Category Archives: Book Review

***** The Village by Marghanita Laski

The Village by Marghanita Laski is a special read.  She is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

Wendy Trevor and Edith Wilson on duty at the Red Cross post as usual, it is the very last day of World War II.  They are sharing intimacies of their life’s that they would never dreamed of sharing together before the war.  As Wendy Trevor lives at the top of the hill and is considered middle class and Edith Wilson lives at the bottom of the hill and is considered working class.

“There’s a lot of us will miss it, ”  Edith said  “We’re all of us felt at times, you know, how nice it was, like you and me being able to be together and friendly, just as if we were the same sort, if you know what I mean.”

They talk about their families, Wendy has two children Sheila and Margaret, Edith has three children, Edie, Maureen and Roy.  They confide that they both lost a child in death, Wendy when her and the Major farmed for a while in Kenya and lost a little boy and Edith confides that she had a little girl who died.  They have become very close.

The Trevor’s returned from Kenya before they lost all their money and bought an old house with a small holding chicken farm, their income is about six pounds per week.  Edith confides that when her Roy comes back from the war he will pick up his old job as a printer, his apprenticeship having been finished and he will make ten pounds per week.  Edith used to be Wendy’s day lady, cleaning and cooking for her, but since they had to use all her income on the private schooling of their girls, there is just no money for a daily.  The Major is a disaster at business, being born in the era when landed gentry did not have to work and their private incomes where never going to end, but of course all this changed.

“Then they parted, Mrs Trevor going up the road to Wood View on Priory Hill where the gentry lived and Mrs Wilson going downhill on the other side, down Station Road among the working class.”

Wendy dispares of her eldest daughter.

“She looked at Margaret … her soft brown hair caught back with a slide from her sweet but oh, so uninteresting face. … thoughts of contrast between the life she had once known and the one she was living now.”

If her sister had lived and not died in the car accident, it might have been different as she had married money, her girls now had no hope of coming out in London and being presented at the Court Debutante Ball.

Gerald Wendy’s husband and ex-Major says to Daisy a neighbour and friend.

“You look as enchanting as ever,”  said Gerald, falling happily into the roll of gallant young officer with an eye for the ladies.”

There is to be a village dance to celebrate the end of the war all will be there.  Margaret does not want to go she thinks.

“There was something wrong with herself, that made Roger Gregory, the only young man of her own sort in the village, dance with her only as a duty and escape as quickly as he could.”

She returns to help in the kitchens and comes out, standing along the side of the Village Hall, a young man comes over and asks her to dance, she remembers him, from her child hood days as being Ron Wilson, who she used to play with, while his mother Edith was working at their house.

“Somebody nearly bumped into them, but he tightened his grip on her waist and drew her deftly away from the impending collision.  she looked up at him and thought, in a confused kind of way, that he looked as if he’d always be able to manage things, grinning away with that cheerful confident way he had, as if he was still someone people could be all right in trusting.”

Ron and Margaret win the Spot Dance and now all eyes are on them.

“Good-bye Roy.” … “That young man’s getting a bit too big for his boots.  A pity, because his mother’s such a decent woman.”

“What can Margaret be trained for?”

She is not at all academic like her younger sister and certainly will not win a scholarship which is so badly needed in the Trevor family as there is no money for further education without it.

“Margaret saw herself being married.”

Margaret ends up with a mind boring job at the Hospital which their friend the Doctor suggested.

“… the only thing they’ve got to hang on to is that they belong to the so called upper class, and even that doesn’t cut the ice it used to any more.”

One day Margaret makes arrangements to meet her old school friend Jill Morton at the pictures, but she doesn’t turn up and there is Roy Wilson waiting for someone who also does not turn up, they decide to make the most of being there and see the film together, with a bite to eat afterwards, thus begins their budding romance.

“I’d like to very much,”  she said, Roy’s whole face wrinkled with sudden pleasure.”

