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“… the disloyal message of her eyes and lips.” #FarMoreThanFiction #WomenWriters #BLWomenWriters @BL_Publishing

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As I’ve mentioned before on the Ramblings, I don’t generally take part in blog tours, as many of the books I read are backlisted or translated or a bit obscure and the like. However, when British Library Publishing asked if I’d like to take part in a tour for their latest releases in the British Library Women Writers series, I was happy to be involved. I think British Library Publishing are doing sterling work with their beautiful imprints for crime fiction, horror and classic sci-fi, and the Women Writers range is a particular joy. Series consultant Simon Thomas of Stuck in a Book is of course a blogging pal, and co-host of our club weeks (which he devised) and I think he’s curated some wonderful titles so far for the series. The book I’m featuring today – “Mamma” by Diana Tutton – has a particular interest for me, as I will explain…

Back in 2012, Simon discovered and raved about Tutton’s novel “Guard Your Daughters“; a number of bloggers (including me!) were inspired to track down copies and read it; and the book was something of a sensation for a while. I loved it (and actually have two old copies somewhere in the house); and more recently it was reprinted by Persephone Books. Tutton only wrote three novels, and “Mamma” was her first, although “Guard Your Daughters” was the book which made it into print first. Her third and final novel, “The Young Ones” was first published in 1959 and is currently out of print. More on her general choice of subject matter later…

“Mamma” was published in 1956, and opens with 41 year-old Joanna Malling arriving at her new home in Tadwych. Widowed at 21 after a short marriage, she’s brought up her young daughter, Libby, single-handed; and before long Joanna finds that Libby is engaged, to Steven Pryde. At 35, Steven is a soldier and quite a lot older than his prospective wife; in fact, he’s obviously a lot closer in age to the woman who will be his mother-in-law. Nevertheless, the marriage goes ahead, despite the husband and mother-in-law not particularly liking or being comfortable with each other. And Joanna thinks that will be that.

However, circumstances (and the forces!) conspire to post Steven to Tadwych and inevitably Joanna’s daughter and son-in-law end up sharing a house with her. As the young couple grapple with the difficulties of married life, trying to understand each other’s needs and temperaments, it seems that in fact Steven has a lot more in common with Joanna than might initially have been thought; and Joanna finds herself struggling with emotions she thought long suppressed . Things are not helped by the fact that her daughter is young, inexperienced and stubborn, bent on moulding her older husband in ways he doesn’t appreciate or want. But any kind of intimacy between the two older characters would be catastrophic – so how with Joanna resolve the clash between loyalty and love?

Well – Tutton really liked to tackle intriguing subjects and there are a *lot* being explored here! There is, of course, the possibility of what would, at the time, have been considered a transgressive relationship. Aside from Joanna’s loyalty to her daughter, it was obviously more acceptable in the 1950s for a man to be 15 years older than his wife than for a wife to be 6 years older than her husband. Even though the latter two would have much more in common, it was still taboo (and probably still is nowadays, to a certain extent – older women being mostly written off as old bags). It’s slightly shocking to see that at 41 Joanna is pretty much considered past it (and at some points thinks that way of herself); but it was ever thus and until attitudes change dramatically will still be the case.

What’s interesting, though, is how subtly Tutton explores this attraction; neither Joanna or Steven are particularly interested in each other to start with. However, as they get to know each other better, they bond over poetry and it’s clear that there is a deep intellectual link developing which cannot exist between Steven and the much younger Libby. It takes a dramatic family event to reveal the truth to them, but even after that there is the fight to suppress their impulses; and a dangerous point where Libby suspects the truth.

