Tag Archives: Hilda Bernstein

Savidge Reads Books of 2012 – Part One…

I was going to try and be really brave and break the habit of this blogs and just do a single top ten books of the year. I tried and tried and tried, and I failed. I simply couldn’t only have ten, in fact I actually had a top thirty roughly, but then I have read 167 books (Green Carnation submissions always bump this figure up, what will next year be like without them) this year so maybe that will make it slightly more understandable. So what I have done once again is have two top tens, one of the books published for the first time in the UK in 2012 and another with all the other books published before that – it is the latter we are focusing on today. For the full review click on the link, I have chosen a highlighting paragraph to tempt you for this post.

10. The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough

I really liked the fact Bullough creates this sense of place and people and wants you to work with him on building the bigger picture and using all the things unsaid along with tiny tensions to create the full narrative tale.  I think by now you will have probably guessed that I thought ‘The Claude Glass’ was an unusual and incredibly accomplished piece of writing, silently impressive and one that rewards you in many ways.

9. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy

‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ is one of those books which manages to make you laugh out loud, feel ever so uncomfortable at its honesty, possibly makes you want to cry and then makes you laugh all over again. When someone writes their memoirs it isn’t necessarily that the full truth doesn’t come out, just that the author tends to look at things in a rose tinted way, highlighting their best bits – not so in the case of Marieke.

8. Days of Grace by Catherine Hall

What I also really admired and loved about the book is that even though we have one narrator we have two stories. These are told in alternating chapters throughout the book. This device is one that is used often and normally I have to admit one story will overtake my interest as I read on. Not in the case of ‘Days of Grace’. I was desperate to know what was going to happen with Nora and Grace as the war went on both in idyllic Kent and the roughness and danger of London but I also wanted to know, just as much, what was going to happen with Nora in the present, her health and the relationship with Rose and her baby. Both stories had me intrigued and I think that was because Catherine Hall very cleverly has the stories mystery foreboding the past tense narrative and shadowing the present without us knowing what it is until the last minute.

7. The World That Was Ours – Hilda Bernstein

‘The World That Was Ours’ shows the power of books, writing, journalism and memoir. When it was published back in 1967 it was a dangerous book to release and there were many people who would have liked to see it destroyed. Thank goodness it found a publisher back then and thank goodness Persephone have chosen it as a book to reprint for us to discover because it is just the sort of book that everyone should read. I will be re-reading this again for definite.

6. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

You can feel the sense of unease on almost every page, both in a combination of the mystery of Hiero unraveling and war drawing nearer does give the book a slight thriller twist. If you think that is a negative thing it is not I promise you because Edugyan merges the literary elements of the novel with the tension and pace perfectly… and it stays with you long after you read it.

5. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

There were so many things that I loved about Beryl Bainbridge’s writing that it might be hard to encompass them all, I will endeavour to try though. First of all is how much is in such a small book. At a mere 200 pages, and in fairly big print which could be devoured in a few hours, so much happens that when you have finished you find yourself recapping it all and thinking ‘did that all just happen in this book?’ There are funerals, hilarious seductions in cellars, hilarious seductions in a shared bedroom and a shared bathroom, a mother in law with a grudge to bear and a gun in her handbag, a fight in Windsor Castle, horse riding with the Queen’s funereal regiment, something awful on an outing which leads to a strange trip to a safari park, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

4. Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn

I always admire an author who can write beautifully and simply, an author who can create the most understated of melodramas will win me over. I also always admire an author who can write a passage that chills you before one that makes you laugh out loud and then another which horrifies you all over again. All these things are encompassed in Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel ‘Never Mind’.

3. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I don’t think I have yet read a piece of fiction which seems to encapsulate the entire breadth in which cancer can affect people and not just those in the eye of the storm it creates. Ness looks at the full spectrum of emotions for all those involved, from Conor, his mother and grandmother to those on the periphery such as Conor’s teachers. He takes these feeling and reactions, condenses them and then makes them readable, effecting, emotional and compelling in just over 200 pages. The monster itself is also an incredible character being utterly evil in many ways and yet having hints of goodness amongst the chaos he creates so that you are never quite sure if he is friend or foe.

2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I wouldn’t normally say that I was a reader who subscribes to adventure stories or love stories and yet Madeline Miller’s debut novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ is easily my favourite read of the year so far. The reason for this is simple, she’s a bloody good storyteller, a great writer and I think the enthusiasm she has for classics becomes contagious somewhere in the way she writes. Madeline Miller has made me want to run out and read more books with this book, what more can you ask from an author than that?

1.  Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl

I think ‘Kiss Kiss’ will undoubtedly remain one of my favourite short story collections, and one that I will happily dip in and out of again and again in the future. It has that delightfully dark, yet awfully darkly funny, essence to it that I just really enjoy. It has made me want to go out and read all of Dahl’s other adult work (especially with the covers in this new series by Penguin) and also dig out my old childhood favourites which I am sure I will now see in a whole new light. I would definitely recommend that you read this collection if you haven’t, they are mini macabre masterpieces.

So that is my first top ten of 2012 and all the books I really, really loved published before this year that I read this year. Make sense? I do also want to mention ‘Now You See Me’ by S.J. Bolton, ‘Packing For Mars’ by Mary Roach (both of which I read for The Readers Summer Book Club and adored), ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen and ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens (both have been part of Classically Challenged and the latter of which I will be talking about tomorrow), all highly recommended.

