The Week Before Christmas by Freda C Bond is the second of four books about the Carol family, which I mentioned briefly here. The cover and black & white drawings are by Mays, who illustrated Noel Streatfeild’s Curtain Up and many of the Jennings books.

The four Carol children live with their parents in a smart London flat, with ‘Posset’ as they call her, coming in every day to do the work. How agreeable. At the start of the Christmas holidays the younger children, Squibs and Tony, fear that things will be dull until Christmas. Instead, in the week of the title they find themselves hunting for their mother’s stolen ring, tracking a missing child, getting on the trail of turkey rustlers and befriending a nice refugee family. Tony’s life is busy as he has a good singing voice and is very involved with the local church choir. He takes religion seriously as does older sister Susan, who goes to a boarding school run by Anglican nuns. You can tell what sort of girl she is when she takes a liking to a girl they meet, thinking, ‘I bet she’d make a wizard prefect.’ Lawrence is also at boarding school and turning into a languid, arrogant public schoolboy. At home with his family he becomes quite human and as keen on adventures and planning a Christmas charade as the rest of them.

From the jacket blurb: What we especially like about Freda Bond’s books is that they are happy stories about real-life people, who manage to have adventures in their everyday comings and goings. Her children and grown-ups alike are lovable and natural – the sort of folk who might live next door to you. If your neighbour happened to be a famous actress, that is. As far as I’m concerned, the Carols need never have any adventures at all; I like just to read about their daily lives in post-war London.
Angela Thirkell and more )

1948 reprint

I bought my first book by Angela Thirkell donkey’s years ago, probably at a jumble sale. I loved it and since then have managed to acquire all her books, either in hardback or in old Penguin editions. The reason there are so many mentions on my blog is that I so often re-read her books.

For those less lucky, it’s been good news that Virago are republishing Thirkell. The latest reissue, Cheerfulness Breaks In is just out this month. I was shocked to see Amazon reviewers giving the book only one star, but found it was because people buying this for the Kindle have been sent the wrong book! So be warned.

The reason for this post is really to point you at this excellent review of Cheerfulness Breaks In. Just follow the link on the blog.

Virago edition 2016

The Book People have three of Angela Thirkell’s novels for £4.99. Tempting as these pretty covers are, I certainly don’t need the new editions as I already have all her Barsetshire novels. A good opportunity for someone wanting to give Thirkell a go, as you’re unlikely to find her books in a library these days. The blurb says that the books are perfect for lovers of Stella Gibbons, Dodie Smith and Barbara Pym. Pah! Thirkell was a better writer than any of those authors.

July Books

Aug. 1st, 2011 11:41 am


The Bachelor Prince, Debbie Macomber
Jerry, Jean Webster, Kindle
Authobiography, Anthony Trollope, Kindle
The Return of Captain John Emmett, Elizabeth Speller
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole. Unfinished.
The Birds Fall Down, Rebecca West. Unfinished.
Emily Dennistoun, D E Stevenson
The Fair Miss FortuneD E Stevenson
Dearly Beloved, Mary Burchell
By Angela Thirkell
Before Lunch
The Headmistress
Miss Bunting
thoughts )

I’ve been a bored reader recently. Too many trips to the library just to come away with nothing. Books started and cast aside. Bloggers writing about new books I couldn’t possibly want to read or old ones I know I dislike. The Booker longlist coming out soon; yawn, yawn. So I turned with a sigh of relief to Angela Thirkell and picked Before Lunch because it’s a while since I read it. My copy of the book isn’t very pretty so I’ve used a pic of part of my Thirkell shelf.The reflection is because the books have plastic covers on.

I just loved every reading moment of this book and looked forward to getting back to it. Set of course in Barsetshire (I still think Thirkell had a cheek appropriating the Trollope landscape) it features the Middletons of Laverings, Skeynes. Mr Middleton, an architect and amateur farmer, is one of the garrulous windbags Thirkell wrote about so well. These characters gave her plenty of scope for dialogue, which was what she excelled at. Mrs Middleton is a nice woman who puts up with her husband’s selfishness but often has ‘tired eyes’, as so many nice women in Barsetshire seem to. One summer (the book was published in 1939), Mr Middleton’s sister comes to stay next door with her two stepchildren, who are not much younger than she is. Daphne is a pretty and frightfully jolly girl who likes nothing better than sitting up all night for a calving; Denis is a musician who has been an invalid for most of his life.

