of how he took a plain, unworldly woman under his wing, dressed her, taught her how to behave, introduced her to good Parisian society and basically taught her the rules of the game. However, he tells how she fell in love with him and it became a bore, so when he threw her over, she ruined him financially.

The female narrator is intrigued by Nancy and so when she returns to American, where she lives with her husband and children, she searches Nancy out and befriends her. However, she finds herself liking Nancy very much and when she finally gains her confidence, the story Nancy tells of what happens in Paris is very different….

Salt of the Earth

“Salt of the Earth” is set in England and opens with Alice Pemberton preparing to return home to her husband and her extended family after staying with her mother following an illness. Initially Alice appears to be a good sort, kind and caring and willing to do anything to help – the salt of the earth in fact. However, it doesn’t take long for warning bells to sound as her mother seems very anxious to get rid of her… And when she returns to her town, visiting brother and sister and their families, all she seems to encounter is strain and conflict. It soon becomes clear that Alice is an interfering do-gooder of the worst sort, convinced that she knows what is best for everyone, unable to see what pain she causes them by the things she says, and capable of causing real damage in the world by her behaviour.

Her beloved husband Jimmy is under a terrible strain – he makes one last-ditch effort to make Alice see the huge damage she is causing, but she is completely blinkered, unshakable in her belief that what she thinks is right and unable to accept what he says. What will Jimmy do to avert catastrophe?

The Abiding Vision

The final story in the book is again set in America and opens with Sam Hartley, an American businessman who has crawled up from rags to riches, moving with his loyal wife Lulah into a fancy new apartment. They are both from humble beginnings and Lulah has helped make Sam what he is. However, she has aged and despite his love for her and her faithfulness, he is haunted by the thought of youth and falls in with a young actress, Lily.

Lily soon becomes a big part of Sam’s life: he ‘keeps’ her for 8 or 9 years while living his life with Lulah, who never knows, and their relationship becomes something more than business. However, the big crash strikes here too, and the business gradually goes downhill. Poor Lulah cannot cope and has a kind of stroke, so while using his last funds to care for her, Sam relies on Lily to support him. Just as he is at his lowest ebb, he finds work and the prospect of building himself back up again. But Lily has now become old from caring for him through the troubles, and once again Sam’s vision of youth returns…

rebecca
These remarkable stories certainly show what a great writer Rebecca West was. All are beautifully written and absorbing, though some I think are stronger than others. The descriptions are lovely and West can pinpoint someone in just a few words – this description of the Master of the old estate Corrie is so happy on springs to mind:

“He looked at the boy with the bewildered eyes of those whose saner parts have died first, and spoke to him in soft ceremonial accents that seemed to clothe too fully a shrunken will, like the fine white suit that flapped about his emaciated limbs.”

And I would rather hesitantly disagree with the assertion that they are all about the influence of money, which speaks with the harsh voice (not that I want to argue with an author about her own work!) It seems to me that the first and last story are very much about the financial influence, as Josie and Sam are pure business people, concerned with getting on and making something of themselves in what is perceived as a very American way. But “There is No Conversation”, which I think is the best story in the book, is much more about how different people’s perceptions are and how it is impossible for humans to really communicate or understand each other.

“There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all.”

In the same way, there are intersecting lives but no real empathy. And “Salt of the Earth” is again concerned with perception – Alice’s image of herself is completely at odds with reality and she is utterly unable to recognise this. Corrie and Josie also fundamentally miscommunicate and Sam is unable to see the cycle of betrayal which perpetuates itself in his behaviour. I would also disagree strongly with the introduction to the volume which states that the last story is the most optimistic because in “The Abiding Vision”, the last lines are almost the same as the first – Sam has come full circle and is about to deceive another woman who loves him because of an obsession with youth. So I felt that the joining thread of these stories was not entirely money (as this is somewhat incidental to the central two stories) but more the inability of humans to reach any kind of real communion with each other.

As I said above, “There is No Conversation” was certainly my favourite of the four tales. It’s wonderfully written, a masterful story from two perspectives with a very distinctive voice for the mysterious female narrator. She’s intriguing in her own right and we wonder who is this cold and somewhat strange woman who gradually reveals more of her life temperament as she goes along. And the story has a few almighty kicks at the end so I won’t say anything her but urge you to read this!

I’ve really enjoyed my first AV/AA book and also my first Rebecca West – I can’t wait to read more of her work!

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