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Faber Stories – the Women! #djunabarnes #celiafremlin #mariannemoore @faberbooks

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Following on from my last post, about an entertaining pair of slim volumes in the Faber Stories series, today on the Ramblings I’ll be considering a trio of offerings from some very different women authors. Two are names I’ve read before; one is a writer I’m very keen to explore further; all are very thought-provoking!

The Lydia Steptoe Stories by Djuna Barnes

Barnes is a celebrated modernist author, best known for her novel “Nightwood”. I own several of her works, and read at least that one back in the day; but frankly I can recall nothing about it, so I was interested in reacquainting myself with her writing. The three stories in this book were the only oneswritten by Barnes under the pseudonym of Lydia Steptoe, and they appeared in a variety of publications. This is the first time they’ve been published together, and so kudos to Faber for gathering them up for us; their titles are “The Diary of a Dangerous Child”, “The Diary of a Small Boy” and “Madame Grows Older: A Journal at the Dangerous Age”.

Each story features a character wrestling with burgeoning sexuality of one type or another, and there are undercurrents in each story. Whether a fourteen year old girl planning to become a virago, a young boy being tempted by his father’s mistress or an older woman falling in love and wondering whether she can be bothered with it, each of these tales subverts expectations and wrong-foots the reader. I found them wonderfully entertaining, vaguely reminiscent of Leonora Carrington although slightly less melancholy – I may have to dig out my Barnes books…

Fairy Tales by Marianne Moore

When I was up in London for a day out just over a year ago (sob…) I picked up a collection of Marianne Moore’s poetry in the wonderful Judd Books. She’s another one of those poets I’ve wanted to explore for ages, and the collection was reasonably priced and irresistible. This, however, is prose; and not new stories as such, but retelling of the fairy tales popularised by Charles Perrault. So we meet, in the originals, “Puss in Boots”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella”; and of course these are very different from the sanitised modern cartoon versions.

Puss is a wiley moggy, lying and tricking his way to status and gaining his master a princess and a castle. The princess in “Sleeping Beauty” is not actually awakened by a kiss, and is married to the prince in secret – a prince who has family skeletons of his own. And Cinderella goes to the ball more than once before losing her slipper! Moore provides an introduction explaining her love of fairy tales, and this was an unexpected and enjoyable distraction.

Ghostly Stories by Celia Fremlin

Celia Fremlin is an author I first read pre-blog, when I picked up a copy of her Virago title “The Hours Before Dawn”. It’s a stunning thriller which takes place in an ordinary domestic setting, with the protagonist struggling with exhaustion from bringing up children and trying to work out if her suspicions about a lodger are correct. It’s one of those books you don’t forget, and a short story of hers which featured in a recent British Library Crime Classics anthology was just as effective. So I had high hopes of this collection of two spooky stories – and I wasn’t disappointed. The titles are “The Hated House” and “The New House”, and each takes a different slant on the complex mother-daughter dynamic. In the first, a teenager revels in being left on her own for once, as her overbearing and quarrelsome parents go away for a visit. In the second, the narrator, guardian of her sister’s child, is concerned for her neice’s safety as she prepares to marry and settle down in her own home. Neither story has the outcome you might expect.

Fremlin was an exceptional author; she captures the sense of creeping dread you can have when on your own, or when you have unspecific fears, quite brilliantly. In the first story she really gets inside the head of her teenage protagonist; and she’s brilliant at the unreliable narrator. I made sure I read these in daylight because they’re most unsettling…

I’ve seen Fremlin compared to Highsmith and Jackson; and the blurb on this little Faber describes her as long-neglected. If she is (and I know a number of fellow bloggers rate her highly), she really shouldn’t be. If you want a taste of her writing, this is a good way to get it; and I think I really will have to track down more of her works.

