Tag Archives: Dorothy Whipple

A Persephone Project Pit-Stop; One Year In…

Last November I set myself a little mini reading mission to read all one hundred, now one hundred and four, Persephone titles in order at the rate of one a month. I thought now was a good time to catch up with how I am doing or not as the case maybe as I seem to have gotten rather behind with it all…

Today, being the second Sunday of the month which I mentally designated for the Persephone Project, I should have been discussing Consequences by E.M. Delafield, the 13th Persephone title. However with things as they were with Gran I got a few books behind and so instead would have been discussing the 9th Persephone title Few Oranges and No Eggs: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson  1940 – 1945. Well alas I have gotten somewhat behind again. This is not because of lack of time (though things have been a bit manic with quite a few job interviews) but because every book needs to be read in its own individual way and for me Few Eggs and No Oranges is not a book that can be read in big gulps or devoured in a week or two. It is one you need to digest slowly and take it all in. To rush it would be to spoil it and that is not what I want the Persephone Project to be, it should celebrate the books not make me impatient with them or rush them. So I am holding off, a mini Persephone postponement, but not for long.

Persephone Pit Stop

You see I have decided that I do want to get back on track and be reading the fifteenth title in February. You may, quite understandably, be thinking ‘hang on, he is way behind but in a mere few months wants to be ahead’ that doesn’t make sense BUT I think it is manageable because of what the next few titles are. As I mentioned Few Eggs and No Oranges are diary entries so I want to dip in and out of them daily along with other reads. Good Things in England is a source book of traditional English cooking by Florence White from the 1920’s so The Beard and I are going to cook some delights (possibly Eel Pie, Hasty Haggis, Egg Curry Cheesecakes – oh the fun) over the festive season. Nicholas Mosley’s Julian Greenfield looks a biography perfect for curling up with over the Christmas period and It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty by Judith Viorst being a short collection of poetry. All of this seems realistically juggle-able.

Speaking of realistic, I have decided that as of this month the Persephone Project will no longer have an official date every month. Deadlines can work with some bookish projects but apart from book group and Hear Read This I really want to free my reading up in 2014 as now I have a new job starting in eight days (see the interviews paid off) there is going to be less time for reading and indeed less time for blogging – so I don’t want either to become a chore. I will simply have a big binge over Christmas and then go back to reading one a month amongst my other reads when I fancy them.

Before I go, I should say what an utter joy reading the eight titles has been so far. They have been occasionally challenging (Etty Hillesum) and though provoking (Cicely Hamilton) but overall every single one has been a joy in its own way in particular I have loved how each one from the outset starts as a cosy feeling work and yet as you read on the darker undertones start to show (Dorothy Canfield Fisher The Home-Maker and Dorothy Whipple’s Someone At A Distance in particular) and two have easily been some of the best books of my reading year (Mollie Panter-Downes’ short story collection Good Evening, Mrs Craven and Monica Dicken’s simply wonderful Marina) so I am very much looking forward to what lies ahead.

Do let me know if you have been reading along or if you belatedly want to join in with the Persephone Project, I would be delighted if any of you are or would like to. Also, whilst on the subject what has been your favourite Persephone so far and which ones should I really be looking forward to?

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Someone at a Distance – Dorothy Whipple

Is it me or does the Persephone Project seem to be whizzing by? Already we are on the third of the Persephone titles ‘Someone at a Distance’ by Dorothy Whipple and I have to say that my enthusiasm for these series just grows and grows. Whilst I didn’t love it as flawlessly as Monica Dickens’ ‘Mariana’, I was totally engrossed in the pages of this novel, even if I did end up feeling pretty furious at the end. But hang on; I am getting ahead of myself already.

**** Persephone Books, paperback, 1953 (2008 edition), fiction, 413 pages, from my own personal TBR

Avery and Ellen North are frankly the most perfect married couple you could wish to meet. Everyone thinks so, even them. In fact as a family unit in their countryside home of Netherfold with their two children Hugh and Anne and the family cat and horse they really couldn’t be happier. Well, okay there is the matriarchal form of Mrs North, Avery’s widowed mother for who no visits would be enough from her family and who looks at the negative in everything they say and do, on the horizon but really she isn’t so hard to bear, from a distance (no pun intended).