So what about your what are your post-2012 books of 2012? Which of these have you read and what did you think? Any other books you would recommend you think I might like having loved the above? Do pop back for Part Two on Monday!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2012

The World That Was Ours – Hilda Bernstein

Yesterday I mentioned that I am about to start reading all the Persephone books in order and the book that played a part in getting me thinking about doing so was ‘The World That Was Ours’ by Hilda Bernstein, which happens to be the 50th Persephone title and the halfway mark (so I will be coming back to it in a few years). One of the things I have liked about all the Persephone’s that I have read so far is that they have all been, twee isn’t the right word, erm, ‘rather delightful’ might be better. I don’t mean that to sound like I am dumbing them down, just the select few I have read have had a slight ‘frightfully marvellous’ feeling about them be they crime, sensation novels, etc. This, as I said, I love but has also made me read them sparingly and as ‘safe’ choices. I am now thrilled that ‘The World That Was Hours’ felt like a very dark and dangerous book and a memoir that needs to be read to be believed. I am hoping my adventure into Persephone’s will lead me to more like this.

Persephone Books, paperback, 1967 (2009 edition), memoir, non-fiction, 416 pages, from my personal TBR

‘The World That Was Ours’ is a rare first account of the period in South Africa’s history in the 1960’s when the apartheid had been running for some time yet tension seemed to be building to a breaking point with the Government of the time creating bills and arresting people left, right and centre. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, small towns and villages mainly populated by black people were being destroyed and people were being severely punished, even by death, for the smallest of incidents. Hilda Bernstein and her husband, Rusty, were two of the many white people who were fighting for fairness and equality at that time and so were of course raided and often arrested, even imprisoned throughout this period. ‘The World That Was Ours’ in Bernstein’s memoir of the trying and horrific times of that period, not only for her, her family and the people she knew but also of the innocent people, be they black or white, and what the consequences of this awful time were.

I feel slightly ashamed to admit that until recently I have not had much understanding of the apartheid, though I knew who Mandela was and how important all he has done was. That said two of the books on the Green Carnation Prize longlist dealt with the subject, or its effects, fictionally and so Bernstein’s memoir has given me an equally fascinating and horrifying look into the time all the more. Through fiction I was shocked, seeing it written down as a memory has made the horror of it all the more real and mind boggling. I find it difficult to comprehend people’s behaviour or the fact they could think what they were doing was right at the time, I don’t mean the Bernstein’s here obviously, I mean the Government, police and justice system. It is one of those books that has you googling everything and learning more, it is a very important book.

“Now we knew that time was running out for us. The punishment for refusal to accept racial rule was inflated; the objective, to remove every single dissenter, either by forcing them completely out of the country, or by shutting them completely away into jail. Nothing less. Even house arrest was an interim measure; together with specific bans its objective was to make such living impossible, unable to live like a human being, the victim finally left the country. You could not stay and go on living freely.”

Not all memoirs work of course. People can have seen or been part of horrendous things but if they can’t write it can lose something along the way. Bernstein is an incredible writer, and indeed at the time was a journalist, she manages to evoke the atmosphere and tension effortlessly and not just for herself and her situation in Johannesburg but for everything going on in the country too, from both sides. At the same time she writes in a style that makes the book feel like a thriller, in part because there is the aspect of all the secret things that she and her husband were doing in the anti-apartheid movement, yet also from the way she paces it. I found it very difficult to tear myself away from the book even during trials and the explaining of the policies and bills the Government were creating every other day.

This leads to the other very important aspect of ‘The World That Was Ours’, Bernstein manages not to make the book seem like a historical document, even though that is exactly what it is essentially. She brings the message home of how awful things were and the level and scope of the atrocities going on without repeating everything. Her writing seems to say ‘why repeat the point over and over when you can hammer it home highlighting points once’. This doesn’t mean she just says ‘oh it was awful’ and finish there, she gives you an example of one of the awful incidences and then explains how it was happening everywhere and telling of another different incident. Many books would repeat themselves endlessly, Bernstein doesn’t feel the need. She shows faith in the reader’s intelligence too by not over explaining who every person is in the book, or the exact ins and outs of every bill or change to policy/the country/Government. This could have become a reference book in some ways, or a patronising explanation, yet she trusts the reader doesn’t need to be spoon fed and I think wanted readers to go away and read/find out more, which I did almost fifty years after publication.

“And finally – although this was only at the end – there were great quantities of books and pamphlets which we had put into storage fifteen years before to save them being taken in police raids; and now they were all banned, or by authors who were banned, and could not be put in the dustbin or given away, but had to be burned. So we became book-burners. Books resist burning, their pages curl and singe and the fire goes out; it is necessary to work at the burning and destroy them successfully. Perhaps that bath, packed solid with black brittle ashes of books and papers, had become the most striking symbol of the evil and destructive times to which we had come.”

‘The World That Was Ours’ shows the power of books, writing, journalism and memoir. When it was published back in 1967 it was a dangerous book to release and there were many people who would have liked to see it destroyed. Thank goodness it found a publisher back then and thank goodness Persephone have chosen it as a book to reprint for us to discover because it is just the sort of book that everyone should read. I will be re-reading this again for definite.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Hilda Bernstein, Persephone Books, Review

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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Filed under Random Savidgeness, The Persephone Project