Tag Archives: Penguin Classics

Other People’s Bookshelves #32; Clare Axton

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a weekly series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are back ‘oop’ north in England in Nottingham (which will instantly have you thinking of Robin Hood) where we join Clare and get to have a nosey at her shelves not a million miles from my old hometown of Matlock Bath. So grab a cuppa and a few biscuits which Clare has kindly laid on and have a rummage through her shelves…

My name is Clare and I live in Nottingham. I have a great and very deep love for books and even more so for bookshops my long held dream to be the owner of one. I think I can trace my love for books back to my Great Grandad who had a wonderful library in his home that I loved to spend my time perusing. I am also a collector of original Penguin books and copies of Punch magazine, the oldest I have is 1908. The best way I can think to spend a day is finding somewhere nice for tea and cake then bookshopping of course. I am currently discovering London and it’s bookshops too also love Lincoln and it’s wonderful bookshops.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites?

I have recently had a sort of my shelves so now I do have sections for my favourites especially for example my Penguin originals together and classics together. I normally carry a book or two with me for those moments when I can find a quiet spot,the table next to my bed holds one or two or maybe more of my favourites which usually have bookmarks trying to remind me to finish them before I start another.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way?

Only very recently before it was very haphazard but now I hope there is some sort of structure to my shelves. I do like the spines of one author to be together especially when they are a classic author for example I have my Dickens all together and including the very lovely spine of a Sketches By Boz edition of 1904.

What was the first book you ever brought with your own money?

I think that would be Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. We had a wonderful bookshop in my village when I was little and a lot of my pocket went on Dahl and Beatrix Potter Books which are all still happily on my shelves.

Are there are guilty pleasures on your bookshelves?

Maybe Lady Chatterley’s Lover obviously considered such a scandalous books at the time of its trial it does feel like a very guilty pleasure although Lawrence is one of my favourite writers.

What is the first grown up book you brought?

Well the book was actually on my Aunt’s shelves and it was “Forever” by Judy Blume. I felt very grown up when I read it in my teens and now it does have a special place on my shelves.

If you love a book but have borrowed it do you find you have to then buy the book?

I have found many wonderful books through the library first, for example my love for Thomas Hardy started when I borrowed Far From The Madding Crowd read it at least three times before it went back then quickly visited the nearest bookshop to buy it and many more of his novels and poetry.

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What was the last book you added to your shelves?

I think it would have to be two books… Where’d you go Bernadette by Maria Semple and On The Road by Jack Kerouac both wonderful novels. My next purchase needs to be The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt which I have seen people raving about and I’m very much looking forward to reading.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

I have always wanted a complete set of novels by Nancy Mitford a writer whose life and family I find fascinating. Also original penguin copies of Lucky Jim and the James Bond books these I hope to find on my next London Trip.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste?

I think they would see my book tastes as quite eclectic and I hope they would find something on each shelf that they would enjoy too.

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A huge thanks to Clare for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, who is off with me to go and have a hunt through the caves under Nottingham Castle before heading to Sherwood Forest?  Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Clare’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Does The Imprint Matter?

A few things have been making me ponder the imprints of books over the last few weeks. First up was when I was discussing a book and someone asked me what the imprint was and then if that imprint was very good which was something I wasn’t aware I give much thought to but then realised that I do. A bit like prizes actually thinking about it, you know the ones you really trust the selection of, or not as the case may be.

While in London I bumped into Meike Ziervogel who wrote Magda and also runs Peirene Press, who translate novella’s, which instantly reminded me I hadn’t read as many of their brilliant (they have all been very good so far) books as I have meant to. I also have a friend who has been looking for a new publisher and who asked me if I would recommend any, I instantly reeled off three or four who I would recommend because a) the staff there are lovely b) overall the books I read from their publishing house are just up my street – a publisher to trust on all counts. I also spotted a receptionist in a museum reading a Penguin Modern Classic this weekend, which I instantly recognised from the brand which whenever I see a copy of second hand I snatch up even if I know nothing about it because I trust them on previous experience.

This isn't a biased subliminal picture, it just looks pretty.

This isn’t a biased subliminal picture, it just looks pretty.

Mulling it (I like a good mull) all over made me wonder if I am partial to certain publishing houses in particular and where my bias lies. To get a negative out of the way, a certain book won a prize the other day and I looked at the publisher and rolled my eyes as I don’t really like them, not because of their books but because their publicity departments are a nightmare to work with. It shouldn’t matter but then again it does, a lot like one publishing house who has a publicists whose tweets were so up their own bottoms I blocked them and have avoided their books since. Bad, I know. Judgemental? Very. Yet once you have an impression of an imprint it sticks, good or bad. And it isn’t just the publishers you know in reality, it is also just the publishing houses you read regularly simply as a reader. For example Gran used to say she could generally trust Virago’s if she was stuck for a book to read.

Obviously I am working my way through the Persephone Classics (if a little slower than intended) and the reason for this is because through all the ones I have read, which I think is about ten or twelve now in total, maybe more, there is only one which I haven’t like and I have forgiven it everything because it is a Persephone – which is clearly a rather partial leaning isn’t it? I am hoping that when I re-read it (it was The New House by Lettice Cooper) I ‘get’ it the second time around and am 100% proven that all Persephone’s are brimming with wonder. Anyway, I digress…

Another pair of publishers that haven’t gone wrong for me are another two small independents (I need to mull over the bigger imprints more). They are Peirene Press (who I have already mentioned) and And Other Stories. Both feature novels that tend to be short-ish and cover fiction from all over the world and even though every book has something different about it you understand why it fits in the imprints umbrella, a certain je ne sais quoi if you will? I have actually rearranged my shelves recently so that these imprints’ titles all sit together and I can make a beeline for them as I must read more of them. In fact I really must pick one of them up next!