Aside from this element, there are a number of side-plots which look at different kinds of relationship. There is Mrs. Holmes, who “does” for Joanna, and has something of a reputation, as well as a number of children who don’t look that alike plus a handsome husband. And Steven’s mother, Mrs. Pryde, is a somewhat bizarre character who attracts speculation about a friendship she has with a young woman. There’s Libby’s best friend, Janet Mortimer, who has all sorts of rational ideas about sex and marriage, plus her ghastly family. It’s fascinating how Tutton uses these supporting characters to explore the types of relationship which can exist; and it’s clear she believes there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

I was intrigued, also, to find out how frank Tutton was in places about matters physical. There are mentions of losing virginity, hints of sex perhaps being not quite as all-consuming as a newly married girl would expect, musings on whether the husband is actually satisfied, and a particularly insensitive (on one character’s part!) discussion of whether sexual frustration makes you go loopy. There’s nothing at all graphic, but I did wonder if this was particularly usual for a novel of the time, and it signaled to me that Tutton was not afraid of tackling difficult subjects. I did perhaps find her working class characters slightly stereotyped, but she was obviously using them to explore the class divide which still existed at the time. Women like Libby and Janet can discuss birth control, taking this into their own hands as best possible (as the Pill would not be in more common use until the 1960s); whereas Mrs. Holmes has presumably less choice in these matters and is turning out children left, right and centre…

As for difficult matters – Tutton may only have written three novels, but each touched on a thorny subject. “Guard Your Daughters” featured a very dysfunctional family, seriously affected by one member with mental health issues and turned out to be quite a dark read in the end. “Mamma” takes on two taboos – an older woman and a younger man, and falling for your son-in-law. “The Young Ones” is apparently about brother-sister incest; so I do wonder if that one will ever make it back into print. Certainly, Tutton was a very interesting novelist!

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Mamma”; Tutton’s writing is excellent, her characterisation quite brilliant and the book was engrossing from start to finish – I couldn’t put it down and ended up staying up far too late to finish it! Diana Tutton’s work has been ignored for too long; “Mamma” is a wonderful and fascinating read and a worthy addition to the Women Writers series; and kudos to British Library Publishing for bringing it back into print!

(Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, for which many thanks! As with all of the British Library Women Writers book, there’s a lot of supporting material in the form of facts about the 1950s, a foreword and an interesting afterword by Simon. Lots of lovely bloggers are taking part in the tours for “Mamma” and also “Tension” by E.M. Delafied, as you can see from the graphic above – do go and check them out!)

Three Things… #2 – documentaries, and the price of books…

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I quite enjoyed my first go at this nice little meme, thought up by Paula, where we post about what we’re Reading, Looking and Thinking. So I thought I would share again where I am – a little snapshot of my state of mind today, you might say!

Reading

Choices, choices…

I’m dipping into a number of books at the moment, mostly shorter ones after the epic, mammoth, involving and wonderful read that was “The Aviator”. There are the next couple of Penguin Moderns and a pair of lovely review classics from Ampersand. Also on the immediate TBR is “Flights” and a very interesting-sounding British Library Crime Classic, “The Division Bell”. As well as books, I’m trying to catch up on the issues of the London Review of Books which have been massing on the coffee table, along with copies of the TLS (a Russian special) and the latest “Happy Reader”. Plenty to keep the avid bibliophile amused….

Looking

Great excitement chez the Ramblings, as BBC4 (finally!) decide to repeat one of the Documentaries that Distracted last year – and probably my favourite. The three-part “Utopia: In Search of the Dream”, written and presented by Professor Richard Clay, was one my viewing highlights of 2017, so I’m glad to see it getting another airing. The series was a bracing and eclectic mix, looking at utopias, dystopias, repressive regimes (from both sides of the politic divide), architecture, art, music et al – very broad indeed. I’d recommend catching the series while you can if you have access to BBC4 or the iPlayer – thought-provoking stuff!

Which obliquely leads on to…

Thinking

A topic vexing my mind lately has been the cost of books. Not just ordinary new books, which do of course vary according to where you buy them, and in what format; but older, out of print or rarer titles that seem to fluctuate madly according to the day of the week.

Of course, we all know that a certain big river store’s prices are often slashed wildly and that real bookshops struggle to compete. There’s the issue also of local shops not always stocking what you want, but as they now all seem to be able to order in quickly I’m finding myself drawn back to Waterstones and the like, and if I have to order online I tend to go for Wordery nowadays who seem quite a decent lot.