Margaret’s mum Wendy becomes quite ill from nervous exhaustion and Margaret stays at home to look after her.  She does not mind because unlike her mum she very much enjoys looking after the house and cooking. Mrs Wilson comes up to offer her services and it is agreed that she will do the laundry while Mrs Trevor is ill.

“Maureen … nudged Margaret in the ribs and said “The trouble with you, Miss Margaret, is that you’ve got no sense of class.”

There are many other characters in The Village that enforce the class differences of the time.  It is a truly delightful read and catches that era so well.

I rate this a ***** Five Star on my Persephone 100 rating.

Christy

**** Brook Evans by Susan Glaspell

The setting for Brook Evans is Normal, Illinois in 1888.  When I first picked the book up I thought it was going to be about a man, but Brook Evans is the daughter of Naomi Kellogg.

Naomi is in love with Joe Copeland who is the only son of a widow and works their farm which adjoins the Kellogg farm.  His mother thinks she’s a cut above everyone else and nobody is good enough for her son, so secretly, Naomi and Joe meet under the willow tree near a Brook, hence the name Brook for their daughter.

“… her hand was on moss deeper and smoother than velvet, …”

Resting in her bedroom which was always very special to Naomi, just thinking about Joe.

“The magazine lay under her hand, drowsily she thought of Italy, a land of romance.  The perfume of roses came in through her window, there was that good smell of drying hay – full clear song of the thrush.  The water of the brook – waters of Venice.  Ardent whispers, through the centuries.  She was close to Joe.  His eyes were loving her.  His voice whispered.”

Unfortunately Joe dies unexpectedly when he is hit by the thrashing arms of his new combine harvester.  This is a tragedy not only for Naomi but the family an unwed mum.

“If you would and for my sake – stand a little disgrace?”  she asked timidly.  “Mostly it would be for just me. Then I would go away and make my living for my child.  O father, I would like that so much better.”

“…and words Mrs Copeland and her father had used … they were like rats.”

 In comes Caleb Evans who has always liked Naomi and says he will marry her, even with the child.  They do so and move to Colorado farming country, east of the Rockies.

Caleb is very religious, he is good in his pious way, but Naomi never loved him and she never grows to love where she is, her only love is Brook and Brook is closer to her father not knowing that she is not his daughter.

Brook is invited to a dance by Tony Ross a  part Indian mostly Italian boy.  Her mum makes her a most beautiful dress in a pale yellow, Brook looks lovely in it.  Against her father’s wishes with her mothers push she goes to the dance.

“This boy would not be riding to this love had there not been Joe, it was almost as if he were Joe, thus riding through the light sent down from Big Chief.”

I think here Naomi equates Tony, of Italian heritage, with that long ago day of dreaming in her bedroom, of romance and Italy.

Joe, aided by Naomi, secretly courts Brook.

Caleb says:

“Turned from her he ventured:  “Well maybe you and Brook’ll have a good time here together.  Kind of like a visit just you two.”

Tears surprised her; even though he had not turned to her she turned back.  Words she so sorely needed – but could not accept from him.”

Sylvia Waite is a missionary back for a while to visit with her mother before going off again, they all attend the same chapel.

“Outside she could hear Sylvia Waite’s voice and Brook’s acquiescence.  She moved nearer the dress twisted marked with tears.  She put her own hand upon it, as if seeking strength for what she had to do.”

“Oh, there must be that little girl – sweet baby voice – not barren years with Caleb Evans.”

While Caleb is away she knows that Tony is planning to ask Brook to elope with him, she approves of this, although Brook doesn’t know she knows.  Brook leaves the house this will be the last time she sees her, as Tony is planning to take her to California and get married.  This is Naomi’s sacrifice for her daughter’s happiness.

“What would happen if every one were to give up what there was between what they were supposed to know and think, and what they really did know and think?”

There is a terrible twist in these events, which leads Brook to go off with Sylvia Waite on her missionary endeavors to Turkey, and her father signs the papers needed for her to leave the country.