What about all of you? Do you have a certain publisher that you turn to when you need a good read and are pretty much certain any of their books will do the trick? (Feel free to tell me which one publisher it is!) Are there any you’ve had a pretty bad failure rate with? Do you have a classic or independent print you make sure you have the whole collection of and really support? Or does it simply not matter?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #19 – Alison Hope

The weekend is the perfect time to be leisurely isn’t it? What could be nicer than whiling away some time nosing through someone else’s book shelves while talking about books? Well Saturday’s are set to become the perminant home of Other People’s Bookshelves for the foreseeable future and this week we are all popping round to Alison Hope’s who runs the book blog HeavenAli to have a gander and a natter about her books. Grab a cuppa,  and plonk yourself down on an available chair, I am sure she won’t mind!

Firstly tell us a little more about yourself?

Having always read – since I was a very small girl, and now coming up to my 45th birthday I realise I have read a lot of books. In the last year or so I have discovered the absolute joy of re-reading – so often I fear I have read all the best things and envy people their first experiences with books I have loved. These days I think I read far more books published before about 1950 than contemporary books – although I do enjoy a lot of contemporary writers too. Engaging with other readers and bloggers has been a greater pleasure than I had ever anticipated – and I am trying hard to make my reviews and blog posts worthy of the bigger audience I now seem to have. Some of my favourite authors are Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Taylor, Wilkie Collins, Anita Brookner, Jane Austen and Barbara Pym. I like golden age crime novels, such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. I don’t like modern crime much – although now again I read one or two I have been told are not too gruesome – I don’t like fantasy or sci-fi. I mainly read classics, and literary fiction, and a few memoirs and biographies. Despite my love of books I do have a kindle – which I like very much, but I read far more real books.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

The books on my bookcases are what I consider to be the ones I keep, my permanent book collection. However I don’t keep all the books that I read, I mainly keep the ones I love the most.  As a bookcrosser (although no longer as active as I once was) I am always happy to pass on books I don’t want to keep, to other bookcrossing members at our local monthly meet ups. I enjoy sharing books I have enjoyed, so the ones I pass on are certainly not just books I haven’t enjoyed, they are usually just ones I think it unlikely I will want to read again. I do find however, that I am keeping more and more books these days, going back to my bad old ways of almost hording my books.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

None of my bookcases are organised alphabetically. I can’t explain why – but I don’t particularly like that way of organising my shelves.  Many of my books are shelved with other books of the same editions. This system has broken down a little as I have moved books around and acquired new bookcases – but most of my Virago books, Persephone books and Penguin classics and Oxford Classics which are not residing on my TBR are shelved together with other books with the same colour spine.  My TBR is also all shelved together – it takes up more than two shelves, with small stacks of books sitting in front of rows of others. I have one bookcase that has no system; things are rather unceremoniously shoved on to the shelves. This bookcase really needs weeding out, a job I keep putting off. The books I keep to pass on through bookcrossing are in a box in a cupboard –which seems wrong – I do feel that books should be shelved – but that is where they are until they get moved on.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

Oh dear this is something I really wish I knew the answer to. I have been trying to work out what it might have been but have no idea. All through my childhood my bookishness was encouraged by my parents, although I used the library a lot back then, I was given books for Christmas, and had book vouchers from relatives nearly every year. I can remember being obsessed by the Enid Blyton Mallory Towers and St Clair boarding school books, I am sure I must have bought those with my pocket money, and The Famous Five books too – but no I don’t have any old Enid Blyton books in my house now.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I wouldn’t be embarrassed by any of the books on my shelves at all; as I think it perfectly alright to have anything I have enjoyed residing there. I do have numbers 1 – 18 of the Agatha Raisin books – although they are some of the books that are likely to be culled at some point. They were for a while a kind guilty pleasure (cosy reading I would probably call it) – but I thought the later ones quite poor in comparison to the earlier books – and I have stopped reading them. It’s unlikely I’ll go back to them, so I do feel they are taking up valuable space – they are shelved in the spare room, not to hide them, but I just like my favourite books to be the ones that are more visible.

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

One book? – but there are so many I could choose – but two books do spring to mind. I have a lovely 1950’s first edition of The Village by Marghanita Laski that I found by chance in the castle bookshop in Hay on Wye. I was on a lovely weekend away with some good bookish friends and I didn’t even realise at first that I had found a book that had been re- issued by Persephone. I still don’t have a Persephone edition of it to go with it – but a forthcoming trip to the Lambs Conduit street shop may remedy that.   I also have an American edition of I capture the Castle, which was sent to me by a New York bookcrosser about seven years ago, not long after I first joined the bookcrossing community. I have selfishly kept that one instead of passing it on as it is so pretty, and having read that particular copy twice I am loathe to part with it.  I am also rather fond of the three Barbara Pym novels which I have in the Moyer Bell edition – (there is a fourth one of those winging its way to me from the USA that I found on Abebooks recently). I also love each of my Persephone books and guard them jealously I won’t even loan those out to family.

I also have a small collection of Agatha Christie first editions which I do rather love.  None of them are the very early or rare ones, a few of them are just book club editions so not even real first editions as book club editions always came out a year later – but I am rather fond of them, as I have loved Agatha Christie since I was eleven, and several of them are real first editions. The earliest one I have is from about 1951. The price of them does seem to have shot up rather, since I first started buying them, so I haven’t added any to my collection for a few years.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My parents always had a lot of books – many were non-fiction and seemed far too dull to excite my imagination when I was young.  However I do remember loving the look of my mother’s book The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye it looked so big, sumptuous and romantic – I also liked the look of Gone with the Wind – for the same reasons I suspect. I read Gone with the Wind – my mother’s copy – when I was about seventeen I think, and loved it, but it was many many years before I read The Far Pavilions.  I can’t remember where the copy I read came from, it may have been my mother’s snaffled when she was weeding out her own shelves, but I don’t currently have either of those on my shelves.

