Tag Archives: F.M. Mayor

The Third Miss Symons – F.M. Mayor

And so here is the first review of the year and aptly it is for the first book read in 2013, even if I have got a small backlog of books to tell you about from last year. I have mentioned before that I am very superstitious about the first book of the year as it seems to me it will reflect, or predict, the reading experience that I will have in the year ahead. Odd I know, yet true. Aptly I have whim (my main reading resolution of 2013) to thank for my first read being F.M. Mayor’s ‘The Third Miss Symons’ as I had started a few books and not been quite taken with any of them. However on a trip to Shrewsbury last week I spotted this in the Oxfam bookshop, bought it and then spent a few hours in a cafe not long after, while waiting for The Beard to finish a meeting, reading it from cover to cover – before you think I am some super reader it is only 144 pages of rather large print.

**** Virago Modern Classics, paperback, 1913 (1980 edition), fiction, 144 pages, from my personal TBR

Henrietta, or Etta, Symons is the ‘Third Miss Symons’ of the title and this book is really the tale of her life. As the third daughter, and fifth child, of seven she becomes the ‘middle child’, true at a yojng age she does have her time as everyone’s favourite, yet from then onwards she becomes a rather plain and unremarkable woman and we see how this unintentionally effects the rest of her life and her circumstances.

 It is also F.M. Mayors way of talking about a large amount of women who found themselves in a very similar situation at the end of the Victorian era leading into the suffragette movement. A group of women who seemed to somehow be out of kilter with the world though for no fault of their own, even if it might have made them bitter towards the ends of their lives. We still know some people like this I am sure, as youngsters I am sure we were all aware of a ‘local witch’ or ‘crazy cat lady’ somewhere down the road or in the area that we lived. Did we ever try and understand them? No, yet here in ‘The Third Miss Symons’ Flora MacDonald Mayor tries to do just that and explain it all in the life of Henrietta.

“It was clear she was to be lonely at school and lonely at home. Where was she to find relief? There was a supply of innocuous story-books for the perusal of Mrs. Marston’s pupils on Saturday half-holidays, innocuous, that is to say, but the fact that they gave a completely erroneous view of life, and from them Henrietta discovered that heroines after their sixteenth birthday are likely to be pestered with adorers. The heroines, it is true, were exquisitely beautiful, which Henrietta knew she was not, but form a study of ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Villette’ in the holidays, Charlotte Bronte was forbidden at school owing to her excess of passion, Henrietta realized that the plain may e adored too, so she had a modest hope that when the magic season of young ladyhood arrived, a Prince Charming would come and fall in love with her. This hope filled more and more of her thoughts, and all her last term, when other girls were crying at the thought of leaving, she was counting her days to her departure.”

It is not the easiest of reads in part because Henrietta is going to be a victim of circumstance, you pretty much know this from the start, and also because she is never really that likeable mainly as the product of her situation. Often there is a tone to the novel which is rather melancholy, which made me wonder if was the reason for the fact it verges on a novella in terms of length. I should add here that I didn’t find the book depressing in itself, more the society of the time and how it treated women who did end up as spinsters and how this even reflected the way a family might choose to interact with one in their own midst. I make single women sound like lepers here but in some ways that is how families seemed to feel about them, unless of course they could be good for money or should the lady of the house day and a replacement be needed or someone to use for their own gains or motives as they got older, otherwise they were really seen rather as a burden.

“Her aunt’s life was the sweetest and happiest for old age, but could she at twenty settle down to devising treats for other people’s children, or sewing garments for the poor? It made her feel sick and dismal to think of it. Besides, there circumstances were not similar. Her aunt, fortified by the spirit of self-sacrifice, had resigned what she loved, but she had the reward of being the most necessary member of her circle. Henrietta had no scope for self-sacrifice, for she had never had anything to give up.”

I found ‘The Third Miss Symons’ an utterly fascinating and rather different read. Partly this was because of the insight into that period of British history and how women were treated, or ill treated, in that time and partly because of the character of Henrietta which Mayor has created. I am hard pushed to think of another female character I have encountered quite like her. I was thinking of Harriet in ‘Gillespie and I’, Mrs Danvers in ‘Rebecca’ or Miss Havisham in ‘Great Expectations’ yet Harriet is not as unreliable, bitter, warped or feisty as any of them she is ordinary, yet that is what makes her tale all the more extraordinary. It’s an unusual perspective and an unusual read yet brilliantly so. I was also impressed with how Mayor wrote a whole life, and its ups and downs, in such a short book. If my reading year is to be filled with quirky, unusual and such vividly character filled and prose lead as this book then I am in for a very good reading year.

This shows the joys of whim reading, and turning to more golden oldies, instantly doesn’t it? I hope that the rest of my reading year carries on like this. Anyway, who else has read this book and what did you think? I know Susan Hill loves it as she wrote the introduction in my Virago edition, she is also a huge fan of F.M. Mayors ‘The Rectors Daughter’ which is somewhere in my TBR, have any of you read that one at all and if so what did you think of it?

