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Melodrama on’t moors….. #AllViragoAllAugust #VitaSackvilleWest

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The Death of Noble Godavary by Vita Sackville-West

As is fairly obvious by my reactions here on the Ramblings and also on social media, I had a bit of a book hangover after finishing Victor Serge’s Notebooks. A big, immersive read like that always tends to have that effect, and it’s often so hard to decide what to read next. So I did my usual trick of flinging myself into the nearest book with wild abandon, and as it was one that I had actually *planned* (gasp!) to read this month that was a kind of bonus…

I’ve mentioned before on the Ramblings that I’m a member of the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group; they’re a lovely bunch of people and we discuss Virago (and similar reads) as well as having themed reads, occasional meet ups and even a wonderful Virago Secret Santa. Every August is designated All Virago/All August to try and get us all reading the Viragos (and Persephones and other similar books like the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint) which we have lurking on our shelves. I never restrict myself to only Viragos, as I’d just rebel – and there is of course competition from #WITMonth – but I do try to squeeze in at least one book, and the plan was this slim volume which Simon at Stuck in a Book highlighted during his 25 Books in 25 Days marathon. It sounded marvellous, and as he mentioned it in conjunction with Vita’s “The Heir” (which I absolutely loved), I had of course to procure a copy… Hey, I’ve got round to reading it fairly quickly, haven’t I? 😀

But to get to the book. At just over 100 pages, “Death…” is really a novella and it tells a dramatic and often dark tale of family inheritance. Our narrator is Gervase Godavary, and as the book opens he’s just learned of the death of his uncle Noble. He is therefore, by necessity, called back to the family home up north (The Grange), and it’s a place which inspires mixed emotions. Whereas “The Heir” told a tale of a man seduced by a house, Gervase (and the rest of the family) seem to be repelled by their home. It’s painted in dark tones, with damp, fog and dramatic moorland weather as the backdrop, and there is a kind of creeping feeling of – well, not exactly dread, but the place certainly seems to have a hold on the family that stays with them even when, like Gervase, they move away.

The Godavary family are a complex brood themselves, and the addition of Noble’s second wife (a volatile Italian women) and their daughter Paola, adds to the drama. In fact, the latter’s characterisation dominates much of the narrative, as does she the family; one member is utterly besotted with her, and even Gervase (who is not) acknowledges her power. There are all kinds of family tensions, the reading of the will and some final dramatic action which, as Simon says, is extremely memorable! I shan’t say more about the plot for fear of spoilers, but it certainly is a compelling read with some stunning imagery.

Nobody spoke; the dalesman trod with their deliberate gait, better accustomed to a slope than to the level; the dogs with lowered noses followed mournfully to heel, each to each; man, dog; man, dog; man, dog. The dogs were like little hyphens, separating the men.

“The Death of Noble Godavary” seems to have languished in obscurity, which is a great shame because it contains some marvellous and atmospheric writing. It’s not without its flaws (as Simon says, the family relationships are a bit unclear at time) and in fact could probably have done with being expanded into something a bit longer and more fleshed out. But despite this it really is a great read – full of almost Gothic drama and oozing tension, I found myself glued to it and finshing it in one setting!

Later in the day the coffin was brought, and we could hear the men upstairs, nailing. Paola alone remained detached and serene; such things seemed to have no power to touch her. The others were taken up with their own preoccupations; Austen and Rachel with the devouring secret of their liaison, Michael with his hungry and tormented pursuit of Paola, Stephen with a general nervousness and a desire not to get in the way. And throughout it all beat the hammers nailing down the coffin.

I’m not enough of an expert on Vita’s writing to know how many shorter works she wrote and what are available or out of print; however, as this one has been unavailable for absolutely decades, a good case could be made for collecting her novellas (and any short stories?) into one volume. “The Death of Noble Godavary” ends on a slightly ambiguous note and I would have loved to see her taking the aftermath of the action a little further. But it’s an affecting story which ramps up the tension throughout and is thoroughly enjoyable. It also reminded me how good Sackville-West’s writing was and how I need to read more of her books (goodness knows, I own enough…)

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My edition of “Death…” was published in 1932 as an Ernest Benn Ninepenny Novel (what fun!), but as Vita is a Virago author I’m allowed to count her for this month! And I’m very glad I chose to read this one, as it was such a vivid and wonderful experience – thanks for bringing it to my notice, Simon! 😀

August – a month where I *actually* undertake some challenges??? ;D @Read_WIT #AllViragoAllAugust @kitcaless @PushkinPress @Bryan_S_K @FitzcarraldoEds

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I’m breathing little sigh of relief as I’ve actually managed to make it to the summer break from work – phew! Life has been pretty manic lately so I could do with a bit of space to regroup – and catch up with the reading. I’ve failed, of course, to make it through any kind of challenge floating around in the book blogsphere, but I don’t mind really – I tend to plough my own furrow when it comes to reading! However, August does bring a couple of reading events in which I always like to take part, and I’m hoping this year will be no different.

