Friday, 5 September 2008

August round up

August began with good intentions about writing lots of posts and really getting myself up to date but ended in failure, and with me seriously in need of cheering up, so I've signed up for the RIP Challenge (see my last post) in the hope that I can persuade myself to celebrate the arrival of autumn rather than mourn the loss of summer (what summer?). I'm sitting here watching yet another downpour, there is a soggy patch in the middle of my duvet where The Bolter, having come in from a game of ball in the rain, flung herself down, and I'm freezing because the mosquito bites on my shoulder (unwelcome legacy of our non-summer) overheat if I wear a sweater. And it's long past time for summing up August's books:
  • Blood Trail by Tanya Huff
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - reread
  • What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge - reread
  • Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
  • Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh
  • The Dig by John Preston
  • Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher
  • A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle
  • The Moon By Night by Madeleine L'Engle
  • And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle
  • Still Life by Louise Penny
There's something of a L'Engle preoccupation here – I have been enjoying her books immensely; even when she isn't writing her own brand of science fiction I like her, and the first volume of her diaries, A Circle of Quiet, is thoughtful, candid and engaging. Much of her fiction is unashamedly drawn from her own life and she clearly identifies strongly with her young characters, particularly Vicky in the Austins series, or Flip in And Both Were Young. This last is set in a boarding school in Switzerland, reminding me immediately of the Chalet School stories and indeed, the young Flip goes through the same sort of transformation I remember as characteristic of Brent-Dyer's books, and the reason why I liked them. L'Engle complains in her diaries about her tendency to state the obvious, but I think it can take courage and conviction to do so, and it seems to me that much of the appeal of her writing is her willingness to do just that, to talk about those qualities that have become unfashionable – humility, compassion and charity (in its original sense). L'Engle was a Christian, and I'm not, but I find her universalism marries well with my woolly neo-Aristotelianism, and I spend a good deal of time staring into space thinking about what she has to say; it even prompts me, as I write this, to look at the rich shades of green outside the window, rather than the rain, and to notice that there is much coming and going of small birds in the ash tree opposite, and the swallows are wheeling against a grey sky.

I re-read What Katy Did and The Secret Garden so that I can start recording my thoughts about the individual books on my list of children's writing, so posts on both will follow. I found myself wanting very much to follow Katy Carr's later adventures in just the same way I did when younger. Next on this particular reading list, however, is Little House on the Prairie.

Ann at Table Talk recommended John Preston's The Dig, and wrote about it here, much better than I should do. It left me wanting to read up on the Sutton Hoo excavations, and grateful for the variety of information available on the web to satisfy these dilettante-ish wishes. I read Louise Penny's Still Life for the Second Canadian Book Challenge, so it will be the subject of a future post (must do it soon!). The first in a series of detective stories set in rural Quebec, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Finally, Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher, was another book that set me searching the Internet, this time for photos and locations of the statues who come to life in this first of a series. This book seems to have had a somewhat mixed reception when it was published a couple of years ago but it was nominated for the Carnegie medal, and I enjoyed it. It may be more fun if you know London a little: there's a good map at the start but, in the old days it might have been illustrated by someone like Charles Keeping, who would have provided wonderfully muscular images. The descriptive writing is good, though, and the multi-layered un-London, with its history which is accessible to Edie, because she is special – a "glint" – should spark curiosity among the book's readers. The first depiction that I remember of London's frost fairs was in Woolf's Orlando (where it rather took second place to my worries about the ambivalent sexuality of the protagonist – I was much too young to be reading it); here the event is chilling in every sense. Because Fletcher's London is simultaneously Dickensian, Elizabethan and modern the sense of place and timelessness is strong, while the impression of temporal dislocation is reflected in the insecurities of the two children, George and Edie, who are forced into premature independence by their dysfunctional backgrounds, and by the events George unwittingly triggers when he breaks a carving at the Natural History Museum. The book's conclusion is subdued, with the promise of an even scarier sequel. Apparently the film rights have been sold: in the right hands this could be a splendidly terrifying film.


  1. You're the second person today to mention What Katy Did. I loved it as a child and still do.
    How did you get on with Ngaio Marsh? I don't like her as much as I do Margery Allingham. Her murders are too complicated and so often seem unnecessary. I do enjoy the period flavour in earlier books like Vintage Murder. Overture to Death is rather a favourite.

  2. This is quite a nice list for the month of August. The only book on here that I've read is the Secret Garden, which I adored.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. I've been meaning to re-read What Katy Did all summer (when was that??), maybe this autumn or winter!

    Stoneheart intersts me, even though I don't know London very well - very little actually.

    I decided to start with Friday's Child for the Heyer Challenge, but admit that I have also read the first few pages of the Heyer novel as well.

  5. Thank you all for your comments! Katy Carr and Mary Lennox are so easy to identify with as a child, I think, because they aren't perfect, and I was an old-fashioned child even by the standard of the '50s (now there's a surprise - me, old-fashioned, bookish? who would have thought?).

    Ngaio Marsh - yes, I like the earlier books best, and enjoy the period theatre detail: theatres were pretty much the same when I was a child and spent a lot of time in them so there is a sense of familiarity which I enjoy. Allingham, however, manages to be at once frivolous and dark, and I find her much more satisfying.

    Booksplease, I think Stoneheart is worth reading, and you can find most of the locations with a bit of Googling - I certainly tracked down some pictures. Maybe I'll post some links, it might be fun.

  6. Oh, I'm sorry you needed cheering. I wish I were closer. We could put on wellies and take a walk in that English rain and mud. :<)
    I really did love The Secret Garden. I fear that it is one of those books that people don't read because they think they know the story; like Pollyanna or Heidi, but yet is so fresh, with such good writing that the reader is thrilled. Not only was L'Engle a Christian, but a really devout Episcopalian. I'm so interested in her as a person because she really seemed to live her beliefs. And my goodness, she was prolific! So many books.

  7. Nan. I'd really enjoy that walk, and I've even made gingerbread.
    The only disappointment with The Secret Garden was that it seems to have grown shorter over the years - I didn't want it to end.
    After all the L'Engle I've been reading Rose McCaulay's The Towers of Trebizond, which I rather think she might have enjoyed. I'm still thinking over their different approaches to religion.

  8. I loved What Katy Did! and I'm glad you liked Still Life enough to look for the second book in the series, which I am also looking for now too. I really enjoyed the first book. I love your shelves, by the way, all those lovely books!!

  9. I'm so glad you enjoyed 'The Dig'. I thought it was a wonderful novel and one that deserved far more attention than it seems to have received. I also loved 'Stoneheart' and your comments have made me want to go back and re-read that. Just as I could do with another dose of Katy Carr. I wonder if my local library has got all the later ones about Clover? I shall have to pop round this morning and see. Or I would if the rain wasn't bouncing off the pavements again. And as for those mosquitos! I'm not going to tell you where I was bitten but suffice it to say it was lower down than the shoulders and looks as if I've been behaving no better than I ought!

  10. Susan, thanks for blogging about Louise Penny, I wouldn't have known about her otherwise (and I haven't forgotten I owe you an email!)

    TT, I wondered if you'd read Stoneheart - did you post about it? I have to add the sequel to the wish list, but I've already added 5 other books to it this morning, and now those Clover Carr books are just begging to join it.

  11. You know how much I like L'Engle, for all the reason you describe so well. A Circle of Quiet is one of my favourites of her non-fiction.

    I also loved Katy Carr when I was young, I even thought it would be romantic to be an invalid for a while. Although I don't quite feel that way anymore, I still enjoy Katy and Clover.

  12. What a list! I would love to reread The Secret Garden one day.