I somehow managed to miss the announcement of Simon and Kaggsy's 1944 Club - I've actually ordered a book but I suspect it won't arrive in time for a review this week. However I found something in the archives - a book I'd enjoyed tremendously - so here's my review, first published eight years ago.
I'm guessing that L P Hartley is not exactly a name to conjure with these days. If you've been around long enough you might have seen the 1970 film of his most famous novel, The Go-Between ("The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there"), or indeed read the novel itself. Beautiful, romantic, and ultimately tragic, that novel is celebrated for its portrayal of childhood innocence betrayed by a pair of socially ill-matched lovers.
Here we have another take on early 20th-century childhood, though written in the early 1940s.The protagonist, from whose perspective the story is told, is Eustace, aged just nine when the novel begins. Gentle, sensitive, imaginative, Eustace lives much of his life in a dream world, from which he often has to be dragged unwillingly by his older sister Hilda. Their mother having died a few years earlier, Hilda has taken it upon herself to bring Eustace up according to her own strict and puritanical standards. Generally speaking Eustace is willing to comply -- his occasional inner rebellion against her educational policies is usually tempered by his own sense of guilt and unworthiness. In fact the only time he does really rebel, going off on a long cross-country run with lively, pretty Nancy Steptoe, ends in disaster as he has a weak heart and becomes seriously ill as a result. In retribution he has to obey Hilda's demand that he go and have tea with an old lady, Miss Fothergill, of whom he is terrified on account of her appearance and her inability to walk. Once he does overcome his fear, though, he takes great pleasure in his visits to her house, and after her death he gets a legacy which changes his entire future.
This is a beautifully written novel, fascinating in its depiction of these two children. We see Hilda only through the eyes of Eustace, who adores and fears her, but her motives are clearer to the reader. This is particularly true of her unwillingness to accept the frequent invitations she gets from wealthy, privileged Dick Staveley, who has noticed her beauty and tries to persuade her to go to tea or to go riding with him. Eustace thinks Hilda dislikes Dick and hates horses, but in fact the opposite seems to be true, and her refusal is probably owing to her puritanism and to an instinctive feeling that any relationship with Dick will turn out badly for her.
But it is Eustace whose inner life is most clearly seen and this is most wonderfully and perceptively done. I was a little bit reminded at times of William Maxwell's great novel, They Came Like Swallows, another book about a sensitive small boy. Hartley went on to write two more novels about these two, ending up with a trilogy which now often appears as one book under the title Eustace and Hilda.
Princess Mafalda of Savoy by Leonard Campbell Taylor (1874 – 1969) a British painter, mainly of portraits and interiors in a traditional style.
Princess Mafalda of Savoy was married to Queen Victoria’s great grandson and was the daughter of the Italian King Victor Emmanuel III. During WW II, Hitler believed she was working against the war effort; he called her the “blackest carrion in the Italian royal house.” She was imprisoned and died at the Buchenwald concentration camp.
The newspaper is on the floor, the breakfast is on the table. This is A Helensburgh Breakfast by Annie Rose Laing (British painter) 1869 - 1946
Annie Rose Low was born in Glasgow where she spent most of her life and where she exhibited her first picture in 1894, A Garden, Largo. She travelled to Algeria in 1895 and exhibited a number of the scenes painted there at the Glasgow Institute exhibition in the following year. Upon her return to Glasgow, she began to paint the sophisticated portraits and interiors for which she gained her reputation as an artist and she continued to exhibit in the city for the following three decades. In 1898 she married the Aberdeen painter James Garden Laing.
If you'd told me ten years ago that I'd become a fan of stories featuring vampires and witches, I probably wouldn't have believed it. But here I am four books in to Deborah Harkness's fat and juicy volumes still enjoying myself tremendously. Here's a link to my review on Shiny of this latest delightful and sometimes rather informative romp. I can't believe many people reading this will be unaware of the adventures of gorgeous, centuries-old, vampire Matthew Clermont and his delightful witch wife Diana Bishop, but if you are, take it from me, there's a lot of fun to be had here, and some apparently solid historical research too.
Of course if you've got Sky you may already have been watching A Discovery of Witches, the dramatisation of the first volume of the All Souls Trilogy (this new one is a sort of offshoot, though the same characters appear). I haven't got Sky otherwise I'd be watching it.
Briefly, Time's Convert centres on a young (well, actually 2oo year old) vampire named Marcus, who has fallen in love with a 'warmblood', beautiful Phoebe, who has undertaken to be transformed into a vampire. A long period of separation is necessary, and to keep Marcus from going crazy his stepmother Diana encourages him to tell her the story of his life, which spans two revolutions, American and French, and takes in lots of exciting adventures on the way. Just the thing for those long autumn evenings, with Halloween on the horizon.
When I spot likely pictures online I try to do a little research which mostly consists of dragging them into Google images and having a quick dash at wikipedia. I had a bit of trouble tracking this one down but I believe it to be called 'Gift' by Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837). The page I found it on dated it to 1788 which surprised me a bit as these high-waisted dresses didn't come in till the late 1790s. I assume the gift is the dog, sent with a letter from an admirer.
I'd never heard of Gérard before but apparently she was much admired in her day and was the sister in law of the celebrated artist Fragonard, whose house she lived in from the age of 8.
