Tag Archives: Virago Books

Does Anyone Else Think…

That this portrait that my Granddad (Bongy) painted of his mother, my Nana Doris which I have inherited and finally picked up from my mothers this weekend, would look rather wonderful on a Persephone Classics or Virago Modern Classic (especially the old green ones) book cover?

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Or is it just me?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

Give Away… The Lifeboat – Charlotte Rogan

I don’t only like to share books I love with you by writing about them, when I can I also really like to give you the chance to win some of them too (don’t forget I am giving you the chance to get a parcel of books in the post here). Well, thanks to the lovely people at Virago I have five copies of ‘The Lifeboat’ by Charlotte Rogan to give away to you lucky lot.

All five copies are kindly available internationally so wherever you are in the world (as I am aware you Savidge Readers come from all over the shop) you have a chance to get this fabulous book. If you love a really good gripping story and wonderful writing you are in for a real treat.

All you have to do is tell me of a subject in books that you really don’t think you like (like me and books set on boats) and then an example of a book which bowled you over despite yourself (like me and ‘The Lifeboat’) and why it blew you away. You have until midnight GMT on Saturday and then The Beard will pick you out of a hat at random. Good luck.

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Filed under Charlotte Rogan, Give Away, Virago Books

The Diary of a Provincial Lady – E.M. Delafield

E.M Delafield’s ‘The Diary of a Provincial Lady’ is a book that has been recommended to me umpteen times through the blogosphere. When a book comes under so much glowing praise firstly I have a good old think for about two seconds before I run off and grab a copy, then when I get it home I don’t read it instantly, oh no, I look at it on and off for a few weeks with trepidation instead. Will I actually like it? Have these lovely people got my book taste just so? What on earth will they think of me if I don’t like it? It can actually prove somewhat vexing.

Now really the title of this book does kind of tell you what’s coming. This is a fictional ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ though having a wander through the internet etc it turns out that actually this was quite an autobiographical volume of E.M. Delafield’s work. We follow our narrator through a year of village life as she copes with village life, marriage, children, cooks, neighbours and the like for just under a year. That is pretty much the premise of the book, throw in some very dry, wry (I am rather loving this word at the moment, deadpan humour and a bunch of rather wonderfully bizarre local characters and there you have a novel that you will sit grinning through.

The book is not one which is heavy on plot. Instead it is much more based on observational humour yet to my mind there was also a slight sadness to it. Whilst you have the cook who is always on the verge of quitting, the children who mystify their mother, nosey neighbours and the wonderful Lady Boxe who our narrator is ever in competition with and who constantly questions their friendship, I suppose you would call them ‘frenemies’ or some such in today’s world. There is also a husband that really never listens to his wife or seems to care which really is quite odd and the more I thought from that aspect and took into account all the friendships too I suddenly felt that actually our hilarious heroine is quite alienated and isolated. That could just be me of course has anyone else spotted this? It just stuck out to me amongst all the inane grinning I was doing!

Grin a lot I did, no actual out loud laughter but a lot of grinning and I think a smirk or two. I am probably preaching to the converted with this book as I am sure that many of you have already had the pleasure of this novel and possibly its subsequent series The Provincial Lady Goes Further, The Provincial Lady in America and The Provincial Lady in Wartime which I might have a search for and read one day. In fact, and I have this on the TBR at the moment, E.M Delafield’s daughter R.M. Dashwood went on to write ‘Provincial Daughter’ and I am looking forward to reading that in the not too distant future.

A very enjoyable read all in all and one that you can either divulge in an afternoon or dip into now and again from the bedside table. I must forewarn people though that there is some discussion on a certain shopping site about the fact some books advertise three of the volumes and yet only contain the one. I can’t speak for the normal paperback as I bought the delightful Cath Kidston (perfect designer to cover this book) covered edition which is just the first volume.

If like me you enjoy crazy characters, wry observational humour and village life then I doubt very much you could resist its charms. I am wondering what other rare gems that fall under that category of book I am yet to read.