Throw into this circle Mr Middleton’s architect partner Alister Cameron, young Mr Bond, known as CW, plus assorted lords (Bond, Stoke, Pomfret) and other neighbours we’ve met before (Palmers, Tebbens). Stir them up with love affairs, rural events like The Agricultural (show) and sundry yokels and amusing servants (sorry, you have to take the snobbery for granted). The result is a light, sparkling, funny story which is extremely well written, especially when compared with some of Thirkell’s later books. I tend to like the earlier novels like Wild Strawberries, High Rising and Summer Half. Now I’m wondering which to pick next. This could be another major re-read.
Yet again I’m indebted to Liberal England for a link to a wonderful little transport film. In this one from 1963, Sir John Betjeman travels on the Somerset and Dorset Joint Line, narrating in his inimitable style, defending the usefulness of the old branch lines. I’ve travelled the old Great Western line more times than I can remember but never a mile on the Somerset and Dorset. I was rather disappointed that the film is entirely about Somerset, with Dorset only coming into it because the train has come from Sturminster Newton. When we first moved down here the trains were long gone but the station was still standing and you could walk along the old deserted tracks. Now that too has been swept away and the area turned into an industrial estate. The surrounding streets are known to conservation planners as ‘Railway Town’; I’ve never heard anyone call them that in real life.

Apart from Betjeman’s melancholy tones, the best thing about this film is the sound of the trains. You can almost smell the steam, while the birdsong at Pylle reminds one of Adlestrop. There aren’t many people about but just look at them enjoying the swinging sixties :-). They might have come out of one of Angela Thirkell’s novels, on the line from Waterloo to Skeynes, passing through Winter Overcotes and Worsted.

I can't make the embedded code work here, so you'll have to hop over to Liberal England to see the film.

Hot Reads

Jun. 3rd, 2009 08:19 am
I was going to post today about Mary Portas and her doomed attempt to turn around a failing charity shop but [profile] thelondonpauper has said it all brilliantly already. So, having misled you twice...

What do you read in a heat wave? (No sign of it ending today here in Dorset.)
There’s something about the rare summer weather we get that makes people indulge in a Country Living English dream: a garden full of blowsy roses, meals outside (don’t say patio), Pimms, strawberries, just-picked salad leaves, cucumber sandwiches; a sort of Emma Bridgewater/Cath Kidston-fest of chunky china on flowery cloths. Katie Fforde fits the bill here. I’m currently reading Practically Perfect but it’s nothing like as good as Wild Designs, which has an older heroine, a lovely house, gardening and even the Chelsea Flower Show. Raffaella Barker’s story of upper middle class life in rural Norfolk, Summertime, could be photographed to fill an issue of Period Living. For the real thing rather than aspiration, Angela Thirkell is a good choice: try Wild Strawberries, Summer Half or Before Lunch. And you can never go wrong with a P G Wodehouse like Stormy Heavy Weather.

Where did the month go?

I’ve just read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and will now add my voice to the chorus of praise for it. I wouldn’t expect to describe a book which begins with 'orrible murder as charming, yet it is. Nobody Owens, known as Bod, escapes as a baby from the man out to kill him and finds refuge in the graveyard, where he is brought up and kept safe. It’s the graveyard folk who make the story so delightful. They’ve lived in different centuries and preserve their habits and speech patterns and they are always introduced by the inscriptions on their graves; just one of many touches of humour in the book. It’s cleverly written to be exciting for children without being too frightening. 'The man Jack' is sinister, the threat to Bod is real, but the reader never doubts that Silas, Bod’s guardian, will rescue him from any pickle he gets himself into. This reader lost it when it’s revealed that the child has been predestined from blah, blah, blah. It’s just me; I don’t like that sort of story and I never will. Ignoring that (sorry, fantasy lovers) it’s a wonderful book. More books )
The Guardian's '1,000 novels everyone must read' is like an enormous book blog. Rather didactic in approach, it's naturally got people talking. Today I had a look at Comedy. I'm glad to see Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis and Geoffrey Willans given their due, but where is Jane Austen? The introduction to the list rightly points out that comedy can have a serious purpose; can't a book be romantic and funny?

Stephen Moss (who he?) writes of Decline and Fall, ‘Waugh's bleak, amoral first novel is a young man's book, best read by young men (and perhaps the odd woman).’ That's me then, the odd woman, because I've read the book countless times and not just when I was young. Angela Thirkell is listed, hurrah! but an oddly chosen title, I thought: Before Lunch. ‘Published in 1939, Thirkell's irresistible comedy of manners is the most well-known of her Barsetshire series’. I wouldn't have thought that was true and it's not one of my favourites. What do other Thirkell fans think? Michael Frayn is rightly on the list but for Towards the End of the Morning (very funny) and not The Tin Men (even funnier). In fact, one of my favourite comic novels.

Any omissions/strange inclusions strike you?

Edit: I've just realised that Adrian Mole has been overlooked. Just his luck.
Here’s a meme from [ profile] girlyswot
Comment on this post.
I will give you a letter.
Think of 5 fictional characters and post their names and your comments on these characters in your LJ.

She’s given me the letter ‘M’. You're very welcome to comment, whether or not you want a letter!