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I certainly have bought my own copies of books I have borrowed, though I don’t think I have to. I sort of store it away in a wish list in my brain, so that should I come across a copy of the book in a charity bookshop or somewhere I will undoubtedly snaffle it up. Certainly there are books I have read and loved that I want to own, one recent example was The Two Mrs Abbots by D E Stevenson – the third Miss Buncle book – I ordered it from the library and it took six months to come in. I devoured it and loved every word, and so want my own copy. I heard a rumour that Persephone may publish it in the future –I live in hope.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Well I added Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni to my permanent collection of books after I finished it a few days ago. I read it a couple of days before meeting the author at a local meet up group I attend. I took my copy with me to get signed and bought two more copies one each for my mother and sister. I have also added a couple more books to my TBR – but they are both books I am certain to keep once they have been read. They are Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier and Civil to Strangers by Barbara Pym which I bought for the Barbara Pym centenary read-a-long.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Oh goodness – yes so many. I can’t even begin to list them. Of course I want more Persephone books, and there are many original green Virago Modern Classics that I want too. I especially want Winifred Holtby’s short stories Remember Remember in original green, very hard to get hold of – and would rather like a copy of Lolly Willows by Sylvia Townsend Warner, also in green. I actually bought a green copy of Lolly Willows for a fellow Viragoite  – for a secret Santa gift – I hadn’t realised it was so hard to get. I really am a sucker for physically beautiful editions, of which there are so many coming out these days –  beautifully designed editions of my favourite classics are the ones I particularly covert. I have recently acquired a few penguin clothbound classics – now there is a tiny part of me that wants them all – but such excess would be madness.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

Oh my I don’t know! That I am a reader of fiction first and foremost and that I like classics; Modern Classics and nineteenth century classics in particular.  That I like mainly women writers, with a few notable exceptions, the Viragos and Persephone books rather give that away. I’m not sure If anyone perusing my shelves would think I was widely read – I don’t claim to be,  I don’t have lots of different genres, and really not that many non-fiction.  I don’t know if there is anything I would want them to think – I’m not sure it matters – I just like what I like – as we all do.

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A huge thanks to Alison for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Alison’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #17 – Karyn Reeves

So while I am away wandering the streets, well more realistically the bookshops, of London I thought I would leave you with the lovely Karyn Reeves (whose blog, A Penguin A Week, I adore even if am rubbish at commenting) and her wonderful bookshelves. Before we have a good old nosey through her bookshelves though shall we find out a little bit more about her? It would be rude not to.

Karyn is the owner of about 2000 Penguins published before 1970 (well actually many more than that if you count duplicates and Penguins published in other series), and is always on the look out for the 1000 titles She is still missing. Her blog is a little different to many in that it has one single idea which is to create some kind of online record about the 3000 titles Penguin published before 1970, as some of them are well known but others, many of which are worth reading, are at risk of being forgotten. Karyn says “It can be quite sobering to look at a wall of books and see the names of so many people who must have been very successful during their lives – and I think that to have even written one book is a major achievement – who are now gradually slipping into obscurity.” So she started the blog partly as a way to help retain that knowledge, and partly as a way to cope with the stresses of doing a PhD (in Maths and Statistics). Happily, the PhD is now finished and she has now become Dr Reeves. Her thesis was on the analysis of HIV data and about how HIV mutates at a phenomenal rate inside every infected person, partly in response to their specific immune system, which is one of the things which makes it such a devastating disease. Now she works at the Murdoch University in Perth as a research officer. If that wasn’t enough she is also a mother of five, her two youngest daughters following in her footsteps as constant readers. Here are her shelves…

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

There is simply no limit to the number of books I would like to own. I would happily cover every wall of our home with bookshelves, so I could never contemplate any sort of culling system like one in, one out. I love that I own such a large number of unread books so that each time I am ready to read another one I have many hundreds to choose from, from a variety of genres. I think of the books I own as providing some kind of record of my life, and the collection is a reminder that time has passed to some purpose. The books capture the memories of the holidays on which they were purchased, and of what I was thinking or experiencing when each one was read. Many of them have been sent to me by people I have never met, so then they capture the memory of completely ordinary days when a package has turned up at the end of the driveway, always an exciting moment. I much prefer the option of buying more and more bookshelves to that of getting rid of books.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

Most of my non-Penguins and all of my Penguins published after 1970 are currently in storage while I wait for my house to sell, but normally I have them grouped together by spine colour, and within that by author. The old Penguins, on the other hand, are ordered on the bookshelves approximately chronologically by issue date, as they have spines which are numbered roughly in that order. I find that that is the best way to keep track of them, and once you accumulate enough vintage Penguins they look very attractive filed that way. The chronological order means that you can easily spot various patterns in Penguin design, such as when they moved from the vertical to the horizontal stripes, or when the various colours (cerise, yellow, dark blue, purple, red and grey) disappeared, or when they altered the direction of the words on the spine, and some other brief experiments in their design. I never cull books, although when I do have more than one copy of a Penguin title, I will sometimes give surplus copies to others, such as to Pam who has the blog Travellin’ Penguin and who also collects old Penguins and often sends books my way.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

The first two books I remember purchasing were Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe and Room at the Top by John Braine. I had read about them, I think, in The Collector by John Fowles, a book (and movie) I loved, and which had a big influence on my reading when I was in my late teens. I think they were also mentioned on the back cover of A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow. I remember them particularly because they had to be ordered in, possibly even from the UK, as they weren’t the sort of titles you were going to find being stocked in a Perth book shop all those years ago. I still own both books, and at least another four copies of A Room at the Top in its varying Penguin covers – it must have been exceptionally popular in the early 1960s because it went through at least 17 issues in the first year of publication, and I haven’t come across any other old Penguin title which can equal that.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

No. These days I post about every book that I read, so it wouldn’t make any sense to feel embarrassed about what I was reading.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

Fire is something which has long troubled me, because until recently I was living on a bush block on the outskirts of Perth, and summer inevitably brings the possibility of bushfire. All the eucalypts in the backyard still display evidence of at least one fire which came far too close to the house before we lived there. The vintage Penguins are the things I would need to save, all 2000 of them, for the reasons that I mentioned early, for the memories they capture. As books they are all replaceable and most of them are not particularly valuable, but as artifacts of my life I would have difficulty living without them. 