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So Much for Lessening the TBR…

I mentioned in my New Year, New Reading Resolutions post that I was going to be attacking my TBR with a new ‘tough guy’ attitude. Well I was due to start when The Beard announced he had a meeting in Shrewsbury yesterday morning and so, having not been there before and thinking of all the bookshops there might be, I decided to come along for the ride and a potter. I will report back on the wonders of Shrewsbury in the next week, a virtual tour if you like, it is a stunning place. Despite none of the independent bookshops seeming to be open on a Thursday, odd, I did find lots of second hand and charity shops between historical buildings and touristy places and came away with these…

Shrewsbury Second Hand Loot

I know, I know. So much for me getting rid of books, I have added to them (I will actually be starting the cull properly this afternoon, no really) with this small selection of books and as you will note I have stuck to another resolution I had, in my head, that won’t just buy a book for the sake of it, each book had to prove its worth to be bought even if it was just 50p or £1!

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler – I have been wanting to read this for a few weeks now, not just days – see I am being slightly tougher, and indeed got the hardback from the library, but it is too heavy *cough* and I have maxed my library loans, so I thought a copy of my own would be best. If I am being completely honest, new year so why not, I did by the hardback of this book when it came out and then culled it in a moving house clear out. Shame on me.

The Third Miss Symons by F.M. Mayor – I have had ‘The Rector’s Daughter’ in my TBR for ages since Susan Hill said it was one of her favourite forgotten books. I saw this and thought ‘ooh, I am sure I will like the other one so must get this one too’ especially as it isn’t a book you would see that often. Oh and please note; I then went to a cafe later on and read the whole thing, so that hasn’t even ended up in the TBR anyway, and was my first read of the year as I have been stalling.

The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks – I blame this purchase completely on Will Schwalbe. It is one of the books that he and his mother read in their ‘The End of Your Life Book Club’. I had absolutely no desire to read this book, even though I loved ‘The Year of Wonders’, yet Will explaining it was all about books and the power of books and a book about books… it has been on the wish list since.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – I have been looking for more Flynn books whenever I have fallen into a bookshop since I read ‘Gone Girl’ which is easily my favourite thriller of last year. This is her first and will be being read imminently. I am going off the idea of holding off reading a favourite author’s back catalogue of books in case you run out, life is too short.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham – Hmmm, purchase of shame time again. I own this book already, it is in the TBR, yet it has the movie cover and I hate those, so I allowed myself this one. I actually can’t believe I still haven’t read it, must be the movie covers fault, not mine. Ha!

So there are a few new books which are now sat on a chair away from the space I have made for the culling, which is about to begin. Gulp! It does nicely show how eclectic my reading is though, and I think sums me as a reader up a little maybe. Have you read any of them and if so what did you think? Have you had any post Christmas book shopping splurges?

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June’s Incomings…

Yes yet another month has flown by and it’s that time when I ask for you thoughts on the books that have come through the letterbox, or snuck in hidden in my bag etc. I was thinking that it wasn’t such a bumper month and then remembered that I had been sent the TV book club titles (I’ve had to give up on ‘Moonlight Mile’ it’s just not me) then there are the Penguins I rescued and the Daphne Du Maurier discovery, oops.

So what paperbacks have come through the door?

  • My Michael by Amos Oz – unsolicited copy, but one that I am glad has arrived as I haven’t read any Amos Oz and would like to (I seem to have lots of his books) has anyone any recommendations on Oz?
  • The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago – another unsolicited copy of an author I really should read, any tips with Saramago?
  • Charles Jessold Considered a Murderer by Wesley Stace – an unsolicited copy of a book that looks right up my street with its gothic murderous tones. I once started Stace’s ‘Misfortune’ and really liked it but left it on a train, got another copy but haven’t picked it up again, I must.
  • Butterfly’s Shadow by Lee Langley – unsolicited copy
  • Nimrod’s Shadow by Chris Paling – after reading ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and loving it so much I have been hankering after more of the ‘Fiction Uncovered’ titles. This is one.
  • Conditions of Faith by Alex Miller – this will learn me the publishers emailed me very nicely about this book, I said yes… thinking it was another book. I thought it was ‘Pure’ by Andrew Miller, oops. Never mind though, I will enjoy it none the less, well I hope I will.
  • The Reckoning by Jane Casey – unsolicited copy, and the second in the series, how annoying as it looks really good, but I like to start at the beginning.
  • The Empty Family by Colm Toibin – I am in the mood for short stories and I love Toibin so this will be read soon, also a GCP submission.
  • Days of Grace by Catherine Hall – Thrilled this has come, it seems Catherine’s publisher, editor and Catherine herself really liked how much I loved ‘The Proof of Love’ (am I stuck record about this book yet) and so her now debut novel has arrived.
  • The Skating Rink by Robert Bolano – another unsolicited copy of an author I really should read, any tips with Bolano?
  • Some Hope/Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn – I asked you all if I should read him, and his publishers spotted this and so sent me all of the books you can see ‘At Last’ below. Very excited about this series, have been dipping into ‘Some Hope’ and its proving emotional and incredible.
  • Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay – I haven’t read any Jackie Kay but have always wanted to, also a GCP submission.
  • The Sacrificial Man by Ruth Dugall – This arrived and with it came guilt because I know so many people who have told me to read ‘The Woman Before Me’ and I have it and still haven’t… I will though.

