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#1954Club – looking back at some previous reads!

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As soon as Simon and I had decided on 1954 for our next club, I started having a look round to see which books were published during that year and it soon became clear that it was a bumper one! Today I thought I would take a look back at some previous titles I’ve read from the year – and there really are some wonderful ones!

Firstly, here’s an image of some of the 1954 books I read pre-blog and which still live on my shelves. There’s used to be “Lord of the Flies” which I read decades ago, but no longer own. Truth be told, I would happily have revisited any of the above. Christie is always a joy, of course, as are Mishima and Simenon. Huxley was read so long ago I can recall nothing about the book – I believe I acquired in my teens when I first fell in love with The Doors! I had a bit of a Stein/Toklas thing in my twenties, and that’s when I acquired “The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book” – flicking through it I recognised bits and would rather like another read. As for “The Mandarins“, again in my twenties I fell in love with French literature and read a *lot* of Simone de Beauvoir; however, this title sat on the shelves for years until I finally read it and adored it. Really, all of these books make me think I should have a month or two (or maybe a year…) of just re-reading…

As for 1954 books which have appeared on the Ramblings, well here are a few!

I was very late coming to the works of Tove Jansson; I think her “Summer Book” was the first I read, and I moved on to read more adult works as well as all of the lovely Moomins. “Moominsummerr Madness” appeared in 1954, and I said of it in 2015:

Apart from looking for deeper meanings, the stories are just a fun read; the characters are appealing and funny, and Jansson’s illustrations are wonderful.

There’s definitely more to the Moomins than meets the eye, and I guess that’s why they can be appreciated by adults and children alike!

Francoise Sagan’s “Bonjour Tristesse” was her first novel and an instant hit. Telling the story of intense emotions in the south of Franch, with a sometimes unsympathetic teenage narrator, it probably set the tone for the rest of her works. I read it in 2014, again after it had lurked on the TBR for some time, and thought:

The characters, none of whom are particularly likeable, are very strongly portrayed, as is the hot and dreamy atmosphere of the South of France before the commercialism really took over. I really enjoyed getting lost in this book.

I do love books which take me to the South of France before the multi-millionaires took charge!

Finally from my previous 1954 reads is “Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead” by Barbara Comyns, a lovely old green Virago edition. Just look at that striking cover! I read and reviewed this back in 2012, and it was my first Comyns. In fact, if I’m honest, I don’t think I’ve read another since, though I have many on the TBR. Comyns gets much love from book bloggers and she’s a unique author – quirky and brilliant, based on my reading of this. I said at the time:

The story itself is full of death and disaster yet somehow manages to be funny, touching and very human. There is love, death, madness, laughter and sorrow. The cause of the madness is discovered (though I confess I did guess this quite soon!), although not soon enough to stop some very tragic deaths. Despite the story being quite gruesome in places it’s very, very enjoyable which is a tribute to Comyns’ skill as a writer. One of the most memorable Viragos I’ve read and highly enjoyable!

So those are just a few of my previous 1954 reads – it really *was* quite a year for books, wasn’t it? Have you read any of these? And what books from 1954 have you enjoyed in the past??

All Virago/All August : Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns

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This slim volume is one of the Viragos I’ve been most looking forward to reading, mainly because it sounds so, well, quirky! I like quirky!

My copy is obviously a Virago, but I understand the book has been reprinted by the Dorothy Project and they described the book thus:

This is the story of the Willoweed family and the English village in which they live. It begins mid-flood, ducks swimming in the drawing-room windows, “quacking their approval” as they sail around the room. “What about my rose beds?” demands Grandmother Willoweed. Her son shouts down her ear-trumpet that the garden is submerged, dead animals everywhere, she will be lucky to get a bunch. Then the miller drowns himself . . . then the butcher slits his throat . . . and a series of gruesome deaths plagues the villagers. The newspaper asks, “Who will be smitten by this fatal madness next?” Through it all, Comyns’s unique voice weaves a text as wonderful as it is horrible, as beautiful as it is cruel. Originally published in England in 1954, this “overlooked small masterpiece” is a twisted, tragicomic gem.

“Small masterpiece” is the right description, because I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything quite like this and I loved it! To start with, there is such a wonderful array of characters – the Willoweed family alone are a delight. Grandmother with her wicked ways and bad temper, her son Ebin, trapped at home with her owing to lack of money or job, his children Emma, Denis and little Hattie (who is not really his due to her dark skin and curly hair) – all of them funny, tragic and wonderfully portrayed. Then there is the extended cast of the villagers – the Willoweeds’ two maids, the poor doomed disastrous baker who only wants to make people happy, his libidinous wife, the doctor and his assistant – all brought to life so well and in such a short novel.

The story itself is full of death and disaster yet somehow manages to be funny, touching and very human. There is love, death, madness, laughter and sorrow. The cause of the madness is discovered (though I confess I did guess this quite soon!), although not soon enough to stop some very tragic deaths. Despite the story being quite gruesome in places it’s very, very enjoyable which is a tribute to Comyns’ skill as a writer. One of the most memorable Viragos I’ve read and highly enjoyable!

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