Meryon Fairbrass. Descended from Sussex pirates, he is tough, handsome, clever, amusing. You’d think he was too good to be true except that his creator, Monica Edwards, based him on a real life boy whom she said was all that and more. Forms one of the Westling foursome with Tamzin, Rissa and Roger.

Mary of the John & Mary books by Grace James. She’s sensible, realistic, more of a Martha, really. One of the reasons I like her so much is that I feel all the characters in the books and the author herself preferred John.

Miss Mole. Not really a favourite character but a good excuse to push again the novels of E H Young, which I enjoy so much. A single woman with no money, dependent on dreary work but finding happiness by defying convention. A much better book IMO than Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

Mrs Morland, ‘happily widowed’ writer of detective stories. She features in many of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels, starting with High Rising. Apparently vague and disorganized (her hair is always coming down); actually hard working single mother of four boys. Her son Tony is much fancied by aficionados.

Jonathan ‘Jonah’ Mansel, cousin of Berry in the novels of Dornford Yates. War hero, ace driver of only the best cars, murderer (only murders villains, so that’s OK), a man of wealth and taste.

I've achieved my ambition of a vase of sweet peas on the kitchen table every single day for (I hope) three months. I don't grow them properly so as the season goes on the stems will get shorter and shorter but the flowers will still smell as good. Those in the vase are just a basic Unwins mix. In the past I've added in the variety 'Matucana', which has small, dark flowers and is very strongly scented. It's an odd fact that while most serious growers are men, sweet peas are regarded as quintessentially feminine. One thinks of Angela Thirkell's Mrs Brandon, draped in soft chiffons, reclining on a sofa. On her very first appearance (in The Brandons) she 'had collected another great bunch of sweet peas and was holding them thoughtfully to her face,' More sweet pea pictures )
I bought this book because I liked the cover. It is written in the first person by Sir Roger Marrion of Wynyates, Surrey, and purports to be his war journals. He and his wife Richenda, one of those Dresden porcelain invalids with an unspecified complaint and always described as ‘a great lady', make Wynyates self sufficient for the war, never forgetting the cottagers. The book is an unconvincing defence of an old, feudal rural order and full of astonishing assertions such as that The Battle of Britain was won by men wearing ‘the old school tie’ and that ‘Eton never surrenders’. It is quite dreadful. I had never before read a book by Warwick Deeping and looking at the long list of titles on the back, the only one I recognized was Sorrell and Son. I now burn to read Mad Barbara.

Warwick Deeping died in 1950 and The Old World Dies was published posthumously in 1954. This set me thinking about other popular authors who were nearing the ends of their writing lives by 1945 and my first thought was of Dornford Yates, who died in 1960. Lower Than Vermin, published in 1949, made me shriek when I first read it as a teenager. The title, of course, comes from Aneurin Bevan’s notorious description of the Tories, made at a meeting of the Labour party in 1948. Yates’s book is another defence of the old ways, showing how a noble family had sacrificed generations of young men for its country, only to be rewarded with the loss of everything they possessed and stood for. Unfortunately the book is full of wildly intemperate and ludicrous statements and the Socialist (Boo!) character turns out to be a murderer. Poor old Yates. He couldn’t stand the new order, which he observed from afar in Southern Rhodesia.

Angela Thirkell is another author who ruined her post war books by constant references to THEM, by which she meant the Labour government. In one she even refers to ‘the happy days of the war’ when England stood alone. Sadly, these writers blamed the new government for what was really the result of five years of total war. Just as unhappy but braver about it was that remarkable woman, Flora Klickmann. Best known today as the editor of the Girl’s Own Paper, she was very popular in her lifetime for her Flower Patch books, about her cottage and garden in Worcestershire. The last of these, Weeding the Flower Patch, was published in 1948. Klickmann was already in her seventies when war broke out and she spent the war years in the country looking after two guests described as ‘evacuees’, two women who seem to have needed a great deal of care. In this book, typically, rather than moaning she cracks on with life, her main complaints being about food and the difficulty of supplying the household.

Two of the most popular writers of the early twentieth century happily ignored the war in their writings and went on with the fantasies which had so delighted their public before the war. Georgette Heyer scarcely modified her style and Arabella, published in 1949, is one of my favourites. Jeffery Farnol (died 1952) brought out The 'Piping Times' in 1945 and made it an idyll of a rural England which never existed even before 1914, full of rolling English roads and foaming pints. I must admit I found it very enjoyable.

The queen of all ‘everything has changed for the worse and nothing will ever be the same again’ books is of course Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. That is so much in a class of its own that I can’t include it here.

Next up, I will be thinking about the writers who saw a brave new world beginning in 1945.

June Books

Jul. 2nd, 2006 11:47 am
A limited range of authors this month due to ongoing O Douglas and a big Angela Thirkell jag.
Read more... )



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