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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! 😀

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! 😀

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? 😀

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 as  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! 😀

Like Dashiell Hammett on acid! #johnfranklinbardin #classiccrime

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The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin

Mr. Kaggsy is developing a bit of a reputation as the Finder of Interesting and Unusual Books; he always seems to come up trumps (sorry to use that word) for Christmas, birthdays and other significant occasions. One of his finds at the end of last year was an intriguing-looking omnibus of three novels by one John Franklin Bardin – an author I’d never heard of, and who was obviously obscure when this Penguin reissue came out in 1978. As far as I can see, he still is despite the efforts of the publisher and Julian Symons (who wrote the foreword) to introduce him to a new generation of readers. Which is a shame, because this book is a bit weird and wacky, but very, very compelling.

Bardin the man was obscure even when alive; the three novels in the omnibus were written in a burst of creativity between 1946 and 1948. As well as these, Bardin wrote other novels under his own name and crime books under a pseudonym, as well as living a conventional sounding life after a difficult start to life. His books seem to be a kind of cult secret amongst crime fiction fans and he never made the crossover to mainstream. Is there a reason in the books for that, you might wonder? Well, the title of my post might give you a little hint… ;D

“The Deadly Percheron” is narrator by Dr. George Matthews, a psychiatrist; as the story opens, he’s received a visit from one Jacob Blunt, a young man who fears he’s going mad. His appearance doesn’t help – wearing a scarlet hibiscus in your hair in 1946 was probably not de rigueur – and the fact that leprechauns are paying him to do so adds to the colourful nature of his story. Matthews is intrigued, and agrees to go along with Blunt to meet the leprechauns who dish out the money and the instructions. However, the first encounter with a little man in a bar is disappointing; they don’t seem to be the creature from legend who perches on your shoulder. Instead, this is simply someone with dwarfism, albeit dressed in a green velvet jacket. Eustace (for that’s his name) insists he *is* a leprechaun, but his instructions for Jacob have changed; instead of wearing a flower in his hair, or giving away quarters (a recent fancy), he now has to give away percherons (which are apparently big horses, in case you’re wondering, which I was). All of this is too much for George, who leaves Jacob to follow his instructions or do whatever he wants – things are obviously getting a little too weird for him…

However, things take a more serious turn when a famous actress is murdered and Jacob is arrested as the suspect. George visits the police station but finds that things are not quite what he expected; and a journey home involving a near miss on the underground causes him to lose control of his identity in a way that disorientates not only the psychiatrist but also the reader. It’s not long before we’re off on a roller-coaster of a journey while George tries to recover his identity and his sanity, as well as filling in some very large gaps in his (and our!) knowledge of events. But is he really who he says he was, or is he the ultimate unreliable narrator?

A percheron – a big horse apparently… (via Wikimedia Commons)

“The Deadly Percheron” turned out to be an unexpectedly dark and gripping read. George’s struggle to regain his identity is often painful; there is a hallucinatory feeling to the narrative, and we’re reminded of the horrors of many medical treatments of the time like ECT. Much of the action takes place in the seedy environs of Coney Island amongst carnival folk, and George has to be as adaptable as he can to survive there. I was often as much in the dark while I was reading as George was, which was obviously Bardin’s intention, and this made for an involving and often unsettling reading experience!

Bardin’s writing is clever, if occasionally a little stiff, and he’s a very singular author. I did find he reminded me a little of Dashiell Hammett (hence the post title!) as there is a high body count and a fair amount of violence. Bardin shares that sense of dark strangeness that often creeps into Hammett’s narrative, but there is a very individual extra element of weirdness in Bardin which is perhaps why he’s never made it to the mainstream. The solution and ending of the book came perhaps a little more rapidly than I would have liked, and was actually remarkably complex (and impossible to guess). Frankly, I was a little addled and breathless, and although the book is only a couple of hundred pages long, it’s quite a trip…

So Mr. Kaggsy does it again! Goodness knows where he came across mention of Bardin’s books (since he doesn’t read – he’s a film man!); but certainly this was one of his best finds. I’ll have to brace myself before I read the next book in the omnibus – goodness knows where the narrative will take me! 😀

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