Thursday, 4 February 2010

January’s Books (2010)

Appleby and the Ospreys by Michael Innes
The Caxley Chronicles by Miss Read
One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes - re-read
Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart – re-read
Tulku by Peter Dickinson - reread
The Nebuly Coat by John Meade Falkner
More Work for the Undertaker by Margery Allingham
The Cat Who Said Cheese by Lilian Jackson Braun
Ankle Deep by Angela Thirkell
The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip - reread
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford

The first reading round-up of the year! As usual, only a couple of reviews completed (I’m resigned now to not reviewing everything I read); there are reviews of some to come (Tulku, Ankle Deep, and an overdue one for Rebel Angels amongst them) but here are brief thoughts on a few of the others.

I don’t quite know what to make of Death and the Penguin. The book it reminded me of most is Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog, written in 1925, though this is much more gentle and apparently, less angry. However, the Bulgakov was easier to interpret. I felt with Death and the Penguin that there were allusions to Ukrainian society that I was missing. The themes are obviously isolation and alienation and much is only hinted at. It’s both funny and sad, though sadness was certainly the predominant emotion I experienced – I had to leave it at one stage because I couldn’t bear any more, but I did go back and finish it, and was glad I had. Melanie at The Indextrious Reader has written a much better review than I could, so I shall gratefully yield the floor to her.

Don’t Tell Alfred was written a long time after The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, and tells the story of Alfred and Fanny’s move to Paris where he has been appointed Ambassador. At first I found it such an anachronism that it jarred, but then I decided that Mitford moved in exactly the sort of limited world she was writing about. It was quite pleasant and jolly in the end, but nothing to compare with the two earlier books.

Two really sparkling, old-fashioned detective stories brightened a dark month: More Work for the Undertaker is vintage Allingham, deliciously silly mayhem ensues as Mr Campion investigates a suspected poisoning in a family of eccentrics. Appleby and the Ospreys is late Innes and far from his best, but it had moments of fun, especially in the (too rare) interjections from Judith Appleby, whose hilarity is probably inappropriate in a policeman’s wife, but as enjoyable to the reader as it is to her husband.

I had forgotten Miss Read’s distinctive style of storytelling until I read The Caxley Chronicles. It’s very old-fashioned, the omniscient narrator paints a picture of the small market town of Caxley, focusing from time to time on particular events or characters and then the broad sweep of events move on. The two books cover the period from 1901-50 from the point of view of two families, the Howards and the Norths, sometimes close, sometimes at odds, but with their fates always intertwined. Although much loved by Thirkellites, her style and subject matter share more with Lark Rise to Candleford or A Child in the Forest, dealing with the everyday concerns of ordinary people. In turn, Miss Read’s influence can be seen across a range of modern writing, from Agatha Raisin to Katie Fforde and, I gather from the library shelves, quite a lot of instantly-forgettable stuff in between. Unlike Thirkell, Miss Read doesn’t provoke squeals of delighted outrage, and I have to admit to finding her a trifle earnest (is that two oxymorons in one sentence?)


  1. I did enjoy More Work for the Undertaker and it sounds as though you did too... I read it on my honeymoon and I think my husband thought it was a slightly curious choice! Enjoy your reviewing, Hannah

  2. Terrific choice, Hannah :) Thanks for visiting.