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I don’t recall any books on my parent’ bookshelves that I wanted to read, and I don’t have recollection of thinking of books as off limits when I was young. What I do remember from my teenage years is the frustration of not knowing what to read, or where to get advice. I solved it by turning to second hand bookshops and eventually working out that books with orange spines were a safe bet, so that you could buy titles at random and be assured of discovering something worth reading, and that was what led me to start collecting Penguins.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

The project I’ve taken on through the blog keeps me very focused on the books I already own; I suspect there are already more of these than there will be time left to read. And each time I am ready to choose another book I have hundreds to choose from that I am looking forward to reading so I am never tempted to borrow one from anyone else, or from the library. But if I did read a borrowed book I am sure I would be looking for a copy to put on the shelves, just in case I wanted to refer to it later.

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Maigret Mystified (Penguin no. 2024) is the last book I purchased for myself, and as I own so few of the Simenon Penguins – and I don’t know why this is, perhaps Australians didn’t have a taste for translated fiction in the 1960s – I am always happy when I find another one.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Well there are about one thousand books that I wish to have on my bookshelves and don’t currently own because my goal is to find (and read) all of the titles Penguin published before Allen Lane died in 1970. They are getting more difficult to find these days, and so I tend to only look for them now when I am on holiday, but one of the very lovely things about having a blog is that people now help me in my quest. I have had wonderful help in tracking down bookshops which stock them over east and overseas, and I have been taken on book shopping expeditions on my travels, and I have had many books turn up in the mail.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I think anyone who loves books appreciates the sight of an old Penguin and is likely to feel overwhelmed by a whole wall of them. I suspect people probably think I am a little obsessive, and I agree that choosing what you would read according to the backlist of one particular publisher is an unusual way to go about things, but it works for me. In a world in which there are more books available than you could possibly hope to read, you have to find some way to make a choice, and this one introduces me to books and stories I would otherwise know nothing about.

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A huge thanks to Karyn for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Karyn’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?

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The Savidge Reads Advent Calendar Begins… #Day One

Isn’t it funny how some great ideas, without that sounding too grand, can come to you at the most random of moments? As I was hunting for two advent calendars for a pair of three year olds – not two for me just to clarify – I was suddenly hit by a wave of inspiration. I had an idea for a festive delight, which just so you all know as I don’t like Christmas at all is rather rare, that I could do to say thank you to all of you who pop by and visit the blog, be you lurkers, commenter’s or possibly just my family and friends who feel obligated to drop by.

So today is the launch of the ‘Savidge Reads Advent Calendar’ and each day in the run up to Christmas I will be giving away some book based booty. These may tie into the reviews that pop up in the lead up to Christmas, they may simply be a book I want for Christmas but am giving to you instead, you might find some advance copies of books for 2012 when you pop by, copies of some of my favourite reads this year or sets of books by authors I love, the joy will be the surprises as they come.

The first of which is one copy of ‘The Penguin Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford’ which I think would make the perfect read over the festive period and I am indeed looking forward to curling up with myself.

Now because this is such a monster of a book I can only give this away to UK readers as shipping costs would be a nightmare for the publishers who have so kindly offered to give one of you lucky lot a copy. However if you know someone in the UK who might ship it on then do enter. How do you enter? Good point. Simply pop a comment below saying why you would like it, you have until 1100 GMT tomorrow the 2nd of December.  

So enjoy, there will be some international giveaways coming as I want to be able to thank you all for your support in what hasn’t been my favourite year to date but you have all added a lot of cheer to through the blog and your comments. Anyway enough of those sentimental shenanigans… back to being a Scrooge again (seriously I really don’t like Christmas). I wonder what will be appearing tomorrow…

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Four Metres of Penguin Classics…

As I mentioned recently, one of my friends did an art installation involving books for a local hospital and this meant buying 4 metres of Penguin classics, from a charity shop warehouse – so the a good cause benefitted too, with the odd additional book mixed in. As they ended up only needing just over three metres of these gems I was asked if I might like to have a few for myself. Well how could I say no? The only problem was choosing which ones to take out of quite a selection…

Which went on and on…

I can’t pretend I wasn’t like a kid in a sweet shop. However after some whittling down, because literally I could have ended up taking away about 30+ of the books, and I am aware I have a lot of books already, I decided that I had to be strict. There were a few books that I simply had to have as soon as I saw them. I also allowed myself to pick a few books that just took my fancy; the only rule was that they had to be short. There was then some more whittling from the rather large amount I had picked up/pulled off the shelves…

And I ended up with just the ten copies, though four of them weren’t for me so actually just the six…

  • Noblesse Oblige edited by Nancy Mitford – this one I grabbed the second I saw it, it’s a fortune on Amazon so I was thrilled to get this with my Mitford obsession.
  • The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen – I have read no Bowen and after seeing Rachel’s raving about her I think it’s high time.
  • My Memories of Six Reigns by Princess Marie Louise – I have a copy of this already but I love this one’s simplicity more, Neil Bartlett recommended it to Savidge Reads and its readers last year. I am debating what to do with the spare.
  • Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan – I haven’t read much Fench fiction, and this seemed short and a little dark and possibly tragic. Maybe I am wrong?
  • A World of Strangers by Nadine Gordimer – This I picked up for Kimbofo (who won’t know it yet, surprise) as I thought she might like it – she’s probably read it but it’s a fabulous edition.
  • Where Angels Fear To Tread by E.M. Forster – I read Forster for A-Level English and the teacher put me off completely. I have heard lots about this so it could end up being the next one I try.
  • The Comforters by Muriel Spark – I was very tempted to keep this one for myself but Polly of Novel Insights introduced me to Spark and I thought she would like this one.
  • Castle Gay by John Buchan – Again a present for Polly, I know she likes and adventure, and yes – the title made me snigger too.
  • The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh – who also writes in ‘Noblesse Oblige’ interestingly, though the cover doesn’t say so, I read this a while back and LOVED it so now I have two, my other one might have to find a new home.
  • Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford – with my Mitford-mania you might expect this to be another one for my never ending Mitford collection. In actual fact this if for my lovely friend Dom (again, surprise) who introduced me to the wondair clan.