The bitterness of this for Naomi, it is too much, she never sees her daughter again as she also has never returned home to see her family.

In Turkey Brook meets an English officer Bert Leonard and marries him, they have a son together Evan.  Time passes WWI comes and Bert is severely injured.  For a long while Brook nurses him, he dies and she decides to go and live in France.  Where she is courted by her husband’s Colonel, Colonel Fowler, who all think she will marry.

Over the years her mother’s family have written to her and she to them, they let her know that her aging father Caleb is living with them in Normal, her mother long since dead and will she come home to see him?

By chance at a party a friend is giving, she meets Eric Helge.

While in Paris:

“Ici!  she called rapping.  In this window was one dress.  Yellow you would call it, only it was more like light than like any color, unless it was like champagne …”

Evan asks:

“For whom then?” he demanded.”

“For my mother”, she said, and he had never seen her face like this.”

“Oh, you are lovely, Mother,”  her boy cried (Oh, you are lovely, darling!”  she heard the other voice, the voice she had not heard for twenty years.”

Thus after all these years she understands, she is reconciled to her mother.

More happens, the book has an interesting ending it seems to come full circle.

I read half the book as it is divided by being marked as four books with chapters.  I read two and then put it down for a while, picked it up again with a fresh eye and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I would rate it  **** four stars on my Persephone 100 ratings.

Christy





***** Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy a Persephone Book

Set in Victorian Bayswater, London.  This is a story about Anglo-Jewish families of the time, written by Amy Levy, referred to as the Jewish Jane Austen.  Although it seems these days that many writers are referenced as the something Jane Austin, but I digress.

It is about how little there is for a young woman to do except to marry well, and for an aspiring young man of promise to marry very well.

The main character is Reuben Sachs a beloved son and grandson of whom great things are expected.  He is a lawyer and now working for a local bi-election candidacy.  It is said of him –

He came straight across the room to old Solomon, a vivifying presence – Reuben Sachs, with his bad figure, awkward movements, and charming face, which wore tonight it’s air of greatest alertness.

He is loved and loves a distant cousin who he has known from childhood, from a poorer family, and bought up in the family of a better off aunt.

…the whole face wore for the moment a relaxed dreamy, impassive air, curiously Eastern, and not wholly free from melancholy.

The settings in the book are mostly in one relatives parlour or another, gathered for various festivities.

Conversation flagged, as it inevitably did at these family gatherings, until after the meal, when crabbed age and youth, separating by mutual consent, would grow loquacious enough in their respective circles.

… the great majority gay with that rather spurious gaiety, that forcing of the note, which is so marked a charateristic of festivities.

That is so true, I have been at, let’s call them do’s and have felt that way.

There is a young family friend, from a very well to do English family, he is certainly a most eligible bachelor, although not Jewish, but by marrying him Judith Quixano would be elevated to a different level in the social strata and it certainly would be very good for her relatives too.

Generally speaking, the race instincts of Rebecca of York are strong, and she is less apt to give her heart to Ivanhoe, the Saxon knight than might be imagined.

I think said Leo “that he was shocked at finding us so little like the people in Daniel Deronda.”

So it is for Judith as she loves Reuben, but Reuben must marry money MMM.  Her father –

He was one of the world’s failures; and the Jewish people, so eager to crown success, form, so  … have scant love for those unfortunates who have dropped behind in the race.

They acted and reacted on one another, deceiving and deceived, with the strange unconscious hypocrisy of lovers.

I felt this book so caught the nuances of Jewish life, a circle orbiting within a circle, sometimes touching, but never meshing.

The Jew it may be remarked in passing, eats and dresses at least two degrees above his Gentile brother in the same rank of life.

…What help is there?  There is no help, for all these things are so.  A. C. Swinburne.

Reuben Sachs is not a long book but it carries you along very quickly, although the settings and plot are predictable, the verbiage, flow and wit of writing is smooth.

I loved it and therefore will rate it a 5 Star, I know not all would agree.

