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#1968 – Some previous reads

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When I began to research books from 1968 for our club, I was actually surprised not only by the amount of books of interest from that year, but also by the number I had already read! I thought I would link to a few old reviews here, and also mention some I read pre-blog.

In the First Circle by Solzhenitsyn

I read this chunkster back in 2012, although admittedly this revised and uncensored version was not the same as that first published in 1968. Nevertheless, this powerful portrait of life under Soviet rule was a landmark book and I found myself unable to understand why Solzhenitsyn’s literary reputation isn’t higher in the West.

The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf

A read from 2014, “The Quest for Christa T.” has a deserved reputation for being a difficult book. The writing is elliptical and elusive, but once you get into the flow and start reading it almost between the lines, it’s remarkably rewarding. Her prose is marvellous and I don’t know why I haven’t picked up any of the other books of hers lurking on my shelves.

The Puzzleheaded Girl by Christina Stead

In 2016 I read my first Christina Stead work, a shortish tale called “The Puzzleheaded Girl”. My response to it was unsure in many ways, and my next encounter with Stead was even more difficult. Frankly, I’m not sure if she’s an author I’ll ever return to (despite the fact her Virago editions look lovely on the shelf…)

By The Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie

Latter-day Christie featuring an older Tommy and Tuppence Beresford (I love Tommy and Tuppence) and it was a wonderful romp with a very clever plot. As I said in my review, if I had infinite time I would read all of Christie’s books chronologically from start to end (and wallow in their wonderfulness).

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols

I’m rather sad that I’ve already read this, and fairly recently, because I’d love the excuse to read another Beverley. But then, who needs an excuse to read Beverley???

The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor

It’s quite a while since I read any of the wonderful novels by Elizabeth Taylor – and actually an annual readalong of the books by the lovely LibraryThing Virago group was actually one of the factors which impelled me into starting Rambling! And this was one of my favourite Taylors, a little darker than some of her other works.

The Heart-Keeper by Francoise Sagan

This was a really *weird*  one…. Kirsty at The Literary Sisters kindly passed it on to me, but I found myself unable to really get to grips with what it was about, finally concluding “Basically, I found myself totally flummoxed by this book! At just over 100 pages, it seems to struggle to get its point across and really I still don’t know what it’s trying to be after thinking about it for several days. I haven’t found a lot about it online and it may be that it either sunk like a trace after its publication or other readers are as confused as I was!” An odd one indeed, and not a title I’m likely to revisit (in fact I don’t even know why it’s on my shelves still – off to the donation box with it!!)

The Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove JanssonI’m a relatively recent convert to Tove Jansson, but I absolutely love her work, both for adults and children. “Sculptor’s Daughter” was her first book for adults, and it’s a beautifully written work which presumably blurs fact and fiction; it appears to be simply autobiographical, but I’m not so sure! Whichever it is, it’s lovely!

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There are also a number of books from 1968 which I read pre-blog so of course haven’t reviewed, and some of them are strikingly good. Solzhenitsyn’s “Cancer Ward” appeared in the same year as his other magnum opus and was equally powerful. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”, a collection of Joan Didion’s essays, was I think the second book of hers I read and I remember being mightily impressed. On the poetry front, when I discovered my local library was stocking Persephones, I borrowed “It’s Hard to be Hip Over 30” by Judith Viorst, a wonderfully witty, wry and entertaining collection which I highly recommend. And I’m pretty sure I’ve read “Maigret Hesitates”, though with the amount of books Simenon wrote, it’s hard to be sure…

So – I hope you’re all getting on well with your #1968Club reading – there really are a *lot* of wonderful books to choose from! 🙂

 

Meeting Letty Fox #shinynewbooks

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You might have noticed me mentioning in a few places recently that I had been reading a rather large review book. That volumes was “Letty Fox: Her Luck”, a long, interesting and in some ways frustrating read!

This was my second encounter with Christina Stead, who certainly can write although seems to me to be in need of an editor! The book is another lovely reprint from Apollo, and they certainly do produce some lovely editions.

My review is here – do go and check it out, as well as all the lovely bookish things on Shiny New Books!

Exploring the odd world of Christina Stead’s Puzzleheaded Girl

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This week is, of course, Christina Stead Reading Week, hosted by Lisa at the ANZ LitLovers blog. Stead is an author I’ve intended to read for ages, and as I mentioned earlier in the week, I do own several of her works. However, time has been against me recently, as well as a hideous cold, so I ended up reading a short work from her collection “The Puzzleheaded Girl” – in the form of the title story.

puzzleheaded

The book I finally went for!

The puzzleheaded girl herself is called Honor Lawrence – or so she says when she drifts into the firm run by Augustus Debrett with his partners Good, Zero and Scott, looking for a job. She claims to be nearly 18 and her very strangeness seems to attract the sympathies of the partners, particularly Debrett. Honor is given a job as a filing clerk, a job she carries out tolerably, but she certainly doesn’t fit into the firm. It soon becomes clear that she has no idea of the social norms and niceties – her clothes are second-hand and mismatched, she reacts violently if anyone attempts to come near or touch her, and she professes to despise the financial world in which she’s working, instead lauding artistic endeavours.

As the story progresses, Honor’s background is gradually revealed and it seems that a controlled and restricted upbringing by a dysfunctional father plus the lack of a mother’s guidance have made her into a complete misfit and someone who finds it hard to function on a normal, everyday level. Her brother has apparently escaped into the world of art – it is claimed several times that he’s quite well-known although evidence is limited – and her father takes all of her money and locks her out of the house when he’s not there.

Honor is drawn to the partners’ wives in an attempt to get some kind of assistance, but they struggle to understand her, and in the end she cannot be helped. Her neediness comes across as being demanding, yet she is painfully naive, a quality which protects her for much of the book. As time progresses she leaves the firm and disappears for periods, becoming almost symbolic figure, reappearing mystically in the partners’ lives at intervals. Despite her attempts at survival, her fate is sealed as she drifts through the world and gradually ages, leaving behind her failed marriages and even a child.

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I wasn’t quite sure what to make of “The Puzzleheaded Girl” at first, and I possibly still don’t, but it’s certainly made me think! I found myself actually doubting a lot of what appears in the narrative, particularly when it relates to Honor herself, as the stories and impressions of her from the various characters often contradict each other. The writing starts off relatively straightforwardly, and you think it’s just going to be a story of a misfit at large in the world, but as the narrative develops it takes on a strange, dreamlike quality; and in the end the characters (and the reader!) are not quite sure if Honor existed and who she actually was.

The name, too, is probably significant – a recurring thread is the girl’s purity and innocence, and it transpires that Honor is not her real name but one she adopted. A symbol of rejecting her past? Maybe – but also reflecting the fact that her lack of a mother has given her no knowledge of relations between women and men, and she seems incapable of dealing with life on a normal, everyday level.

In the end, I found my first experience of reading Stead fascinating and a little unsettling. I’m still thinking over the point of the story – wondering whether Honor represents the drifting unfocused modern girl of the 1960s (the decade in which the novella was published), or simply a free spirit, or how women would be if they weren’t hidebound by conformity and society’s expectations. Whatever I eventually conclude, I’ve certainly enjoyed reading Christina Stead and thanks to Lisa and her reading week for prompting me to do so!

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