I think I was quite restrained, though I have been thinking of finding out the number of the charity that sell 4 metres of Penguin classics for £20 (seriously that’s all it cost) though that would be dangerous wouldn’t it. Oh and I found one more gem of a book, that one (and what I found inside it) needs a special mention all of its own. What Penguin Classic would you most love to own? Why is it that those orange covers are so appealing? What do you make of my collection and choices?

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Through The Wall – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Amidst all of the hospital visits and all that palaver of late I was lucky enough to have a visit from the lovely Novel Insights. Seeing one of your best friends, for we have been friends since the tender age of four years old, when you are going through a lot is just the job and indeed it was. We had coffee, gossiped a lot and, in relation to this blog,  swapped a book or two (and in Novel Insights case bought a few more under my bad influence) one of which was the Penguin Mini-Classics ‘Through The Wall’ by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya.

I had never heard of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya until I was lent this short and fascinating selection. In ‘Through The Wall’ a collection of five short stories Penguin, the publishers, have given any new reader to the author a really interesting selection of her work. Each one of these tales, actually bar ‘Through The Wall’ which is much more linear and less surreal, reads like a dark little fairy story which packs its own punch and has much more to say for itself than might initially meet the eye.

Babies and parenthood seems to be the biggest theme to the book. ‘Through The Wall’ itself features Alexander’s time in hospital and the things he can hear through the wall behind his bed. First a couple and then soon a family both have a profound affect on Alexander especially when there is a new born child in the latter case. Sounds like I am being vague, but it’s a very short tale and one out of the whole collection that I am still trying to piece together. ‘The Father’  tells of a man who has lost his children, though you wonder if he had any in the first place, until a woman tells him that he must venture by train  to the ‘Fortieth Kilometer’ which leads him to a mysterious wood and possibly all the answers.

‘The Cabbage-Patch Mother’ marks a slight change in the stories and here the collection becomes slightly more surreal and fairytale like, even though all the tales start with ‘once there was a man/woman’. We read of a woman who finds her baby ‘Droplet’ in a cabbage patch (which made me think of the old saying which I am sure it was inspired by) yet her daughter will never grow and doctors will not treat her. As the tale unwinds, involving a mysterious hermit, we hear of the mother’s previous failed pregnancies and I wondered if this was at heart what the story was about, a mother’s fears during pregnancy and the turbulence afterwards? Maybe I am reading too much into it as I did with the longest tale ‘Marilena’s Secret’ (which is rather a romp about twins who are turned into one giant fat woman at the hand of a wicked wizard they reject) and how it looks at the outer person and the inner personality?

I was wondering if this would be a rather feminist collection (not that that would have mattered) but from writing in both sexes, and the final tale ‘Anna and Maria’ is written by a man who can only work magic on people he doesn’t love, which when his wife starts to die he tries to cheat, proves with ‘The Father’ that she can write women and men just as well. This is a wonderful surreal, dark, gripping and often thought provoking selection. You could look deeply into every tale in this collection if I am honest or you could simply just read them for the enjoyment. It’s not wonder I now want to read much more of her novels now is it? 9/10

If you haven’t tried Ludmilla then I would definitely give her whirl. I have heard she is proclaimed as one of Russia’s greatest living writers but until I saw Polly’s review, and then with her subsequent loaning of the novel, I had never heard of her. I really want to read the collection ‘There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby’. I wonder how many other wonderful authors we simply don’t hear about. Any you would care to share?

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The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

It is always a slight worry that if you re-read a favourite novel, and The Woman in White is indeed one of my favourites, then you may just not love it as much as you did the first time and in fact all that you found charming and wonderful about it in the first place is dashed to pieces on a second read. The Sensation Season has already seen me re-read Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and fortunately I loved it once more, would I feel the same way about this classic? The answer is of course YES, it is Wilkie Collins after all and so far, though there is still time, he hasn’t written a word wrong in my mind.

The Woman in White opens with a slightly spooky encounter on Hampstead Heath when our hero of the novel drawing master Walter Hartright comes across a mysterious ‘woman in white’ who is in apparent distress, he then finds she has escaped from an Asylum. Leaving London the next day he thinks no more of it until he meets his new students at Limmeridge House Laura Fairlie and her half sister Marian Halcombe. He finds Laura bears a startling resemblance to the ‘woman in white’ and he then discovers that there may be a link between the women he has met through such a coincidence.

You see this shows why Collins is such a genius as there are lots of other intermingling plots going on that it hard to try and explain them all. I won’t apart from the fact Laura and Walter naturally fall in love but she is already betrothed to Sir Percival Glyde so Collins throws in some romantic drama in for good measure too. It is after their honeymoon when Sir Percival and Lady Laura Glyde return to Limmeridge House with a guest Count Fosco and dastardly things start to happen. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoiling it by letting you all know too much which would ruin it if you haven’t read it.

Suffice to say being a Sensation Novel and being Wilkie Collins there are lots of dark deeds and dubious doings going on with many plot twists to keep you turning the pages to the very end. I also loved the fact that this was narrated by different characters, you felt like you were playing detective with Walter and yet had one up on him as you were getting more clues than he was. It also makes for very interesting reading getting into all the different characters minds.

As I mentioned before this is the second time that I have had the joy of reading The Woman in White and I got just as hooked as the first time and actually I think (as I will admit I last read it in my early twenties) responded to it more this time around. I had forgotten all the twists and turns when they fall. I found Fosco just as brilliantly dark and was much more charmed by Marian this time around and her gutsy attitude. I think also with the last read I didn’t really think of the literary aspect of it just that it was a good mystery, so good in fact it has stuck with me ever since. This time it was how the plotting and scene was set that impressed me just as much as well as all the characters and their strengths and flaws. All in all a wonderful, wonderful read that I personally think should be compulsory.

Next in the Sensation Sunday reads is East Lynne by Ellen Wood and is the mother of all Sensation Novels according to some sensation experts. I might pop up the road and see her this afternoon as when you read this I will be doing my volunteering at Highgate Cemetery. Anyway back to today’s sensation read… who else has read The Woman in White, what were your thoughts? What other books have you re-read and then found just as good if not better on the second reading?