I’m also painfully aware that I’ve been reading a *lot* of books by men recently and that’s perhaps unusual as I *have* tended to read a lot more women authors in the past – perhaps it’s just the way the books have fallen. However, I’d like to redress that this month and to be specific I hope to read at least these four lovelies if nothing else!

All four are by women authors and all sound fascinating, although they don’t all fall into the challenge categories – nevertheless, I want to read them all this month! 😀

Let’s start with “Plastic Emotions”:

which is a very pretty looking book (sorry to be superficial there…) It’s neither a Virago nor a translated work; but it’s by a woman author and about a pioneering woman architect, so I’m going to count it in for getting back to reading more women. The subject of the book is Sri Lankan architect Minnette de Silva, an inspirational woman who I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard of before. So I’m looking forward to finding out more about her via Shiromi Pinto’s intriguing-sounding book.

Next up is a book for All Virago/All August (which I never stick to – I couldn’t restrict myself to one publisher for a month!)

Although not a Virago edition, it’s a Virago author in the shape of Vita Sackville-West. I’ve read and loved her work (though much of it pre-blog), and when Simon wrote about “The Death of Noble Godavary” recently and mentioned it was reminiscent of Vita’s book “The Heir” I was sold. Looking forward to this one!

There are two books in translation by women in the pile above, and first up is this from Fizcarraldo Editions:

Again, I’m intrigued and excited about this one. The Vivian of the title is the American photographer, Vivian Maier (who oddly enough featured in the wonderful “Selfies” which I reviewed a while back); and the author is from Denmark and apparently regarded as one of the country’s most inventive and radical novelists. Sounds fab! 😀

Finally, where would we be on the Ramblings without a Russian?!

There has been a flood of wonderful translations of Russian emigré literature recently, much of it from the lovely Pushkin Press; and this one has just recently been issued. It’s the first time this author’s been translated into English (thank you Bryan Karetnyk and Irina Steinberg!) and it’s described as a disturbing portrait of a lost generation of Russian exiles. Sounds amazing, frankly!

So. I have plans for August. Modest ones, I think, as I shall be on a break from work and also going off on my travels to visit the Aging Parent and the Offspring; which gives extra time for reading, especially whilst on trains… The question is, will I *actually* read the books planned?? I have to say that the hardest thing at the moment, looking at these four lovelies, is making a decision as to which one to pick up first…. =:o

Books in and out – plus summer plans?? @richarddawkins #johnberger @i_am_mill_i_am

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There has been much coming and going of books recently at the Ramblings HQ; and I’ve been trying to get the remaining stacks a little more organised so that I can be a teeny bit more focused with what I’m reading and writing about. Books have continued to come in but many have gone out, and I’m trying to treat bookish movement in a way that will keep things at least carbon neutral! So if one comes in, at least one must go out… And here’s a little stack I’d like to share some thoughts and possible plans about today!

Large and interesting piles of books always make my heart sing!

The incoming books have included some really fascinating titles – these pretty little editions, for example:

The Red Circle Minis

These are the first three Red Circle Minis in a new publishing venture to bring short works by contemporary Japanese authors into English. They look lovely and the contents are wonderful – more will follow about them!

I have been fairly restrainted with the online buying, but a couple of titles have made it past the barricades!

I can’t for the life of me remember where I read about “Eleven Prague Corpses” but it will no doubt be on some friendly blog or other. It’s been sitting on a wishlist for ages and I finally caved in. The Vita is as a result of Simon’s post here – he really is a bad influence, but it’s a lovely old edition and comes so highly recommended I couldn’t resist.

More books have been going *to* the charity shops than coming from them, but I spotted this yesterday in the Oxfam and had to have it:

I’ve read and loved some of Kapuscinski’s work; and in a strange case of serendipity and synchronicity, I was reading an excellent review of this book recently by the travel author Rosemary Bailey (who sadly passed away this year). The fact that it fell into my path today was obviously significant.