*****

So my three female Faber Stories reads were just as good as the two male reads; truly, these are lovely little books and a great selection of authors – at least in the ones I’ve read. There *are* still a number of others which were issued (I recall seeing them in Waterstones in those Times Before when we could go out book shopping….) Time for a little online exploring… ;D

If it’s London, there must be books…. @Foyles @secondshelfbks @JuddBooks

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Unfortunately for the shelves in my house, visits to London are inextricably linked with bookshopping, and Saturday was no exception to the general rule… My BFF J. and I managed to miss out on our usual pre-Christmas get-together back in December, and so as it was her birthday yesterday, we decided to have a catch-up, a gossip and a general bimble round London (as she puts it) on Saturday – which turned out to be a relaxing, fun and profitable trip! 😀

The KBR tote came in handy as always….

Inevitably there were bookshops and after we’d done a bit of general browsing (clothes, fabric and art shops!) we decided to give Second Shelf Books a look, as I’d been very impressed by what I’d seen and heard about them (and Ali thought very highly of them on her visit!) We rolled up fairly early (we’re morning birds), wondering if they’d be open and even though they weren’t officially, the very nice person behind the till let us in! And what a lovely place it is! We had a wonderful browse through all the wonderful rarities and first editions, with me eventually settling on purchasing this:

It’s by Elaine Feinstein, who translates Tsvetaeva wonderfully and whose biography of Anna Akhmatova I have lurking and it’s a mixture of novel set in Russia amongst real writers as well as her poetry. So it was most definitely coming home with me… ;D

After interludes for getting vaguely lost, stopping for lunch at Leons (with much gossip and catching up) as well as a very tempting visit to Paperchase, we headed for Judd Books in Marchmont Street. They’re a stone’s throw from Skoob (which we managed to resist) and I can’t recommend them enough. Judds is a shop always stuffed with unexpected treats and I was lucky to get out with only these:

I’ve wanted to add Marianne Moore to my poetry pile for yonks and this was at a fraction of the price it is online (bricks and mortar shops win out again!). As for the book on Peake, I’m not sure how I missed out on this when it originally came out, but it’s absolutely stuffed with the most amazing artworks, essays and writings, and a steal at the price. Both J. and I left with copies…

Inevitably, we ended up at Foyles – well, how could we not? – and partook of tea in the cafe, while J. finished reading a book she’d brought with her for me. Yes, she’d managed to procure me a beautiful first edition of a Beverley I needed!

As it comes with a dustjacket, I was doubly pleased and now I can get on with reading the rest of this particular house/garden trilogy of Bev’s! Dead chuffed!

We didn’t get out of Foyles unscathed, needless to say. Although I *did* exercise restraint, picking up and putting down any number of books. J. indulged in some poetry in the form of Roger McGough and Willa Cather (two of her favourites), whereas I eventually settled on these:

I’ve been circling the Gamboni for a while and finally decided to go for this new, reasonably priced edition (the old ones were priced at scholarly book rates…). As for the Kate Briggs, it’s all about translation and I love translated books and I love translators so it’s a no-brainer. Very excited about this one…. 😀

That’s it book-wise. We were in any number of stationery and art shops, and bearing that in mind I certainly think that the small haul I have was very well-behaved of me…

The tea is green with mint (my favourite) which I decided to treat myself to from Fortnum and Mason (yes, really!) We were in there to pick up some favourite marmalade for J.’s hubby, and I decided to treat Mr. Kaggsy to some posh coffee flavoured choc (not pictured). The tea just fell into my hand as I was queuing to pay…

So a fun day out gossiping, playing catch-up and shopping – lovely! It *is* nice to live close enough to London to pop up there (and especially go to Foyles, although those visits always bring a sense of despair at the *mess* of construction that’s going on in the area). Now it’s just a case of deciding what to read next… 😉

However, before I finish this post, there was *one* more book which sneaked into the house at the weekend, and that was a volume I ordered online after reading a review of it here. Kate Macdonald picked up her copy, oddly enough, at Second Shelf, and wasn’t so enamoured with Priestley’s grumbling. However, I’ve found his grumpy narratives oddly entertaining, so I though I’d give it a try! 😀

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