The iconoclasm books continue to breed…. =:o

However, old or rare books are a different kettle of (vegan) fish. It was the “Iconoclasm in Revolutionary Paris: the Transformation of Signs” book by the aforementioned Richard Clay which got me thinking about values. As I’ve posted about on here before, I had been unable to find this one at a sensible price anywhere, so I resorted to getting Youngest Child to borrow it from her University library over Christmas. With second-hand copies going at over £1,000, I wasn’t going to be owning a copy any time soon.

But I set up alerts on a number of online booksellers and one morning, ping! A load of messages starting to come in with Reasonably Priced and Brand New copies available at under £100. So as I’ve posted, I picked up a copy and was dead chuffed. However, the interesting follow-up to this is that I never got round to cancelling all the alerts and messages are still rolling in with copies for sale – and the price since I bought my copy has been gradually creeping up and up, until a recent email dropped in offering a second-hand version for an eye-watering £8,792.58…. Yes, really…. And it seems to keep going up…

One of my rarer Viragos…

So WHY is it that some book prices vary so intensely and what sets the value? I know this one is an academic book, published in limited quantities by a smaller publisher, but is it simply the rarity value? It’s not only academic books that can have rare prices – I know Jane at Beyond Eden Rock has written about Margery Sharp’s “Rhododendron Pie” which is almost impossible to find at a decent price; and when I first wanted to read A.A. Milne’s “Four Days’ Wonder” it was prohibitively priced so I didn’t bother. I guess it’s some kind of complex calculation of the rarity of the book vs the amount of people who want to read it; when Simon at Stuck in a Book first blogged about “Guard Your Daughters”, the price of second-hand copies rocketed; and Anne Bridge’s “Illyrian Spring”, long sought after by Virago devotees, commanded silly prices before its reprint by Daunt Books.

I guess the moral is simple: if you want a book, and you see it at a price you’re prepared to pay, grab it. Certainly, I’m very glad I got hold of my iconoclasm book when I did – because there’s no way I could afford getting on for nine grand!!!!

*****

So there’s a snapshot of where my head is at the moment – full of books, magazines, documentaries and iconoclasm – the usual rambling and eclectic mix! 🙂

The Hesperus Catalogue appears and the wishlist expands….

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High excitement here on the Ramblings as the Hesperus blog alerted us to the arrival of the Spring 2014 catalogue!

The appearance of a new catalogue of any of your favourite publishers is always cause for joy (the Alma Classics one just arrived too, and my wish list swelled instantly). However, I was particularly delighted to see that Hesperus are going to be republishing “Guard Your Daughters” by Diana Tutton!

GYD was the subject of much discussion and debate last year when Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book’s discovery and championing of it set many of us bloggers off reading and reviewing it (mine here). Most loved it, though there were dissenters (but that’s the joy of book blogging) and I personally found it a fascinating and thought-provoking read. The book has been out of print for ages and we were reduced to tracking down second-hand copies. So the fact that Hesperus are going to put it out again is a great joy – well done Hesperus!

This is what the cover will look like – very stylish!

daughters

The catalogue can be accessed here:

http://hesperuspress.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/just-in-heperus-press-spring-2014-catalogue/

and there are some lovely forthcoming delights.

Still on the subject of Hesperus, the latest book club volume has arrived in the form of “The Best Book in the World” – a satire on book publishing and marketing itself. I’ve been greatly looking forward to this one as I think it will be right up my street – so as soon as I finish the chunkster it will be next on my list!

The Best Book in the World

As for Alma Classics, they publish a *lot* of lovely Russians (to which I am obviously quite partial!) – and they’ve recently launched a lovely little range called Evergreens, reasonably priced at £4.99 (though in fact currently available at £3.99 on their site here) and featuring such titles as “Wuthering Heights” and upcoming books like Gogol’s “Petersburg Tales” and Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” – very exciting! Here’s to independent publishers!

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