Monday, 3 November 2008

A late September book round-up!

September's books were:
  • Thrones, Dominations by Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy Sayers
  • I Leap Over the Wall by Monica Baldwin
  • Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham - reread
  • The Autumn Castle by Kim Wilkins
  • The Scent of the Night by Andrea Camilleri
  • Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham - reread
  • The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham - reread
  • Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
  • A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle
  • The Towers of Trebizond by Rose McCaulay
  • Witchfire at Lammas by Robert Neill
  • Old School by Tobias Wolff
  • Scar Night by Alan Campbell
  • The Beckoning Lady by Margery Allingham - reread
Very late getting to this, but I don't want to ignore it altogether so I am going to squeeze it in before the October round up. There is only space to write about some of September's reading, I fear. The Allingham project – reading all of her Campion novels – is something I shall return to later, and you've heard a lot about Madeleine L'Engle from me in recent months. Tobias Wolff's Old School was discussed at some length by the Cornflower book club, so I shan't say more here, while The Towers of Trebizond is worthy of proper consideration, so I shall save it for later.

Dorothy Sayers never finished her last Wimsey novel, Thrones, Dominations but, not only did Jill Paton Walsh do an excellent job in completing it, she went on to write a sequel. Here, with the threat of war ever in the background, we have a portrait of two marriages, that of theatrical angel Lawrence Harwell and his wife Rosamund, constantly in the public eye and noted for their open adoration of each other, and that of Harriet and Peter, newly wed and full of careful consideration for each other's sensibilities. The first ends in disaster and murder, whereas Harriet and Peter, for whom love is something never to be worn on a sleeve, reach an understanding of the abiding depths of their passion.

During the later days of World War II, Monica Baldwin, niece to Sir Stanley Baldwin and cousin of novelists Denis McPhail and Angela Thirkell, left the convent where she had spent 28 years and set about trying to earn her living and contribute to the war effort. She documented the resulting struggle in I Leap Over the Wall. Convent life left her reluctant to resign herself to teaching in a girls' school, the only thing she was really qualified to do, but her efforts as a land girl were doomed by poor health and despite her determination she spent months moving between relatives and friends, fitting in nowhere, while life around her moved at a pace which left her baffled. Don't imagine that this is the sort of book Monica Dickens would have written, full of cheerful disaster and making do – Baldwin is carefully rational about her choices to enter, and then to leave, the convent, and much of the book focuses on the rationale for, and the exigencies of, monastic life.

Finally, I managed to read three books for Carl's R.I.P. III Challenge, though I only wrote about two of them: Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle and The Autumn Castle by Kim Wilkins. My third book was Witchfire at Lammas by Robert Neill, which I happened across for 99p in one of those bins outside a bookseller's. Neill's best-known work was Mist Over Pendle, written in 1951 and one of those books that mothers pass on to their daughters to read (though my best friend's mother passed it on to him). I remember getting it out of the library when I was about 13, and "discovering" the Lancashire Witches. There's a wonderful picture of Pendle Hill over at Juxtabook, with a list of the witches who were hanged. Witchfire at Lammas returns to the same territory in 1715, the year of the first Jacobite rising in Scotland, when supporters of the Old Pretender were canvassing on his behalf south of the border. Neill's portrait of a rural society riven by suspicion of witchcraft rings true, I think, although it's gentler than I expected, perhaps slightly too much so (but I was grateful for a relaxing, rather than harrowing, read). I'd like to know more about this writer, but have been unable to find any information about him, although I know his books span two centuries or so of English history, and include a wonderful Regency novel called The Shocking Miss Anstey, a spiced-up Heyer-style romance.

The next post will be on October's reading – soon, I hope, but a week of London meetings may intervene, even though I'd rather be writing about books.


  1. What a lot you read in September!

    Mist Over Pendle was a great favourite of mine when I was a teenager too. I've been meaning to re-read it since last year when I visited friends who live near Pendle Hill. I didn't know about Witchfire at Lammas - another one to look out for now.

  2. The Towers of Trebizond - isn't it a fascinating read? Look forward to your thoughts on it.

  3. I'm quite interested in I Leap Over the Wall, and perhaps the first Pendle book. My gosh, there are a lot of books I've not heard of. I count on my British blogger friends to introduce me to writers and books that I'm quite sure I'll love. Thank you.

  4. You might like to know that the sequel to Thrones, Dominations is very good too.

  5. I love your bookshelves! And am posting about Tamsin shortly too - I left a comment on your post, lovely review!!! I admire all the books you read despite all the travelling....i'm hoping I can read some books over the holidays, but have no idea what even to bring!!

  6. Margaret, it was lots of travelling and not enough sleeping! I often read if I wake in the middle of the night.

    Juxtabook, it's a post I don't want to rush, it's such a wonderful book.

    Nan, I Leap Over the Wall is quite a serious book, and I would have liked to have it out of the library for longer - one to ponder on. Mist Over Pendle depicts a fascinating bit of British history, and I recommend it.

    Martin, I shall read it, I was impressed by the first (I rather like Jill Paton Walsh's Imogen Quy novels, too).

    Susan, as I said above, in part it's because of the travelling, and having to spend time in hotels - I would much rather read something good than watch television when I'm away from home.

  7. As this post was quite a long time ago, this may not get read, but all I want to say is whilst I love the books on your shelves, I don't see any system/organization as to how they're arranged? Tangye's Confusion Room near Mary Stewart? Non-fiction with fiction, T before S? Are they just shoved on the shelves at random, where they fit best? I have a sort-of system (all systems have their irregularities, a bit like French verbs!) Hardback fiction in the bed sitting room; Persephone books on the swivel book case (along with Lorna Hill's ballet books); antiques, poetry, end-of-alphabet hardback fiction in the work room; paperback fiction in the dining room; collections (Levin, Tangye, Trollope Dickens, Austen, pocket books, country books, in the sitting room; biog, art and decor, country, history and lots of other things including children's in the study and so on. And within each section, there is some sort of scheme, so that biog is alphabetical (subject, of course.)
    Margaret Powling

  8. Oh, Margaret, there's a question! I am sorry to say there is virtually no rhyme or reason. That picture is of the bookshelves in the little hallway next to "my" room - books there are mainly mine, so there is a collection of 18th century material, and the overspill from my philosophy books, but otherwise it is pretty much what will fit, needed a home, or is easily to hand but not actually in my room which is equally disorganised but contains my core collection. The disorganisation used not to be a problem since I could tell you exactly where any book was - since all my shelves are now double-stacked I can't do that nearly so reliably.

    This is one of the disadvantages of moving to a smaller house. And have I mentioned I have an ever-expanding bookshelf in Devon? I do envy anyone with space to be organised, I can't even separate unread from read.