Larkin About – plus the books just keep on coming….


I have been trying very, *very* hard to restrict the incoming books recently – and I’m still weeding out and donating – but alas there have been new arrivals recently…

The weekend before last I deliberately only went to the Oxfam bookshop, and thought I was going to get away safely until I spotted a collection of Philip Larkin’s prose tucked away on a lower shelf:

larkin 1

Needless to say, it was quite essential that this came home with me and got added to the nice little pile of Larkins you can see behind it. In fact, here is the pile with the new Larkin integrated. Well, let’s face it, you can never have too much Larkin, can you?

larkin 2

The week’s post brought some nice new arrivals, too, mostly in the form of a big parcel from Middle Child containing the following:

middle child

What a sweetie she is! I was particularly pleased with the “Pepita” as it’s not a Virago I have, and the West is an upgrade. The two Raving Beauties poem collections look fascinating and the final book sounds very intriguing. I’ve heard of Nicole Ward Jouve before, I think in connection with a book about Colette, so that bodes well.

The postie also brought these two lovelies via RISI:

jims end

I have a fairly gnarled copy of “Howard’s End” and so was happy to upgrade. As for “Lucky Jim” – well, as there’s such a big Larkin connection I do feel I should read it!

Finally post-wise is this:


I read about Mew recently in a little book called “Bloomsbury and the Poets” (review to follow) and thought she sounded a fascinating author and that her work definitely warranted investigation, so I sent off for a copy. The Virago volume collects together all her poetry and prose and having dipped in I’m looking forward to it.

Finally, to the most recent weekend’s finds. Again, I went to donate at the Samaritans, and I came out with this:


I’ve read a *lot* about Maxwell but never seen one of his books turn up before, and this one does sound good. And on to the Oxfam, where again I thought I would get out unscathed, until I thought I’d see on the off-chance if there was any Brian Aldiss – which there was….

aldiss interpreter

I very rarely see his books in the charity shops so I snapped up this one, with its wonderfully dated cover!

Needless to say, I’m not reading any of these at the moment. I’ve just finished a re-read of “Dead Souls” (oh my! what an amazing book) and I have a massive book hangover….

Recent Reads – The Obelisk by E.M. Forster


It’s a Hesperus! It’s E.M. Forster! It’s in lovely condition and only £1.50! Those were the thoughts that ran through my head when I picked this up in the Samaritans Book Cave, and as I seem to be stuck in “flinging myself into a book” mode, I did so with this! I should confess up front that although I have much Forster on Mount TBR, I’ve actually read very little – to be precise, two short stories which I reviewed here. However, these stories are somewhat different – they were only collected and published after Forster’s death, and the reason for this is that the subject matter or subtext in them is essentially “the love that dare not speak its name”. We now of course know that E.M. Forster was gay, but during his lifetime it was impossible because of the prevailing mores for him to be open about this – which is not only a personal tragedy, but a literary one because this rather excellent collection really shouldn’t have languished out of print for such a long time.

It’s hard to review short stories, I find – do you cover each on in detail, pick out your favourites or try to give a general impression of the collection? Certainly, there is a common subtext in these pieces, that of repressed sexuality (whether male or female) and also much implied criticism of the current social mores and the general Colonial attitudes displayed. However, each of these little gems is wonderful in its own right. The title story, in particular, was possibly my favourite; it tells the tale of Hilda and Ernest, an ordinary, bickering couple out at the coast. Neither of them seem particularly happy, until a chance encounter with two very different sailors affects the couple’s relationship very unexpectedly…. This is a quite wonderfully clever piece of writing with a kicker twist at the end – I shall say no more!

Some of the stories are a darker, however. “The Life to Come”, in which a missionary influences and changes a ‘primitive’ civilisation has much to say about the impact of so-called progress on a people who are quite happy the way they are. “Dr. Woolacott” and “The Classical Annex” blur the lines between reality and dreams. “The Other Boat” and “Arthur Snatchfold” deal with the social consequences of sexual transgression. And all feature Forster’s wonderful prose.

“The visit, like the view, threatened monotony. Dinner had been dull. His own spruce grey head, gleaming in the mirrors, really seemed the brightest object about. Trevor Donaldson’s head was mangy, Mrs. Donaldson’s combed up into bastions of iron. He did not get unduly fussed at the prospect of boredom. He was a man of experience with plenty of resources and plenty of armour, and a decent human being too.”

This is a really excellent collection of stories: thought-provoking, sad, uplifting, funny and very, very well written. Forster was obviously an incredibly talented writer and we can be glad he produced his masterpieces – but also a little sad that some of his writings had to be suppressed until more enlightened times.

Bookish Karma….


….or, what goes around comes around!

In bookish terms, I guess I mean that the Cull is paying off – Youngest Child and I took about 16 books into the charity shops today (we couldn’t carry any more – it was just too hot) and there are boxes and piles more to go. I am actually finding it something of a relief to be looking candidly at my shelves and saying to a book, “No, I loved you and read you one, but I shan’t ever need to read you again”. Paring down to the essentials is cathartic, that’s for sure. (It’s not only books that are going, btw – general clutter is going too, which is lovely).

