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#1947 Club – Some of my previous reviews

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As we draw closer to the end of our week of reading books from 1947, I thought I would share some older reviews of books I’ve read from that year. It certainly was a bumper year for publishing and there are some great titles – so here are a few I’ve read in the past!

One Fine Day by  Mollie Panter-Downes

One fine day

Oddly enough, I picked up my copy of this wonderful novel in the Bloomsbury Oxfam shop during a LibraryThing Virago group get-together – and it was Simon who pointed it out! It’s a wonderfully written book that captures post-War England quite brilliantly and I absolutely loved it, coming to the conclusion that I couldn’t praise it enough. You can read my full review here.

Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau

706_largeThis rather clever and interesting book was written by a master of word games and member of the OuLiPo group. Basically it tells the same story in a huge number of styles and it’s very entertaining. Read what I thought about it here!

The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

blank

A lovely Persephone and a fabulous thriller which I read in a borrowed copy from the library. Set in America in the middle of the war, it tells of an ordinary housewife who falls into the grip of blackmailers and thugs and it’s a fabulous, unputdownable read – highly recommend, and read my review here!

Of Love and Hunger by Julian Maclaren-Ross

of-love-and-hunger

A great read, this, looking at life on the eve of WW2 from the point of view of a man trying to make a living by selling vacuum cleaners. Shades, perhaps, of Orwell, and a vivid picture of a seedy seaside setting. JMR was a wonderful writer, and this is an essential read from 1947 – my review here!

So there are a few of the books I’ve read in the past from this bumper year in publishing. Don’t forget to leave links to your posts so I can add them to the 1947 Club page, and let’s see how many more books we can get in before the end of the week! 🙂

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Bookish post from the lovely Persephone Books!

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I’ve been trying to resist new book, I really have, and particularly the lovely Persephones as if I gave in, I’d want to purchase them all….

However, they came up with an offer I couldn’t refuse this week: to celebrate the birthday of author Mollie Panter-Downes, for one day only you could have one of her books free if you bought two other grey books! I gave in – and because I don’t have any MPD Persephones, I sent off for all three, and they arrived today:

mpd

Aren’t they gorgeous??? I’m very excited about the London War Diaries as I *really* want to read this one. Now all I have to do is resist the temptation to put down the big books and start on one of these…. !

A Snapshot of Post-War England

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One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

A blindingly obvious fact to any reader of the Ramblings is that there is simply no rhyme nor reason to my reading. I’m like a straw in the wind; easily deflected from my course, subject to all sorts of influences, and my bookish whims are terrible. More often than not, I can’t actually recall what it was that pointed me in the direction of a particular volume; however, with “One Fine Day”, things are a little more clear!

One fine day

The book was on my wish list as it was published by Virago. However, my copy is a lovely old hardback I picked up in the Bloomsbury Oxfam a while back (thanks to Simon, who pointed it out to me). It’s very appealing, with an embossed signature on the cover and a picture of Mollie inside. But it had sat on my shelves for over a year, till Caroline reviewed it recently and I thought that I really should pick it up.

Mollie Panter-Downes’ name is familiar to all lovers of a certain type of 20th century literature: as a columnist for the New Yorker, she was particularly noted for her column “Letter from London”, which was published during WW2 and later collected in the volume “London War Notes” – a much desired title which has just been reissued by Persephone (hurrah!). She wrote many short stories (also published by Persephone) but only a few novels – including “One Fine Day”.

The time is 1946 and the place a small English village by the coast, with the very archetypal name of Wealding. Our protagonists are Laura and Stephen Marshall, plus their 10-year-old daughter Victoria, and the action ostensibly takes place over the course of one hot summer post-War day. Stephen goes off to his commute by train to London; Victoria catches the bus to school in the local town; and Laura wrestles with the household chores, searches for Stuffy the lost family dog, and contemplates life and the future. Because this book is about so much more than just a day in the life of an English village…

As the day unfolds, we learn from Laura’s musings all about the post-War landscape in England; the losses that have taken place; the rationing which is still going on; and the struggles that the middle classes are going through. Quite brilliantly, and in beautiful prose, the book lays bare the incredible losses which have been caused by WW2, and also the seismic shift in class relations which has taken place. Laura is born of a class which had everything done for them (and her hideous mother still reflects this) – maids and nannies and cooks meant that she had beautiful, aristocratic hands and never had to cope with the complexities of shopping, washing, cooking and cleaning. But now the people who would have been servants in the old days have been freed by the way they had lived in the War, no longer a lower class working for others, but working in factories; and having tasted freedom they have no wish to go back to the old ways.

“Like young horses intoxicated with the feel of their freedom, Ethel and Violet had disappeared squealing into the big bright world where you knew where you were, where you could go to the flicks regular, and where you worked to the sound of dance music pouring out continuously, sweet and thick and insipid as condensed milk dripping through a hole in a tin.”

So Laura and many other formerly upper-middle class families are struggling; big old houses are being sold off to the National Trust; there is very little help for Laura and Stephen in the house and garden; and while the old families symbolically die off, the vital, energetic working class families expand.

mollie

Throughout the day, while her thoughts range back and forth, we learn about Laura’s past and her struggles and how she’s got to this point in her life. Although she is almost at the end of her tether, with the strain on her marriage obvious, a chance encounter with a gypsy in the wood, while searching for Stuffy, sends her to the top of Barrow Down; and as she surveys the landscape in front of her, Laura comes to the conclusion that none of the superficial issues she’s dealing with are important. The Romans have come and gone, the Germans have come and gone, and although humans are transient the land will endure. In this aspect, the book is a love-letter to the English countryside and it captures magnificently the still of a hot summer’s day by the coast.

I can’t praise Panter-Downes’ book enough. Caroline drew a comparison with “A Month in the Country”, and I see exactly what she means; in their portraits of the English countryside, and in their elegiac qualities, evoking a lost world, they have similarities. Panter-Downes’ prose is remarkable; delicious and poetic, with a rhythm all of its own, often taking on the dialect of whoever it’s related to, it’s quite entrancing and draws you right into its world.

The end of the book is an uplifting one: Laura clears her mind on the Downs, putting life into perspective and realising that what matters is her family and her future. Meanwhile, Stephen gets a chance to bond a little with the daughter who is something of a stranger (owing to the time away fighting). There is a feeling that the Marshalls will survive along with England, and whatever the post-War structure is, people will adjust.

“One Fine Day” was a wonderful read; I’m not sure what I expected, but I don’t think it was such complexity and such wonderful writing. Now I just have to restrain myself from rushing off to order every book of hers from Persephone…. !

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