Next up is those hardback and trade paperbacks lots of which I am very, very excited about…

  • The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – I liked his last young adult book ‘The Shadow in the Mist’ for its creepiness, I am hoping this one has the same feel to it. Ooh, I still havent read ‘The Angels Game’, what am I playing at?
  • The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb – interesting title and stunning cover, I think this is one of the books I am going to be reading next as it seems to have been ‘under the radar’ and I am after more books like that. Plus it’s another GCP submission.
  • Night Waking by Sarah Moss – I have already read this one; it’s another ‘Fiction Uncovered’ title and its one that will be getting lots of praise in due course. Its still got me thinking hence no sooner review.
  • The London Satyr by Robert Edric – I didn’t get on with ‘Salvage’ but this novel based in the Victorian underbelly, well that’s the gist I have got, sounds right up my street and is again part of ‘Fiction Uncovered’.
  • Rory’s Boys by Alan Clark – this comes almost screaming its praise from Sue Townsend, a GCP submission.
  • At Last by Edward St Aubyn – the whole series arrived, see above
  • Five Bells by Gail Jones – I saw Kimbofo’s review of this and so had to get my mitts on a copy. It sounds very much like my sort of book.
  • By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham – this will be my first Cunningham read and I am very much looking forward to it.
  • History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason – another book I know little about, though I think the authors debut was one everyone was talking about, a GCP submission.
  • Gypsy Boy on the Run by Mikey Walsh – unsolicited copy which I don’t know why the publishers sent me, as Hodder generally don’t, maybe it’s because it’s a novel about a gay man? Who knows.
  • Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith – I read Bob Smith’s column/essay collection years ago so am thrilled this arrived, it’s a GCP submission.
  • Fold by Tom Campbell – unsolicited proof, I am going to look into this one a little more as initially its not sounding like my sort of thing.
  • All The Time in the World by E. L. Doctorow – I loved ‘Homer and Langley’ so much when I read it that I am really looking forward to this novel about a stranger coming into someone’s family and relationships and changing everything.
  • The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block – I still haven’t read his debut novel, I saw how much Rachel Booksnob loved this book and so was thrilled when it arrived.
  • The Watchers by Jon Steele – I asked for this one as I am was in the mood for trying something different, I am looking forward to this one a lot as it sounds a bit apocalyptic and supernatural and rather page turning, perfect summer read.
  • The Somnambulist by Essie Fox – set in the Victorian era and rather spooky sounding, how could I not want to read this?
  • Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante – I am wondering if Alice is any relation of Linda? This sounds like it’s a gripping and rather emotionally packed crime, I am loving crime fiction this year so this is an unsolicited copy I am looking forward to.
  • The Hunger Trace by Edward Hogan – Thanks to @Foyles who mentioned to S&S the publishers that I really liked Hogan’s debut ‘Blackmoor’ (reading that review shows how much my attitude to blogging has changed, ha) and Hogan is a fellow lad from Derbyshire so that adds to it.
  • Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman – This has caused some controversy I believe as a book a s a tribute to the authors dead wife, can’t seem to find much more out about it than that, has anyone else heard the furore about this?
  • Ashes by Sergios Gakas – now this will be a first, a crime/thriller by a Greek author. A book I will therefore have to give to my Greece-obsessed mother once I have finished it, not sure how she will react to all the cocaine binges that it has in store though.

Blimey typing all those books up actually makes me realise that there were a lot more than I realised, if that wasn’t enough I also received some gifts from friends and then went and bought myself some treats.

  • Read This Next… And Discover 500 New Favourite Books by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark – I saw this on Chasing Bawa, she has now reviewed it, and thought it sounded right up my street, so what a surprise when it arrived in the post as a gift from the lovely Sakura herself.
  • The Newspaper of Claremont Street by Elizabeth Jolley/BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara – Kimbofo sent me both of these as she knows I live on a Claremont related road and also I work in the publishing industry, plus I loved the sound of it from her review. She also sent me the Riverside Readers last read, it sounded amazing and I was gutted that I missed out on it (I miss that book group so much – I am wondering if they would let me join in virtually?) and now I can give it a whirl.
  • The Rector’s Daughter by F.M. Mayor – I have wanted this forever and found it for a whopping 50p in Cambridge, Susan Hill raves about this book which makes me want to read it even more, I think it might be out of print now.
  • Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen – Kimbofo has a lot to answer for actually, her review of this crime thriller made me subconsciously pop it in my trolley at the supermarket. It wasn’t my fault honest… and I know, I know supermarket book buying is sent from the devil.
  • Fidelity by Susan Glaspell – I found this Persephone classic in a new very well hidden local charity shop for a whopping 30p, I know a Persephone for 30p. No idea if it’s good or not, but that didn’t matter at the time… it was 30p!

There that’s my loot this month, what lovely stuff have you had of late? Which of the above have you read and loved? Which would you like to see me reading next?

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