And on Midsummer’s Day, a book came my way in the form of a gift from Mr. Kaggsy, as it was our anniversary. Yet again, he managed to find a book I haven’t read and haven’t got and really *should* read – “One Hundred Years of Solitude” in the new bluey green Penguin Modern Classics livery!

He did apologise for the fact that it has half of a naked woman on the cover – no, I don’t know if she’s significant yet. No doubt all will be revealed….

Going forward, I’ve started to tentatively think about summer reading plans (although I generally tend not to make plans…) I work in the education sector, so there is the long summer break when I can hopefully tackle larger books or books of more substance (as well as continuing to make a dent in the pile of review books). And my mind is going in a few directions at the moment, though I don’t know where it will actually settle – although these are some of the options.

I have in recent weeks amassed a *lot* of Richard Dawkins books – all but one from the charity shops. I’ve read the beginning of each and love the writing as well as his bracing and opinionated take on things. I might consider a Summer of Dawkins – could be very mind expanding. However there are also these:

I’ve been gathering John Berger books when I come across them; and also there is the lovely review book from Notting Hill Editions. So a Summer of Berger could be another option! 😀

And then there’s poetry and Newcastle…

You may wonder what I’m wittering about, but basically this stems from Andy Miller mentioning Basil Bunting on Twitter and sending me off down a wormhole reading about Morden Tower in Newcastle and the poets associated with it. This could become very involving…

In case  you’re a tad worried about these heaps of books, here’s an image of the charity boxes before they were collected last week:

There were three boxes of books, to which I added a dozen more before the men with a van arrived. And I took another into the shop yesterday which had been missed; it did feel rather weird seeing my books all over their shelves instead of mine, but I did feel a bit virtuous.

Other summer reading plans will no doubt involve some Persephones or Viragos during August, and also some translated women for WIT month. Apart from that, what am I reading at the moment, you might wonder? Well, I’ve been attempting a little bit of polyreading, and it was going fairly well until I got so absorbed in the fiction (the new Mishima) that I put the others aside for a bit. These are they:

The Tim Parks is a lovely essay collection from Alma which is fascinating so far and great for dipping if you need a quick reading fix. “At the Existentialist Cafe” is also turning out to be rather wonderful, and I’m grasping a lot of concepts I hadn’t before. It *does* need a little more concentration than I usually have last thing at night, so may end up being a holiday read.

So there you have it. The state of books chez Ramblings and some tentative ideas going forward. How are your TBRs at the moment? And do you have any summer reading plans??

 

Setting sail for a final voyage – Virago Author of the Month

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No Signposts in the Sea by Vita Sackville-West

One of my favourite online things is belonging to the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group; definitely the nicest and friendliest of the LT groups I’ve come across, and always supportive and good fun for a challenge or readalong. The group often has some kind of project going on (a chronological read of Viragos, for example) but as some of us were a little stretched by challenges, this year’s has been kept simple after one of the members came up with the wonderful idea of having an author featured each month whom we could choose to read from or about as our whim took us. After a little voting, Vita Sackville-West was settled upon, which was a good choice for me as I have so many of her books lurking on the TBR, and have read so few! (Please note how much reading from the stacks I’m doing just now!) I decided to pick the slim volume “No Signposts in the Sea” as it’s a book I started once before then got distracted from, so now was the ideal time to read it.

signposts

Published in 1961, NSITS was Vita’s last novel, and it’s narrated by Edmund Carr; a middle-aged, cynical political journalist, he has been given a short time to live and decides he will spend it taking a sea voyage. This is no ordinary trip, however, as Carr has chosen to travel on a ship carrying Laura Drysdale, a widow with whom he’s in love, in the hope that he can spend his last months in her company. The decision to make the trip had been a spur of the moment thing, as on the day he received his medical sentence of death, he visited Laura and learned of the journey she was making.

Laura seems pleased to see him, and the two spend much time together on the journey. The ship sets off for southern, warmer climes and although there are islands and natives, we really have no idea where the cruise is going; Carr has no real interest in specifics, only thinking of Laura, and as he says, there are no signposts in the sea. As the journey continues, he reflects on his past, the change that has come over him since receiving the news of his demise, and the bittersweet pleasure of being in the company of someone he loves, but unable to tell her because of his impending death and his fear of disturbing what relationship they have.

An extra element is thrown into the mix in the form of Colonel Dalrymple; initially, Carr befriends the man and likes him very much, until he perceives that Dalrymple is attracted to Laura – and it seems to Carr that Laura is attracted back. However, the voyage is coming to a close for Carr, and a final revelation proves just how little we know or understand about our fellow humans.