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Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

There are many reasons why joining a book group can be so much fun and I am actually planning on posting more on that next week. For now though I will just mention the fact that one of the things that I started a new book group for was that it would make me read books I normally wouldn’t, books I have always wanted to try or books that I am a little bit intimidated by and challenge me. George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four was one such book (intimidating but always wanted to read) and it was the choice for last months book group and brought out some major procrastination in me as it seemed immense, it probably didn’t help I did Animal Farm at school and hated it.

1984 (I am not going to write Nineteen Eighty-Four every time as will be a long post and my fingers may bleed/be worn to stumps) was originally written in 1948 and is Orwell’s idea of what the future could be in a world 40 years on. What is amazing with this book is just how much of what Orwell thought might happen actually has, in fact it is quite worrying in some ways.

The story of 1984 is told through the eyes of Winston Smith a member of the Party working for the Ministry of Truth in London the capital of Air Strip One (once Britain now really an additional part of America and the superpower Oceania). The story starts with Winston’s act of crime as he starts to write a diary something deeply criminal and forbidden in the totalitarian world in which he lives where the eyes of Big Brother are everywhere. Once taking part in this act of rebellion and ‘thought crime’ Winston knows he is ‘dead’ it is simply a matter of time as to when the Thought Police will get him because once you rebel they know, Big Brother knows everything nothing escapes his eyes.

Once Winston commits the crime he tries to throw himself into the path of The Brotherhood the rebellious underground criminals who want to see Big Brother’s demise. Along with Julia a girl at work who he commits another heinous crime with, the act of sex for enjoyment and falls in love with, they give themselves up to fighting Big Brother but how long can they go unnoticed and can anyone truly beat Big Brother and The Party? I could tell you but most of you have probably read this, and those of you who haven’t shouldn’t have the ending spoilt.

I loved this book, I thought it was marvellous. This was something I was very grateful for as I left it until the day of book group to start it (thank heavens I am not working at the moment) and once the first page was opened I genuinely couldn’t put it down. Oh, apart from the book within the book which I found decidedly dull but still went through anyway and it was a minor blip of twenty pages. This book falls into so many genres as it could be labelled a thriller, it’s a classic and of course falls into the science fiction category which I sometimes have problems with. Not in this case though.

This book was so beautifully and sparsely written despite being a dark book with quite a depressing and cloying subject matter it didn’t weigh me down or depress me. It did make me think and things like Orwell’s predictions of terrorism, Newspeak and even the Lottery shocked me by how accurate they are in the now. I could actually rattle on about all the subjects Orwell picked upon for hours and hours but that wouldn’t be very interesting for you. Suffice to say I thought this book was amazing and I am now going to have to rearrange my readers table so that this classic can be on it.

It has made me wonder if I should re-read the books I was given and detested during my schooling years such as ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘A Room With A View’ the latter in particular sends a shudder of dislike down my spine, I didn’t like my sixth form college very much is all I will say. Now along with ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ this Orwell novel has become school taught classic, though I missed both and now as an adult reader I have loved, I wonder if I would have at school?  Thinking about it probably not as if I had been made to read and re-read 1984 at school I would have probably ended up hating it. Reading it for book group was another matter and was possibly my favourite discussion so far… more on that next week though.

What are your thoughts on 1984? What other Orwell is great to read? Which books did you study at school so much you just ended up not liking them? Which ‘school taught’ classics have you missed and want to read or have read as an adult? Should I try Animal Farm again?

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Filed under Books of 2009, George Orwell, Penguin Classics, Review

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

As it was Halloween during the weekend just past I wanted to read something that was sufficiently spooky or ghostly or chilling. I found what I thought would be the perfect read free with The Times last week as I mentioned. The book in question was Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle which is a book that after seeing wonderful reviews of by Claire, Simon T, and Kim I have been on the hunt for this book along with the fact that Shirley Jackson is supposed to be a mistress of the chilling.

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”

Even the start of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is quite a chilling one told by the youngest daughter of the Blackwood family Merricat (from Mary Katherine) as she tells us that in a crumbling old building, we presume a castle, surrounded by woodland live her, her sister and her aging Uncle Julian (who seems to have Alzheimer’s and even believes Merricat is dead) as outcasts from the nearby village. In fact in the opening chapters we see how the village treat her like some kind of leper, they will chide and tease her but they won’t come near her for fear of her family name and past.

I won’t give too much away about the book suffice to say there is a great mystery around her families death and one that as you read along you gain more snippets into until you find out one shocking twist which did actually make me let out a small gasp. The sinister tone of the book is underlying for most of the book and in some ways becomes much darker on the arrival of their cousin Charles who Merricat takes and instant dislike to before things come to a rather dark and dramatic head.

Whilst a chilling tale about… well that would give everything away so lets just leave it at that. Whilst being a chilling tale this is also a book very much about how society can cast out those who are different through gossip and rumour. It also looks at how a child can block out horrific events and cope with huge loss. Merricat is a fascinating and insightful character who copes with bad things by using three magic words, burying household items, sending herself on a winged horse to the moon, talking long walks and talks with her cat and attaching family heirlooms to trees as rituals to ward of evil and possibly block out the past.

Though this is a relatively small book its not one you can read quickly as there is so much to take in both in terms of storyline, back plot and the relationships between the characters as well as the descriptions of all that surround them from the house itself to the wood and village beyond. It also looks at some big subjects as I mentioned and though I personally had a slow and unsure start with it by the end I was gripped and it packed a punch that will stay with me for quite some time. I am glad I gave this a go and am very eager to read much more Shirley Jackson. Where to go next though?

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Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

So now we are already onto the fifth of the sensation season (a page I really need to redo along with my favourite reads as Waterstones selfishly revamped their site and my pictures have all gone wrong) reads and this week it was Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon a book that I read five years ago and almost instantly became one of my very favourite books of all time. I don’t often re-read books and so there was the worry that five years on a very different me is reading the book, would I like it so much second time round or could this shatter my illusions of the book for good?

