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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 asĀ  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! šŸ˜€

A Story of the Luminous City

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All Hallow’s Eve by Charles Williams

If you’re anything like me as a reader, you go through phases when you’re obsessed by particular authors or genres or types of book; and for a while in the 1980s I was heavily into reading works by the Inklings – C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. I made my way through huge chunks of their works, and was most intrigued by Williams’ occulty, theological-type thrillers. I still have them all lurking on my shelves (many of them very nice old Faber books) and reading a number of reviews recently of his “All Hallows Eve”, I was drawn to take it down for a re-read. I say for a re-read, as I couldn’t tell you for sure if I *did* read it back in the day – but I think I did!

My fragile old hardback probably looked like this when it had a dustjacket...

My fragile old hardback probably looked like this when it had a dustjacket…

Williams and his works are difficult to classify, and this one opens unconventionally enough. The Second World War has just ended, and a young woman, Lester Furnival, is standing on Westminster Bridge, a little confused. The City of London seems unlike she remembers it; things are quiet and uncertain, and there is a crashed plane at the side of the Thames. It turns out that Lester is dead, she and her friend Evelyn having been killed by the plane landing on them; the City she is in is a dead London which seems to exist alongside the real one, and once Evelyn finds her the two women wander along amongst the ghostly City, unsure of what to do next.

Lester is not unseen, however; her husband Richard catches a glimpse of her ghostly figure on the bridge and will see her again. Richard, while trying to cope with his grief at the loss of his wife, visits his friend, the artist Jonathan Drayton, who has painted two striking figures: one of the City of London, transfigured by light into a celestial city; and one of the preacher Simon the Clerk, current trendy figure, with his followers shown as a crush of humans who are more like black beetles. Simon’s followers include the nasty Lady Wallingford and her bullied daughter Betty (with whom Jonathan is in love); and Simon’s powers extend to forcing Betty into the ghostly City against her will. The stage is set for a battle between Good and Evil, and a scary one it is too.

Another strong motif here is the use of art, and in particular Jonathan’s paintings. These seem almost independently alive, changing in front of the eyes of the viewers, and cause quite strongly different reactions from different people. As with much in the book, the paintings are symbolic and come to assume an increased importance as the story progresses.

I was surprised at how much this book drew me in and absorbed me in the story straight away. An occult or theological thriller is not the kind of thing I would necessarily automatically think of picking up, but the book was gripping and very readable. It’s a powerful tale of morality and humanity, and the characters are vivid and believable – we’ve all known an Evelyn with her meanness, Betty with her nice-but-weak character, and Lester with a good but careless disposition.

charles-williams-writing

Williams is obviously drawing on centuries of occult lore and literature, someĀ of which I have to confess is a little lost on me. However there’s no denying the power of his writing and storytelling; the opening chapter alone, with its memorable depiction of the dead’s deserted city of London, is one of the most striking and atmospheric pieces of writing I’ve ever read. The battle between Good and Evil is powerfully portrayed and the fate of some of the characters quite chilling.

“All Hallows Eve” is not a book I would have necessarily thought ofĀ returning to at this point in my reading life, but I found the experience of revisiting it stunning. I’ve seen Williams’ writing criticised but I thought his prose excellent, if perhaps a little wordy at time, and ideal for conveying the atmosphere he wanted. I’m very glad I was drawn back to this book and I shall be haunted by the vision of the ghostly City for some time…

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For more thoughts on this book there is an excellent piece on Reading 1900-1950, which is what set me off thinking about Williams again.

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