If you're interested in the history of women's fashions, here's a fascinating website which shows them year by year from 1784, illustrations taken from fashion plates of each year.
I've spent decades looking forward to reading Isabel Allende and somehow never getting around to it, so I was really pleased when this one was chosen for my relatively new but highly enjoyable book group. Almost everybody loved it, which was good, and we had an interesting discussion.
Set in an un-named South American country - one reader was annoyed that it wasn't specified but the rest of us thought that worked well - this is a classic example of a bildungsroman, as the story begins with Eva's conception and takes us through her extremely varied life up to her coming of age as a mature woman.
The illegitimate daughter of a maid, Eva lives a wild, free existence until, when she is six, her mother dies. She's taken into a convent to be brought up with other orphans until she's old enough to go into domestic service. Her life is hard, but she eases the dissatisfaction by making use of a gift she finds she has been blessed with - the ability to tell stories. This sees her though many vicissitudes including a period living in a brothel, being fostered by a kind-hearted Turkish shopkeeper and his terminally depressed wife, living rough on the city streets and being befriended by an older street urchin, Huberto Naranjo, who later becomes a shady businessman and then a guerrilla fighter. She makes friends with a beautiful transexual who takes her in and helps her become a professional writer, and she plays a part in the revolution which will overturn the country's oppressive dictator.
Eva Luna is a wonderfully full, rich novel. I loved its amazingly evocative depictions of the varied South American world, from jungle to small town to city - it's a place I've always longed to visit but have always thought it would be rather overwhelming. The secondary characters are wonderfully vivid, and include Rolf Carle, an Austrian boy who ends up in South America, living with relatives - he eventually becomes a successful film maker and will play an important part in Eva's later life, having emerged from a hilariously erotic menage a trois with his two cousins. There's plenty of gritty reality here, but Allende is celebrated partly for her use of magic realism, and there are some moments of magic here too.
One of our group (male) characterised it as a feminist novel, which, though I dislike labels, I suppose it is. Certainly it's about a woman who starts life about as powerless as it's possible to be and ends up happy and successful after a lot of very challenging ups and downs. But to put it in a box is to minimise Allende's achievement, which is to tell the story of a small life in a brilliantly grand and impressive way - there's wit, excitement, intelligence, magic - what more could you want.
Actually 'Blue Girl Reading' by the German Expressionist artist August Macke (1887-1914), who I'd never heard of till this lovely painting appeared on one of my birthday cards this week. His dates give a clue to his sadly short life - he was killed in WW1 aged only 27.
This picture shows the recent Penguin edition of this 1955 novel, but in fact I read it in a very battered French paperback found in an attic sale. I've since discovered that it has been made into a TV adaptation with Rowan Atkinson, but I was so disappointed with his first outing as Maigret that I've avoided any future ones. I now rather wish I had seen it, though I can't imagine it did justice to what is a fascinating novel.
Maigret is caught up in what is one of the most challenging cases of his career - a series of five violent murders, all taking place in the same small area of Montmartre. Women are the victims, and seem to have nothing in common apart from all being slightly plump. They have been viciously stabbed, their clothes shredded by the same knife. Maigret is at his wits end.
He and Mme Maigret go to a dinner party with their old friends and neighbours M. and Mme Pardon. Another guest is a psychiatrist, M. Tissot. After dinner, Maigret gets into a long discussion with him regarding the probable psychology of the murderer - Maigret is sure that if he understood the man's motivation he would be able to track him down. The conversation leaves him with much to think about, and next day he makes a decision - he will let it be known to the press that he has caught the killer. His hope is that the real culprit will be immediately impelled to start again, to prove he is still on the loose. The entire Paris police force is sent to Montmartre the evening after the press announcement - all dotted around in disguise in various likely locations in order, hopefully, to catch the man before he commits another crime. In fact an attempt is made, but the murderer is disturbed before he is able to kill, and he escapes without being caught. However, the intended victim, a young policewoman in plain clothes, thinks she may be able to identify him, and has managed to pull a button off his suit jacket. It is this button which, having been taken round the various button wholesalers, leads to the identification of a man who is almost certainly responsible. The man is taken in for questioning, and Maigret is convinced he has found the culprit, but then another identical murder takes place. Was Maigret mistaken?
It's hard to convey what is so gripping about this story without giving too much away. The character of the killer and those of his family members are wonderfully well observed and wholly convincing. One of the high points of the novel is a long passage near the end which consists of a long monologue addressed by Maigret to the obstinately silent suspect, in which he lays out all the details of his past life and describes with great accuracy the feelings and events which led him to commit these terrible crimes.
I've read a few Maigret novels in the past few months, and others in the past too. I've enjoyed them all but this one seemed to me peculiarly interesting - though maybe I say that every time. Definitely recommended.
Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) is probably best known for his paintings of flowers - he even had a rose named after him and very beautiful it is too. But he also had quite a line in women reading - often to another woman - it's 'a theme the artist particularly liked' according the the Musee d"Orsay website. I've shown a couple of these in the past but hopefully not this one. Not that it matters as it's lovely anyway. Is the listener really listening? Or just gazing at the artist? Hopefully she's really absorbed in the story.