I take it that any creative work, as opposed to my own hack effort, must be intensely private, not to be mentioned, least of all discussed. No doubt the actual process is comparable. One lives in a little world of one’s own, and nothing else seems to matter. The most egotistical of occupations, and the most gratifying while it lasts. To see the pages piling up, and to live in the persuasion that one is doing something worthwhile. Because of course one must hold on to that conviction, or one wouldn’t go on. Luckily a writer’s powers of self-delusion are limitless, and oh the smugness of feeling that one has done a good day’s work!

NSITS is a short novel (less than 150 pages in my Virago edition, although the type is fairly large so I’d be more inclined to call it a novella) but it contains much food for thought. It’s impossible to read this book without speculating how much it draws on Vita’s own life, and indeed the excellent introduction by Victoria Glendinning sets out the events in the author’s life that informed the book. Vita and her husband Harold Nicolson had been on a number of cruises, which Vita drew on for the book, and she also used the story to discuss her thoughts on life, love and writing through Edmund’s musings. She was already suffering from the cancer that would eventually kill her, and there is a bittersweet element running through the book that presumably reflects her state of mind at the time. Edmund Carr has gone from being cynical to sentimental, regretting his single life and considering what makes a good marriage and a meeting of minds; and I can’t help speculating that this latter must have been much on Vita’s mind as she looked back at her life and her unconventional union with Nicolson. The book also contains a direct discussion of lesbianism which I’m not sure that Vita had ever tackled in her work before.

vita-and-harold

However, the book is certainly not perfect. It reflects some very outdated and unpleasant attitudes to race which I would perhaps expected to start to be filtered out; certainly I wouldn’t have guessed the book was from the 1960s with these viewpoints on show. And there is a class element showing too; as Glendinning points out, although Carr is meant to be from a lower class than Laura, his thoughts, behaviour and attitudes are those of the author rather than someone who has worked his way up from humbler beginnings.

The text is interspersed with unattributed quotations and poems reflecting Edmund’s thoughts on particular topics, and I must confess I rather wished for an annotated edition giving background to these excerpts. Although Glendinning points out that the reader can have fun tracking them down (and they might have been more widely known at the time the book was published), I was too involved in the narrative to want to stop reading and do some research.

And involved I was. Despite my minor criticisms, the book is beautifully written and very evocative; the sense of the removal from reality and everyday life that occurs on a cruise is captured in Vita’s clear prose, and I felt as if I was at sea with Edmund, Laura and Dalrymple. NSITS is a poignant little book, full of thoughtful discussions of the important things in life, and a fitting addition to Vita’s oeuvre. This is only the second of Vita Sackville-West’s books I can be sure I’ve read (I loved her “The Heir” which I reviewed here), but on the evidence of these I can highly recommend her.

The 1924 Club : A Confusing Challenge!

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The Internet is notoriously unreliable, and a little confusion has arisen around one of the books we’ve been considering for the 1924 Club – Vita Sackville-West’s “Challenge”.

The Virago Modern Classics collection tracker has this listed as a 1924 publication; however, a number of readers have commented that this information differs online, with 1923 often cited as the publication date. So I decided to do a little digging…

I possess a copy of “Challenge” – not a nice green Virago, but an old and rather gnarled volume from Avon (whoever they were!) and it looks like this:

challenge front

The crucial point here is the wording about the book being suppressed, as it wasn’t published in the UK  during Vita’s lifetime – only in the USA, and that’s where the 1920s date comes in.

The back cover reveals a little more about the book:

challenge backSo I had a look inside to see if the first publication date was given, but it wasn’t – only some later dates in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the book’s foreword came up trumps!

challenge foreword

As this states quite clearly that “Challenge” was published in New York by George H. Doran Company in 1924, I think if anyone wants to read it for the 1924 club, they’ll be quite free to do so! :))

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

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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:

mew

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:

chateau

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….

All change! and a (very) small diversion…

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It has been a bit quiet here on the Ramblings recently for a number of reasons – not just because I’m in the middle of a 900 page chunkster! There’s been a lot going on around here: from health and care issues with Aged Relative, which are incredibly time consuming; busy-busy-busy at work; and taking Youngest Child, the baby of the family, off to university – which was emotional and also involved masses of clearing out of years of old junk……….:s

a-simple-story-leonardo-sciascia-paperback-cover-art

So I have been trying to keep sane by reading when there is a moment, and managed to finish a strange short story (before embarking on the chunkster) – a tale from a slim Hesperus volume called “A Simple Story” by Leonardo Sciascia. He’s not an author I’d heard of until I read that he had been brought to publication by Italo Calvino and Wikipedia says rather baldly:

“Leonardo Sciascia (January 8, 1921 – November 20, 1989) was an Italian writer, novelist, essayist, playwright and politician.”

