Oh dear! As my late, lamented mother-in-law would say. As in ‘We are going to France for two weeks Mother’- oh dear… or ‘we are buying a new washing machine, Mother’, Oh dear! What has this to do with a book blog you may ask, well my reaction when Simon asked me to write a Granny Savidge Reads piece was exactly that, oh dear!
Anyway, here goes. I belong to three book groups which may seem a bit excessive but as a retired person I do quite a bit of gadding about and by belonging to three I usually get to at least one each month. But sometimes life catches up with me as it did last month when I was able to go to all three in the space of 5 days, whoops! Two of the three books were whoppers, ‘Wolf Hall’ being 600 + pages, ‘They Were Sisters’ 400+pages and then the more modest ‘Border Crossing’ by Pat Barker.
What about Wolf Hall? I’m sure not everyone has enjoyed this magnificent tour de force but everyone in our group did. Sometimes we had difficulty in knowing who was speaking but usually the ‘he’ in the text referred to Cromwell. We found it tantalising not knowing where fact ended and fiction began and we would love to have known more about his early life. I suppose not much is known about that and I think Mantel did rely on contemporary evidence where possible. The dialogue though must have come from the author’s imagination. Cromwell is a real living person in this novel, there before us on every page, it’s almost as if we are living his life with him. I already knew something about Wolsey, from school, about Thomas More from the film ‘A Man for all Seasons’, which, my recollection tells me, made him out to be a just and upright man, I may be wrong here, but anyway Hilary Mantel paints a different picture. Cranmer I remember from a wonderful series on Henry the Eighth that the B.B.C. made way back in the mists of time. I knew nothing about Cromwell before reading this book, though I had seen the Holbein portrait on a recent visit to New York. Now I can’t wait to read more about him in the sequel. I’m not sure I want them to make a film based on the book but it is intriguing to guess who might play Cromwell.
Now for the Dorothy Whipple. This book is published by the wonderful Persephone Books, visit their shop/office in Lambs Conduit Street if you get the chance and haven’t already. They seem to publish forgotten authors from the past whose books have long ago gone out of print. The book covers are a classy grey and the paper the novels are printed on is lovely and soft. The feel of the paper the novel is printed on is quite important to me, does anyone out there feel like that?
In Much Wenlock in Shropshire there is a reading group that only reads Persephone books! Anyway, Dorothy Whipple was a famous author in her day and ‘They Were Sisters’ was a best seller, one of our members who is over 90 can remember how well known she was at one time. Anyway this story is about three sisters and their lives. One of the sisters is married to an absolutely awful man, utterly selfish and boorish, an out an out emotional bully. My blood pressure soared at some of the things he did. He ruined so many lives by his awful behaviour and nobody would stand up to him. But aside from this the book demonstrates how powerless women were in general in what, to me, is the fairly recent past. It’s certainly a book that would make any self respecting woman’s blood boil.
‘Border Crossing’ was a disappointment for all of us… I think. It tells the story of a child killer who, years later when he is released from custody, meets up, in a melodramatic way, with the psychologist whose expert evidence probably convinced the jury,up until then appearing sympathetic to the boy, of his guilt. I found parts of the book unbelievable such as the many meetings the two had subsequently, especially the one at the psychologists house. I don’t know that any clinical psychologists (and one of my daughtes is one) would act as this one did. Woven into the story is the secondary theme of the psychologists disintegrating marriage, this part of the book felt like a cliché to me and unnecessary padding. So there you have it.
Whats next? Well, in the next couple of weeks we are due to read ‘When Will There Be Good News’ by Kate Atkinson. This is the third in the Jackson Brodie, fallible man, series. I really enjoyed the first two, generally speaking I like Kate Atkinson’s books, she writes intelligently and amusingly and her books are often ‘page turners’. The second book is ‘A Mad World My Masters’ by John Simpson, the B.B.C. correspondent. I will miss this meeting so probably won’t read the book (sshhh don’t tell anyone) though I may peep inside it to see how well he writes, or not as the case may be. The third book is ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Toibin. I’m really looking forward to this one (Simon has raved about it). I’ve read ‘The Master’ and his collection of short stories ‘Mothers and Sons’ and am hoping this one will be as good as these two. Have you read any of these? Any thoughts?
That’s me signing off as I’m off to ‘Brooklyn’ now with Colm. Happy reading everyone,
P.S If anyone could think of a name for my new column Simon and I would be most pleased.