Lady Audley’s Secret caused a lot of controversy when it was first published amid the Sensation period in the Victorian times. Initially scorned by reviewers, critics and the press at the time the public disagreed and it became a huge success despite being labelled immoral. The book opens with the poverty stricken but incredibly beautiful governess of a small town doctor, Lucy Graham, marries the wealthy widower Sir Michael Audley.

All is well and happy until the arrival of Sir Audley’s nephew Robert and his friend George Talboys. The later who has not long come back from Australia where he has made his fortune hunting for gold though once back finds the wife he left behind has died. However the new Lady Audley refuses to see Robert and his friend and then suddenly George vanishes from the house leaving a mystery as to why.

Robert being the good and true friend that he is decides he must find out what has happened to his friend and becomes amateur detective discovering more about his friends past and that events and people at Audley Court may have some connection to the mystery. That’s all I shall say on the plot as to give any more away would ruin the book (makes giving book thoughts on sensational fiction so difficult).

I do think, and if you have read it or once you have you will also hopefully agree, that the plotting is just incredible. Ok so there are some moments when you have to suspend disbelief, could a letter actually travel slower than a person one year and faster the next to suit the tale its sensation fiction. I do think this book does have one of the most thrilling and gripping chase scenes as the villainess and the hero race to get to the same destination, brilliant. It thoroughly pleases me that the public opinion over rode the critics opinions of this absolutely wonderful book or it could easily have been lost forever and that simply wouldn’t do!

Did I love the book as much the second time round? Yes of course I did, I don’t see how anyone could fail to love what I think is one of the most sensational of sensationalist novels. I did notice I was much more critical second time around and for a while wasn’t sure the motives in the book were quite explained or made sense (without giving a huge part of the book away I cant comment on that further) and yet in some ways I was even more lost in the book than I was the first time round especially in the chase scenes which I wasn’t expecting and found very interesting.

I do wonder if as I get older I get more cynical? As everything being tied up just so and so delightfully, though a wonderful ending, left me wanting something a little darker but still for me one of my all time favourites. I wonder if the same will be said for The Woman in White when that gets a re-read in a few weeks time!

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Filed under Books of 2009, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Penguin Classics, Review, Sensation Novels

Armadale – Wilkie Collins

Oops… I know, I know this is a day later than it should have been. As I mentioned yesterday I have no excuses for not finishing this book in time for one on my ‘Sensation Season Sunday’s’ apart from the fact that Armadale is very long, actually Wilkie Collins longest novel of all, and it just took me much longer than anticipated to devour frankly. Here though, one day late, I can finally give you my thoughts on Armadale for what they are worth ha. It’s going to be interesting because this book is incredibly complex and goes through generations, don’t let that put you off though. 

I have always wanted to read Wilkie Collins ‘Armadale’ partly because I think he is a genius and I love the sensational fiction he writes. I also wanted to read this because I had heard so much about the villainess (am not giving anything away its on the blurb of the book) Lydia Gwilt “flame-haired temptress, bigamist, laudanum addict and husband poisoner” in fact so malicious and evil that publishers were incredibly shocked and refused to believe that women could behave in such a manner and the book was almost never published, I think people also tried to ban it. So imagine my surprise when 150 pages in she still had yet to even show up. Hang on I have gotten ahead of myself…

The book opens as a dying man arrives in the German town of Wildbad (Collins as ever is a genius with names in this book) where the water is said to restore ones health, sadly for Allan Armadale it is too late, as he dies he has one wish and that is for someone to write his young son a letter. As the only English writing person on site Mr Neal becomes embroiled in the telling of a shocking murderous tale. All this and we are only in chapter one of ‘book the first’. What does become apparent is the misuse of identity which has led to two young Allan Armadale’s and the end of the letter states…

And, more than all avoid the man who bears the same name as your own. Offend your best benefactor, if that benefactor’s influence has connected you one with the other. Desert the woman who loves you, if that woman is a link between you and him. Hide yourself from him, under an assumed name. Put the mountains and the seas between you; be ungrateful; be unforgiving; be all that is most repellent to your own gentler nature, rather than live under the same roof, and breathe the same air with that man. Never let the two Allan Armadale’s meet in this world; never, never, never!

Of course through endless Collins-like coincidences, which if you have read him you will know and love, the two do meet. What happens I cannot tell you, see this could be very rubbish ‘review’; I just so do not want to give any of the magic away. I did find this part of the book the hardest going, once Lydia appears everything sort of speeds up, but with a novel like this you need the background information and eventually the prose and characters won me round. I also think that actually without the very cleverly weaved plot and history between the two Allan’s meeting the book wouldn’t end up having the same effect, and so its much needed and I am glad I bared with it all. A small qualm to be honest, and actually you get delayed gratification once Lydia does suddenly appear.

It is however after the two have met that Lydia appears and becomes in some way a catalyst to chaos and devious doings. Initially she appears through letters with another despicable woman, which make for some very, very wicked and very, very amusing (if you have a dark sense of humour) reading. Is she as wicked as the blurb promises? Absolutely! She is also incredibly complex and a truly fascinating character full of hidden depths, darkness and desires. I found her utterly enthralling. In fact I am amazed this hasn’t been turned into a film as I would imagine many actors would give their right arms to play her. I naturally loved her despite everything and revelled in the melodrama and the cunning. A must read, possibly my favourite Wilkie Collins read yet (and I have read The Woman in White which is marvellous) and also possibly the most sensational.

Though this s of course fabulous it leaves me in a slight quandary… no not quandary, it leaves me with a slight worry. What if all the other Wilkie Collins novels don’t match up? What if I have so early on read the most sensational of sensation novels? I am trying to calm the palpitations am sure its all going to be fine. Please tell me its going to be fine, ha!