However when Mrs North decides to take on a companion, in the form of French girl Louise Lanier, everything changes. As Louise comes from France to escape a life she found unbearable and had made her bitter she sets her sites on money or a way of establishing and furthering herself at whatever cost. It is rather like a 1950’s version of ‘The Hand That Rocks The Cradle’ and without being a thriller by any means it is completely absorbing.

‘You don’t listen to what I tell you, Avery,’ said his mother. ‘I told you all about it. Ellen even suggested she should come with me to meet Mademoiselle at the station. But no.’
‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ said Ellen, looking very like Anne stricken with contrition about the washing-up. ‘I forgot all about it. You should have rung me up. I was so excited about Anne’s coming home. Mademoiselle, do excuse me won’t you?’
‘Madame,’ said Louise, shutting her eyes briefly, ‘since I did not know of your existence, I did not miss you from the platform.’
The Norths were slightly taken aback. Avery’s eyes met Ellen’s with a suppressed twinkle.

For me what really made the book a standout overall was the character of Louise Lanier. I loathed her but I loved to loathe her, I think this fictional form of rage can actually be rather healthy. On top of all the loathing though was an utterly compelling grim fascination with her. Louise is one of the most complex characters that I have come across. She is, and this is not a plot spoiler, so embittered by a failed young love that she spurns it and turns it into an incredibly powerful energy that propels her and also seems to give her some feeling that she is the best woman ever created and can have all she wants, or what she thinks she wants. What she really wants it love the irony of that being that she is possibly one of the most unlovable, and indeed unlikeable, women and seldom people fail to spot it, or if they do then it is far too late as she also has an incredible power to charm and befriend. She is hideously marvellous and Dorothy Whipple has created someone who is like a personification of a car crash that you just cannot stop looking at even when you don’t want to.

Louise smiled wryly. It was a book she knew by heart. The only character in literature for whom she felt affinity even, was Emma Bovary. No one, she often said to herself, understands better than I do why she did as she did. It was the excruciating boredom of provincial life.

The book is also heartbreaking in places. You know from the start pretty much, so this isn’t a spoiler, that Louise is going to wreck the happy idyll of The Norths life. What you don’t know is when or how, and indeed Whipple cleverly almost makes things happen and then suddenly sends Louise away only to turn up again like a bad penny. When the awful thing occurs and you watch it from all perspectives, due to the narrative voice of Whipple’s novel we get into everyone’s head (even Louise’s twisted mind), as everything falls apart and I found several of the chapters deeply emotive. Some of the passages are an unflinching, and occasionally uncomfortable, portrait of heartbreak and despair.

Ellen turned away, sick at heart. She went into the kitchen. Breakfast. They must have breakfast. Whatever happened, you always had breakfast.

I did have a couple of quibbles with Whipple though. Firstly I did find the book a little long, I could have cut maybe a hundred pages out, some of Louise’s too-ing and fro-ing did build tension and an idea of where she came from but they went on a little too much, I also didn’t see the need for an excursion to New York really. I found the sudden shift in Avery from such a family man to pretty much a complete pig, ineffectual to the maximum, odd too yet of course there would be no novel without it.

I also felt I never quite got Ellen. After finishing the book and seeing other people’s thoughts I was shocked to see how unsympathetic people are to her. I felt sympathy for her and the fact that, as another character highlights to her, she was a woman of a generation of women who married young and being a housewife and caring was all they knew what to do. It was the way it was, the generation following were different, and no fault of Ellen’s that she fell in love, had children and lost her ideals and oomph. Yet at the same time she did seem ineffectual on occasion, it was interesting to watch as the novel went on until the end – which utterly infuriated me, had Louise not been such a character and the threat of her been so absorbing even at the end (no spoilers honest) it could have ruined the book, as it was I was just a tad disappointed but then I think that is also the point.

Anyway bar the small blip of rage at the end I really, really, really enjoyed ‘Someone at a Distance’. Louise Lanier is certainly not a character I am going to forget in a long, long time and some of the scenes of the breaking and post wreckage of domestic family bliss were incredible. I am looking forward to seeing what else Whipple has up her sleeve as she is one of the most published authors that Persephone has and I can see why. I would highly recommend you give Whipple a whirl yourselves.