However, I haven’t embargoed the obtaining of books; I’m just being strict with myself and only buying volumes (or accepting as review copies) things I really do want to read and hope to read quite soon. Thus it was that three books came home with me today (so the ratio is still good!) and these are they:

Quite wonderful finds, and all charity shop bargains. The Forster (a Hesperus!!) was in the Samaritans Book Cave, where we were donating – in beautiful condition and only £1.50! The Michael Arlen was from the Oxfam at £2.49, and again is in great nick and will go with my lovely Capuchin edition of The Green Hat!

The final book was unexpected: we were in the library picking up text books for Youngest Child to absorb over the summer, and trying to avoid the loud noise of the multi-cultural festival which was going on (though the bagpipes were wonderful, if a little incongruous in a library) – anyway, I had a quick look at the books for sale and there was the Maclaren-Ross collection of Selected Stories for 40p! Library sales are the best….

And Youngest Child was happy as she found a proof copy of one of her favourite authors/novels in the RSPCA for 95p! So obviously we had good Book Karma today because we donated – we’ll just have to keep giving! 🙂

(Forgot to mention the lovely review copy that arrived today from Hesperus – thank you! – now isn’t that an appealing looking set of spines?!)

Happy Birthday E.M. Forster!


E.M. Forster painted by Carrington

E.M. Forster painted by Carrington

Today is the birthday of author E.M. Forster, about whom Wikipedia states:

Edward Morgan Forster OM, CH (1 January 1879 – 7 June 1970) was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. Forster’s humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: “Only connect … “. His 1908 novel, A Room with a View, is his most optimistic work, while A Passage to India (1924) brought him his greatest success.

This is quite serendipitous, because I have a confession to make – I’ve never read a book by this highly regarded author! And this has been on my mind lately because of my wish to read Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, as some of the comments I’ve read about it have implied that he might have used “A Passage to India” as some kind of inspiration or starting point – which suggests I should really read Passage first!

Any thoughts?? 🙂

Recent Reads: E.M. Forster – The Machine Stops


I’m having to acknowledge nowadays that I’m a very impressionable reader, easily influenced and seduced away from my reading plans by an interesting piece or a blog, a recommended book or the discovery of a new author. This read is a case in point – after reading this fascinating piece on Interesting Literature I went off in search of any of the titles mentioned and came across a Penguin Mini Modern Classic of the Forster. I was intrigued by the idea of early dystopian writing (I have several examples already on Mount TBR), and this sounded particularly good.


The slim volume contains two stories, the title one and another called “The Celestial Omnibus”. “The Machine Stops” opens with a woman called Vashti ensconced in her living cell, communicating with her son Kuno on the other side of the world via what can only be described as a primitive kind of telescreen or Skype. As the story develops, it transpires that human beings are living underground; all communications, sensations, bathing, dressing, eating, socializing, learning – in fact, literally everything – is provided by, and governed by, The Machine. This is a man-made conceit which has gradually taken over the running of human life, leaving the overground uninhabited and the humans are no long able to breathe the real air and survive outside. Any visits to the upper world, to travel via airship to really visit another person, require a respirator.

But this is not quite the whole truth. Kuno has conceived of an urge to see the stars in the sky. First he had to develop his fitness for some time – for the humans are more like slugs nowadays, adapted to a sedentary life: “… in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh – a woman about five feet high, with a face as white as fungus.” Once he has developed some physical strength, Kuno explores and finds a hidden way outside – will he survive, how will this affect him, and will he be declared ‘homeless’? (in effect, put out on the surface to die).

This short story, published in 1928, is really quite stunning. The concepts are clever and very prescient, and I wondered how Forster could have foreseen our current dependence on technology, and replacement of the real experience with the facsimile. As he describes Vashti’s existence,

“There were buttons and switches everywhere – buttons to call for food, for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature. And there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.”

As this is a dystopian world, obviously things will go wrong but I’m not going to give away the plot. I would simply urge you to read this story if you have any interest at all in this type of fiction!


As for “The Celestial Omnibus”, this is an affecting little tale about a young Victorian boy who discovers that a very unusual bus service runs from an alley near his house. The signpost is labelled “Heaven” and was apparently put there by Shelley! The boy’s parents mock him, in particular his cruel father, but Mr Bons, a family friend, humours him. However, when Bons sets off to take the bus with the boy he gets a lot more than he bargains for.

This little gem was just as affecting as the first story, although very different. It seemed to me to be about the gulf between adults and children; the former are closed-minded and cannot deal with anything out of the normal; whereas children, with their still uncorrupted and undeveloped minds, are much more accepting of the unusual.

I have to confess that I think this is the first Forster I’ve ever finished and the stories were very enjoyable. Highly impressed!

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