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The Law & The Lady – Wilkie Collins

And so it is already to the second of The Sensation Season novels and Wilkie Collins ‘The Law & The Lady’. Now before I do go on to discuss my ‘book I do feel a little bit of a con-man as I still have about twenty (gripping, I am sure) pages to go. I am shortly about to get a bus to Wimbledon so will no doubt finish it on there so technically I am almost done. I just wanted to say as I don’t feel quite right writing about a book I haven’t quite finish, it does feel like cheating. But if I don’t pop a post up now won’t be able to for hours. Anyway, sorry to digress, back to the book…

‘The Law & The Lady’ was Wilkie Collins 27th novel (that’s right 27th – good to know I have so many left to go) and actually came out in the middle of his sensation period, though really all of his books were sensation novels. Here we meet our narrator Valerie Brinton just as she becomes Valerie Woodville on the fateful day of her marriage. In his own way that only Wilkie Collins does he manages to set the scene in your head within the first page.

The church was in one of the dreary quarters of London, situated between the City and the West End; the day was dull; the atmosphere was heavy and damp. We were a melancholy little wedding-party, worthy of the dreary neighbourhood and the dull day. No relatives of friends of my husband’s were present; his family, as I have already hinted, disapproved of his marriage.

In a few sentences within the opening page of the book we are not only firmly in dark Victorian sensation London; we also have a hint that something isn’t quite right. Why would the family of Eustace Woodville not agree with his marriage? I found it interesting that like in his novel The Haunted Hotel we have a character whose marriage is completely disapproved of as one of the main characters and one of the big themes in the book.

The hints keep coming as Valerie looks back at their courtship, you never doubt for a minute that they are completely besotted with each other. However, friends won’t give him more than minimum references of his conduct to Valerie’s uncle (both her parents are dead) and he even at one points offers to leave her though why she is never quite sure.

I love Collins style, every chapter moves the story forward, builds your intrigue, gets slightly darker and you know you are being woven into something incredibly clever with some big twists on the horizon and a reason to read the next chapter as soon as you finished the last. I also love the use of coincidence.

A prime example of both of these is early on (I am trying not to spoil the plot though for some reason publishers give a lot away in Collins blurbs sadly) when Valerie is going through her husbands things the day after their wedding night in Ramsgate and comes across a picture of his mother. That day on the beach a woman drops a letter on the beach and who should it be? It is of course his mother who then goes on to not recognise her daughter in laws surname and when meets Eustace and finds out of his new wife the chapter ends with her walking away turning and saying ‘I pity your wife’. How can you not read on that instance?

What I wasn’t expecting is partly the change that overcomes our narrator, though to say more would spoil things, and then also the amount of Victorian law we get to see. This should have been obvious in the title ‘The Law & The Lady’ but in my mind I had a story of a female highwayman embedded in my head, not a court case of which there is one. Do not let that put you off as though yes there is some legal schpeel in this part there is of course, as ever with Wilkie Collins, some shocks and high drama. A brilliant book that managed to add sensation to law, plenty of trademark twists and has a narrator who “upturns the conventions of polite nineteenth century society” what more could you want than that?

Can you tell that I loved this, yet another brilliant sensation novel from Wilkie Collins? Next week’s sensation novel, which I think I will have to start fairly imminently, is Armadale. One of the Wilkie Collins books that I have been most looking forward to reading for a long time and for some reason (possibly to deny myself having read it and it being done, does anyone else do that?) have held off reading. Hopefully some of you will be joining in on that as its meant to be a real corker!

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The Haunted Hotel – Wilkie Collins

Hoorah it’s the first ‘Sensation Sunday’, I have to admit that I was slightly worried that having not read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins or Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon that my love for the ‘sensation novel’ might have passed, which would be slightly concerning as with The Sensation Season I have until just after Christmas to read a lot of sensation fiction. So I slightly warily opened the first few pages of ‘The Haunted Hotel’ it didn’t take long until I was completely immersed.

The Haunted Hotel opens in quite a typical ‘sensation novel’ fashion. Doctor Wybrow is about to go on his rounds when his servant announces a young lady has come needing to see him straight away. With other patients to see he tries to sneak out but is caught by the young woman who demands he sees her now as she fears she is going mad. From then she tells him the tale of her husband to be and the woman she usurped unintentionally from her fiancé Lord Montbarry, Agnes Lockwood, whom she recently met and had the fear of death put into her. Unable to help the woman she flea’s unhappily but something causes the Doctor to have her followed and he finds out she is Countess Narona who when he asks at the men’s club he discovers has a reputation of “being a person who produces a sensation wherever she goes, this noble lady is naturally made the subject of all sorts of scandalous reports” she is also, apparently, evil.

From then on we leave the Doctor behind and follow the story of Agnes Lockwood the jilted lover of Lord Montbarry whose maid’s husband who mysteriously goes missing working for Lord Montbarry and his new wife Countess Narona and her brother the Baron. Not long after Lord Montbarry dies of pneumonia in Venice though his family believe something suspicious has been going on as the Countess is now worth ten thousand pounds. Soon enough Agnes Lockwood and Countess Narona’s lives become entangled in a dark mystery.

I loved this book, I thought from start to end it was brilliant. I had never thought how sensation novels might have inspired today’s crime fiction as Wilkie Collins leaves you with a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter as the great plot driven crime novels of today do. In fact if I had to complain about the book in any way it’s the fact that you get very grumpy when you have to put it down to go to work and such evil things as what I really wanted to do was curl up and read it from cover to cover without stopping. When these novels where serialised in the late Victorian era I don’t know how people could wait for the next instalment. I wouldn’t have been able to as I was gripped and just completely became involved in the excellent plot, you do have to suspend your beliefs somewhat at coincidences but this is ‘sensation’ fiction after all, and the brilliant characters some who are wonderfully wicked.

I love books with ghosts, mystery, suspicion, dastardly characters, possible murder and foul play and shocks in them (get used to those words as I think they will be appearing a lot on this blog over the next few weeks) and this book has all of that in it and possibly more. I did wonder just how on earth Wilkie Collins could manage this in under 250 pages, and what’s more how does he do it for over another ten books? The first sensation novel in the Sensation Season was… well… sensational. I hope they all carry on like this.

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Filed under Books of 2009, Penguin Classics, Review, Sensation Novels, Wilkie Collins