I did actually get a collection of her short stories from the library yesterday which I am keen to try to see how she is condensed, plus is another sixteen months until I am due to read her next Persephone novel ‘They Knew Mr Knight’, number nineteen in the series. Who else has read ‘Someone at a Distance’ and what did you make of it, and indeed Louise, Avery and Ellen too?

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Savidge Reads Library Loot #4

As it is National Libraries Day I thought I would share the library loot that I went and got today to make sure I maxed out my borrowing allowance. So, with a starring role for Millie this time, here is the third in my new series, yet first of the year, of vlog posts where I get to embarrass myself once more talk to you all about the latest books that I have borrowed from the library, and waffle a lot about why.

Mr Briggs’ Hat – Kate Colquhoun
Mrs Bridge – Evan S. Connell
When I Lived in Modern Times – Linda Grant
I’m the King of the Castle – Susan  Hill
The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
It Ends with Revelations – Dodie Smith
The Temptress – Paul Spicer
The Closed Door and Other Stories – Dorothy Whipple

As is the usual routine I would love to know your thoughts on any of the books; have you read them, did you like them, and are you thinking of reading them etc and any thoughts on the intermingled waffle. What have you borrowed from the library of late? Many thanks in advance.

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Mariana – Monica Dickens

And so to the second of my Persephone Project reads which also happens, of course, to be the second novel to be re-published by Persephone Books, ‘Mariana’ by Monica Dickens. I have to say that before I had even opened a page of ‘Mariana’ I was intrigued by what it might hold (having not read the blurb as I tend not to do) as it seemed to be a book which had really mixed reactions from many a Persephone –lover. In fact even Nicola Beauman, via the Persephone letter, had pondered that I might not like it. So I have to admit that I went in with rather low expectations and even a little bit wary.

***** Persephone Books, paperback, 1940 (1999 edition), fiction, 377 pages, from my own personal TBR

You could quite easily sum up the premise of Monica Dickens first novel, though she had written a memoir prior to it, ‘Mariana’ as the tale of a young woman’s life growing up in the 1930’s. Even though it is a true enough description, it doesn’t really do justice to the book which I think is more the chronicles (which seems rather apt as she was Charles Dickens great-granddaughter) of a young woman’s life, Mary, and the ups and downs that it brings both for her personally from a young girl growing into adulthood and also chronicles the lives of a family and the differing social circles that they frequented during this period in history. It is like an epic story of the everyman at the time, and a damn good story it is too.

Mary, our protagonist, lives an unusual life. Her mother having been widowed she grows up living on modest means during the term times of her lives before visiting her sadly deceased father’s affluent family in the idyllic summers at Charbury House. Her mother Lily, a teacher come dressmaker, may have said no to any of her in laws hand outs yet remains in good relations with them and so at summer time, and Christmas too, that is where they go, being much more preferable to Mary’s maternal grandmothers who is a bit of a vile old bag. Charbury is where Mary is her happiest, it’s the place she can look forward to as she somewhat bumbles through schools and it is also where she can see the love of her life, her cousin Denys. As we follow Mary’s life Denys becomes a more pivotal character in her life though is that a good thing. From here, without giving away any spoilers, we follow Mary through drama school and fashion college, London and Paris, as she turns from child to adult with all the up and downs along the way.

“All the time she was at St. Martins, even when she was in the thick of everything, and herself one of the goddesses who turned new girls to stone, there was never a time when she could say to herself: ‘I am part of this place; I am one of the things that make it.’ She never got rid of the idea that it belonged to other people and that she was only there on sufferance.”

If someone had told me this is what the book was going to be about before I started I might have been inclined to think that this book really wouldn’t be for me. Yet I loved every single page of it and was completely lost in Mary’s life. Part of that was to do with the character of Mary that Monica creates, she isn’t the picture perfect heroine at all, she can be moody, ungainly and awkward, a little self centred on occasion but she is always likeable, her faults making her more endearing even when she can be rather infuriating. Part of it was also all the characters around her, I want to list them all but there are so many it would be madness, some of them delightful, some spiteful but all of them drawn vividly and Monica Dickens has a wonderful way of introducing a new character with the simplest of paragraphs which instantly sums them up. All of these characters are part of the many things that make you go on reading ‘Mariana’, every page or two someone new lies in store.