At 40 pages, this has to be one of the shortest crime books I’ve read, but despite its abbreviated length it was surprisingly effective! The story is set in Sicily, and tells the tale of the murder in a small town of a local diplomat who has discreetly returned to his house, after having been away for many years, and who is found shot. At first it seems to be suicide, but thanks to the efforts of a keen young sergeant, the higher-ups are persuaded it really was a murder and have to investigate.

For such a brief story there really is a lot going on! There’s a generous cast of characters, from the diplomat and his family, the local police, the local Carabinieri (a kind of military police, I think) plus the local people and various passers-by. The locations, the people and the events are conjured vividly and convincingly and despite its brevity, you really get involved with this mystery and its solution.

As to the latter, I’m going to say very little because there are some wonderful surprises in store for any reader. Highly recommended!

(“A Simple Story” is accompanied in the book by another, longer tale, “Candido” which I haven’t yet read – just in case anyone was thinking that 40 pages is a bit short for a book!)

Recent arrivals

Alarmingly, despite trying very hard not to buy any books, I seem to have a significant amount of recent arrivals – though fortunately, at no great cost (except for space….)

stewart
I read Mary Stewart in my teens, but only the Arthurian books, and so the recent spate of reviews during Mary Stewart Reading Week piqued my interest. These two titles came from ReadItSwapIt, which I have got rather attached to recently, having had some very succesful swaps – so no cost except for postage in sending away books I didn’t want any more!

keun
I discovered Irmgard Keun recently, and having found “After Midnight” really rewarding, had a little browse on RISI. That’s where this lovely book comes from – a hardback Penguin classic!

family
Well, there’s a little saga attached to this. Liz at Adventures in full-time self-employment reviewed this one recently, and I loved the sound of it but decided I wanted it in a Virago green edition. I was seduced again by A****n – a copy from a reseller described as “Very Good” and only £1.94 with delivery – but I should have known better. It arrived with a heavily creased spine, looking as if somebody had tried to bend it across their knee – NOT IMPRESSED! A quick look on RISI revealed a copy which the owner was willing to trade, and it just arrived and is much lovelier condition. I still have to decide whether or not I want the bother of returning the other copy, or whether I shall offer it on LibraryThing!

cather

Another new Virago, this time from the local Oxfam charity shop – £2.49 and in lovely condition so that isn’t too extravagant! And it sounds fascinating too – Cather’s last book!

hosp

One side-effect of visiting the Aged Relative in hospital is the fact that one of the departments has old books for sale as a fund-raiser. These two were snagged for a small donation, and although they’re a little battered (particularly the Rubens), they’re much better off at home with me! (It’s also a quick, cheap way for me to find out if I like her as an author…)

bridge
Annabel’s lovely blog celebrated its 5th birthday recently and she ran a giveaway – I was lucky enough to be one of the winners and so Mrs. Bridge arrived here via Annabel and the Book Depository – thanks, Annabel!!

best book
One of my favourite publishers, Hesperus Press, have started a book club here, and this is the October book which has arrived for review. It sounds right up my street – can’t wait to get started!

tonac

And finally – phew! – one of the few clickety-click on-impulse buys recently. I was fascinated by the Vulpes Libris post here and so snapped up one of the reasonably priced copies (hardback! decent dustjacket!) before they all vanished (as we have seen in the past when book blogs start trends).

So, I think that the massive clear-out started by Youngest Child’s move needs to carry on – I really need to reduce the amount of stuff in the house, and unfortunately that includes books…………

A Big Book!

9780140445275
And so to the chunkster! My love of Dostoevsky’s work will be well known to any reader of this blog, but I’ve tended towards his shorter works recently. However, since starting the Ramblings I’ve managed two really huge works in the form of Solzhenitsyn’s “In the First Circle” and Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” – interesting how they’re both Russian! So I have plunged into “The Brothers Karamazov”, in the Penguin David McDuff translation, and am about 400 pages in. It’s remarkably readable despite being quite dense – fortunately the chapters are relatively short and although there is much debate and discussion, it somehow isn’t as ponderous as parts of Karenina were. Watch this space to see how I get on!

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