Christy


***** The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield a Persephone Book

I’ve started on the Provincial Lady in Wartime, but as soon as I began reading The Home-Maker, I’m afraid I ditched the former book.

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield is one of Persephone’s American author choices. Set in 1920’s mid town USA, in a town not too near other towns.  We come to know the Knapp family.  Lester the father, Evangeline the mother, Helen 13, Henry about 10 and little Steven about four.

Lester works at the only department store in town.  Old Mr. Willing’s has died and now his nephew has taken the reins.  He is young in his thirties and wants to move the department store into the 20th century.

Lester quite college to marry Eva, taking a job in the accounting office at the department store, he loathes his job.  Eva went straight into being a house-wife; these were the expected norms of the time.

Eva is efficient her house is a bandbox, dinner is delicious, at the stroke of the hour.  But everyone seems to suffer from stomach problems.  Although on a limited budget she can make anything out of an old discarded piece of clothing, she has style and the eye for it.

Lester had come home to dinner and has told them that he has been passed over yet again for a promotion.  As she says:  There never would be anything else for her, never, never!  But is was Bitter!  She looked wicked.  She felt wicked.  But she did not want to be wicked.  She wanted to be a good Christian woman.  she wanted to do her duty.

Eva was at constant war with Stephen they butted heads all the time.  As Lester left the house after another confrontation was in the works he thinks.  The opinion of a man who couldn’t make money was of no value, on any subject, in any body’s eyes.

One day he goes into work and is told that he is to be let go.  On leaving work he’s in a daze, he’d be better off dead to his family at least they’d have the insurance money.  His neighbor’s chimney is on fire, he rushes up and falls off the roof.  He is taken home paralyzed.

You must read this book to see how it all works out.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book.

Evangeline held the suit up, looking at it and thinking gratefully how it would help some woman through a difficult year in her life.  She remembered suddenly the Mrs. Warner who had so pathetically longed for that bright green sports sweater.  This would satisfy her wistful, natural longing for pretty things and yet be quite suitable for her age.  Evangeline had so much sympathy for women struggling with the problem of dressing themselves properly at difficult ages!

So relate to that.

The two were silent father and son.  Lester said to himself, shivering, “What a ghastly thing to have sensitive, helpless human beings absolutely in the power of other human beings!  Absolute, unquestioned power!  Nobody can stand that.  It’s cold poison.  How many wardens of prisons are driven sadistically mad with it!

Another quote:

“He that is down need fear no fall, 
He that is low, no pride,”
said Lester Knapp aloud to himself.  It was a great pleasure to him to be be able to say the strong short Saxon words aloud.
This reminds me of Winston Churchill’s writings:
Used to rally his countrymen and the English-speaking peoples in the dark days of the Battle of Britain. The best remembered words sound like this:

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

We shall not flag or fail. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

The words Churchill used are overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon, the old short words he thought best of all. 

She came to feel that talking to Father, when they were alone together, was almost like thinking aloud, only better, because there was somebody to help you figure things out when you got yourself all balled up.  Before this Helen had spent a great deal of time trying to figuring things out by herself, and getting so tangled that she didn’t know where she had begun or how to stop the wild whirl racing around in her head.  But now, with father to hang on to, she could unravel those twisted skeins of thought and wind them into balls where she could get at them


I had so many more quotes referred to in my notes but I think I would over whelm you, so will stop here.  Do read the book.

I’ve been thinking that after I’ve read all 100 Persephone books, I would somehow like to list them by preference, but one to one-hundred would be too complicated, so I came up with the idea of 5 categories.  So the 5 Star Rating would go to the top twenty books and so on down the line to 1 Star.

Of course this is just within the Persephone Books which I already consider at the best end of a good read.

5 Stars *****

Christy

***** Good Things In England, by Florence White, A Persephone Book

The Tradition of the British Savoury Pie.