“She was always ready and waiting too early. Ever since her husband had forgotten her at a wedding and taken the car home without her, she was always expecting to be forgotten, even by people who could not conceivably have had too much champagne. She was Mary’s father’s sister, the eldest of the Shannon family, a tall, pigeon breasted woman, of whom in her late thirties people said. not ‘What a good-looking woman,’ but ‘She must have been very pretty a girl.’ A little rice-powder was all she would put on her face, and she lay awake at nights wondering if she dared have her hair bobbed. She strove earnestly with life, but was constantly perplexed by it. One of her favourite remarks was: ‘Thank goodness I’ve got a sense of humour.’”

There are plenty of laughs in ‘Mariana’, there are also moments of sadness and despair, and often the two are combined to great effect. This was one of the other strengths in Monica Dickens writing, she gets the mix of the wonderful and happy with the devastating and sad just right. Mary is not in for an easy ride as she grows up and in fact from the very first chapter we know something awful seems to have happened, the first chapter is so clever as is the last, and that fact is always there in the background as we read on as is the knowledge that at some point, due to the age she is living, war must be round the corner. It creates a very compelling, and also rather concerning, tension throughout.

“The clatter and crash of a tile falling from the kitchen roof into the yard deepened her despair. It was a wild storm. She had got to wait. To wait – and try not to think. She went back to the other part of the room. Perhaps if she sat down again and picked up her book, everything would be alright again. Time would click back, and she would find that it had never happened.”

As you may have guessed I loved ‘Mariana’ and am really glad I went into it knowing very little about it. It has elements of the real social history of the time, only fictionalised and is a proper story of our heroine growing into adulthood and all the highs and lows that this brings.  It also has a cast of characters that I am desperate to revisit again and again. As I mentioned earlier on, it is an epic of the everyman really. It isn’t often I read a book and think ‘ooh I must re-read you one day’ yet I have the feeling I will be rejoining Mary many more times in the future. I am also left wanting to go on and read every single thing that Monica Dickens has ever written.

More Monica Dickens to look forward to...

More Monica Dickens to look forward to…

Yes this for me was one of those books that make you want to re-read it and then binge on everything the author has ever done. I shall hold off for a while however. I am hoping the third Persephone makes me feel the same about Dorothy Whipple next month. Interestingly Gran has never read Monica’s books, so I am going to pack this with me next week on my visit as she simply has to read one of her books. Anyway over to you, have you read ‘Mariana’ and if so what did you think? I will be interested to hear your thoughts as it does seem to divide readers. Which Monica Dickens should I read next? As you can see from above I have two at the ready, but she has written so many! Thoughts welcomed.

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Savidge Reads Library Loot #2

So here is the second in my new series of vlog posts where I get to embarrass myself once more talk to you all about the latest books that I have borrowed from the library, and waffle a lot about why.

The books mentioned in this video, in order, are…

Havisham by Ronald Frame
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
Florence and Giles by John Harding
Everything I Found on the Beach by Cynan Jones
Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow
Living in the Maniototo by Janet Frame
The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

What have you recently acquired from the library? Have you read any of the above and if so what did you think of them?

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Persephone 100 and the Persephone Project…

I have been meaning to write about Persephone, one of the UK’s most delightful independent publishers, reaching their 100th title for some time. However the right reason never quite presented itself. Well, that is partly true. I could simply have simply said ‘Happy 100 Books Persephone’ and then put a link to all the titles of theirs that I have read so far, only one of them I didn’t ‘get’ I think, but I wanted to do something a little bit extra and a little bit different and then fate stepped in delightfully.

To me, Persephone books are a real ‘treat’ of a book. Despite this blog I am actually not really a big buyer of new books, I have the odd binge once a year in a certain chain, a brief yearly dabble with a certain online retailer (basically when they offer me prime for free, you know who I mean) and whenever I fall into, because it is never planned *cough*, an independent bookshop I like to buy a book or two. I am much more of a borrower from the library or perusing bargain hunter in second hand and charity bookshops, I think this stems from the fact it was the way it was when I was a youth. Anyway despite having borrowed many a delightful grey copy along the way, Persephone’s I saw/see as treats and so had been slowly building up a collection of titles, some I had won from the very people who had introduced me to Persephone Books, Claire and Verity (thank you ladies, why did your bookish blogs stop?) and there Persephone Reading Weeks etc, and others I had seen in independent bookstores along the way.

Well you may have remember that in the last move I lost a special bag of books and in it, amongst some other special copies of other special books were SIX, yes six, Persephone books. ‘Someone at a Distance’ by Dorothy Whipple, ‘Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes’, ‘The Far Cry’ by Emma Smith, ‘Dimanche and Other Stories’ by Irene Nemirovsky, ‘Still Missing’ by Beth Gutcheon, ‘Miss Buncle Married’ by DE Stevenson all just somehow disappeared. I was left with ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ by Winifred Watson because it was in my boxes of ‘already read’ books and ‘Miss Buncle’s Book’ by DE Stevenson as that was in my ‘to read very soon’ moving box. I still haven’t read it; I think it might be the trauma, maybe. Anyway the collection I was slowly building was down to two, until I spotted this in a charity shop last week…

I actually had spotted a separate Persephone Classic, ‘The World That Was Ours’ by Hilda Bernstein which I will be writing about tomorrow, on a different shelf but I didn’t think I would spot a further five of the gorgeous grey spines!! Naturally I did a double take and scooped them all up in my arms and practically ran to the till. This joy was made all the sweeter discovering that three of them still had the bookmarks when I got home and perused my finds further. It was reading all about them and seeing how different they were, and indeed starting the Bernstein when an idea popped into my head and everything clicked… I would read ALL the 100 Persephone titles and start ‘The Persephone Project’!

Initially ‘The Persephone Project’ sounds bonkers I will admit. Especially from someone who only the other day was saying I am not sure I should start any more projects (apart from Classically Challenged and 40 Before 40, the latter which I am still mulling) or challenges as I want a year of reading by whim. Yet the more I thought about it the more sense it made.

The main point is that I will not be reading these books in one big gulp. Now this will possibly sound even madder, especially seeing as I have worked this out as taking me to March 2021 (when I will be almost 39!), but I am going to read one a month in order though should I fancy reading one of the later titles earlier that’s fine as its likely to be years until I re-read it. That makes sense in my head anyway. Having spent ages going through the catalogue and making a page with all the titles and when I will read them the diversity of the list means I won’t get annoyed either. I will talk more about this tomorrow but ‘The World That Was Ours’ really opened my eyes to how different the books are it being the polar opposite of ‘The Shuttle’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett (my favourite Persephone so far) in every way apart from the fact I love it just as much.

I am also really looking forward to building a collection as one book a month fits my budget (though I have just bought the first three, but please don’t tell The Beard – actually he might not mind as he likes the books as they match the carpet) and over the next few weeks, months and years who knows what gems I might find in any bookshop I might fall into. I may have to get a special set of shelves for Persephone books alone.

So that is the plan! The first book, ‘William – an Englishman’ by Cicely Hamilton is on the way and I will be discussing it on Sunday the 16th of December here (the Project Persephone posts will go live every third Sunday). I am hoping some of you might join in along the way (I am sure somewhere on the internet people are already doing something similar but I want to start at the start) or if you feel a bit crazy and whimsical start with me and go for the whole lot. I feel like it is going to be a real bookish adventure, and indeed by the time I get to book 100 there will have been more added to the list.

Anyway, that is quite enough from me for now. I would love to hear what your favourite Persephone books have been so far and if you have found any forgotten but now favourite-to-you authors in the mean time. Do tell, and let me know if you might join in be it for the long haul (crazy but might be great) or just dip in and out along the way…

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Granny Savidge Reads (The First Column)

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,

Granny Savidge

P.S If anyone could think of a name for my new column Simon and I would be most pleased.

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