This is a butchers shop in Southwold a traditional English seaside town on the Suffolk coast.  The reason I wanted to feature this was to show some of the wonderful Savoury Pies that have a long British history.  I’m sure they’re very popular at the seaside, to pick up a pie, with some tomatoes and salad, there you have a take out al fresco picnic.

Meat pie and mushy peas is traditional grub fare.

When I was at Persephone books in London I bought one book and it was Good Things In England, by Florence White.

Originally published in 1932 it says:

A Practical Cookery Book For Everyday Use
Containing Traditional and
Regional Recipes suited to
Modern Tastes contributed by
English Men and Women between
1399 and 1932 and edited by
Florence White
I think Americans would like this book as it has all USA measurements and makes some wonderful 1932 comparisons of cooking culture.  For instance she says:
In a new and vast country far from Europe they have been able to preserve the integrity of their own kitchen far better than we have, and to develop it on individual lines.  If we want to learn to improve our own cookery – and we should want to do this – it is to American we should turn, not to France.
She also writes:
We can learn from the Commonwealth countries.  They have the same advantage as America of developing the cookery of the Homeland in a new setting.

Florence White says a whole book should be written on The Pies of Old England.  To be sure though the heritage of the local savoury pie has a long history in the UK.  I will share one recipe with you from Bungay, Suffolk; which seems appropriate:
I would give this Persephone Book a Five Star rating *****
Christy

What I’ve Been Reading, Midnight In Peking by Paul French and Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen

Midnight in Peking, the year is 1937 Pamela Werner’s body is found near The Fox Tower on a piece of no mans land.  This is a time when Peking is being closed in upon by the Japanese, many Westerners are leaving if they can, many can’t as they are the flotsam and jetsam who have left Europe over the last decades, many being white Russians, add this to fortune hunters, diplomats and a very free life style, an underworld of opium and you have a true mystery.

Two detectives investigate the crime, a British detective Dennis and a Chinese detective Han.  It has shocked the elite enclaved mostly European community.  Who could do such a shocking thing a madman?  Must be a Chinese person or could it be one of their own?

These are the questions that haunt the detectives, but as time goes on one can see there is a lot of politics and payoffs involved.  This true story is revisited by Paul French and he does a great job, unearthing and reading through all the correspondence that Pamela’s father sent to the foreign office in London after he did his own investigation.  You can come to some very compelling conclusions as to who did it, and why.

It’s a great insight into Peking on the cuspid of WWII, but so sad that a teenage girls life should end like that.

Full Body Burden.  Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats.  This is also a true story of Kristen Iversen, who lived in a wonderful new housing development built yes withing a hairs breath of Rocky Flats.

Just the name itself Rocky Flat is something you think now where have I heard that?  I can’t say I read the whole book because it became very detailed in statistics, but I found the beginning very compelling and read quite a bit.

Did you know that the third worst nuclear disaster happened back in the fifties at Rocky Flats and was not equaled until more recently by Chernobyl and the Fukushima nuclear disaster that just happened in Japan.  That was kept under wraps and only providence of the wind blowing in the other direction stopped the whole of Denver, Colorado from being contaminated.  Of course one could ask who was contaminated then?

A compelling book to read and probably if I had more time I would read the entire book.  The perfect suburbia of the 1950s gone awry.  People becoming ill and not knowing why, it’s all so new and what do they actually do at that plant, the government would never let us live here or build here if it wasn’t safe!

Yes the people of 2012 are less trusting or are we?

I may come back and finish this book at some point, it makes you think.

Christy

*** The Making of A Marchioness by H. Burnett

I just finished reading The Making of A Marchioness by H. Burnett, the writer of Secret Garden one of her best known books.  I must have started it well over a year ago, read Part 1; which I totally enjoyed but could see that Part 2 was darker and put it down.

Now I’ve finished it would not rate as one of my best reads, but it is a good read.  It’s one on the Persephone list.

When I read a little bit about her life , I could see how it did play into her writing.  An abusive husband her wish to live a certain life style, moving up in the world, her details in what was worn.

Christy