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Filed under E. M. Delafield, Review, Virago Books

Good Bones – Margaret Atwood

Good Bones is a book by Margaret Atwood that I had never heard of before and indeed found by accident. I always think it’s a delight when you are wandering aimlessly along shelves of books (though as book lovers I am also sure you will understand the awful crick in your neck you get from browsing book spines at an angle) looking for something delightful to take your fancy and this was such an occasion. It wasn’t in a book shops as November is my trial ‘no book buying month’ it was in the library. As soon as I spotted this, I always have a look at what Atwood’s they have, adored the cover and so grabbed it. I also thought it was a novella and have been trying to read more, but this book is something quite, quite different.

Good Bones is a selection of twenty seven short works by Margaret Atwood. I say short works as some of them read as fiction, some seem to be essays, some are fable like and others just seem to be the wanderings of the author. It’s like a note book filled with Atwood-like idea’s is possibly the best way to describe it, like a scrap book of possible idea’s for books and longer tales as the longest of this collection is fourteen pages.

The themes of the tales seem to be fables, fairy tales and dare I mention it ‘speculative’ pieces. You have a tale of the Little Red Hen who can’t quite work out what all the fuss is about that she grew a loaf of bread and the furore it caused. You have Hamlet’s mother Gertrude who actually wanted to call him George and who was not ‘wringing her hands’ but ‘drying her nails’. Wicked Stepmothers and Ugly Sisters fight their corner and for feminism (in fact feminist themes glimmer between these tales) as they stand up for themselves and make the point that tough love always seems to get the bimbo princess her man in the end doesn’t it? Despite moments of utter laughter such as when the Little Red Hen says ‘Then I’ll do it myself, I said, as the nun quipped to the vibrator’. It’s not all fairy tales and giggles though.

There is the very short but intense, sexy and passionate ‘In Love With Raymond Chandler’. The feminist ‘The Female Body’ when Atwood is actually discussing Barbie’s and other dolls and the image they project to young girls. There is the look at men with ‘Making a Man’ which includes the Gingerbread Method and the Clothes Maketh the Man Method which looks at the difference between the sexes. It’s all so cleverly done and you feel that though these two or ten page stories are fully formed there could be several books in here that just haven’t be written yet.  

With twenty seven tales in 153 pages it is a marvellous selection of, as the wonderful cover says ‘pure distilled Atwood’. It’s funny in parts, sexy in parts and dark in parts, but then aren’t most Atwood novels all of these things? I think fans of Atwood will love the darkness and the wry slightly knowing humour and for anyone new to Atwood it’s a way of getting to know what wonderful fiction you are getting into in digestible pieces.

Has anyone else read this collection? What are your thoughts on authors re-writing fairy tales? Have you been in a book shop (so jealous if you have) or library of late and found there is a gem of a novel/book that you had never heard of by one of your favourite authors and if so what was it?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Margaret Atwood, Review, Short Stories, Virago Books

The Bookseller of Kabul – Asne Seierstad

I have been meaning to read ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ for quite some time even though I seemed to miss all of the hype around this book when it came out back in 2003/2004. One of my colleagues had been reading it and so we’d been discussing it and I had made a mental note to look out for it.  Going through my TBR during moving house last week I found my copy, which I think I bought almost two years ago from a charity shop, and thought it would make a change from some of the other things I have been reading. We all like a change now and again don’t we? Plus, I have been aiming to read more non-fiction this year. 

‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ was written after journalist Asne Seierstad spent time in Kabul and befriended the local bookseller and found both his story and life fascinating. She then asked if she could possibly stay with his family so that she could get a different but very real look at these people’s lives. Sultan, the bookseller, agreed and so she moved in and was taken in as part of the family. Through this she gained a true insight into how life in Kabul was after the Taliban regime and how it had been during and before. 

From the introduction and the blurb I thought this would be a really intriguing and unusual read and in some ways it was. Through Seierstad’s experiences you are totally immersed in the surroundings of Kabul, the smells, sounds and of course the culture from a very different perspective. Seierstad herself would were the Burka and go around dressed as one of the women and so in particular she got insight into their lives as underneath the gown and headdress she became anonymous, even if it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences. 

Sadly, though a compelling insightful and often shocking read, the book was readable but wasn’t what I had hoped for. I was expecting this to be a blow by blow account of Asne’s story through her eyes and yet what she has chosen to do is make it into a story seen by a third party looking in on the family. I always have trouble when people do this as though its claimed to be ‘non-fiction’ I always wonder how someone can stop themselves from fictionalising things if it’s not from their exact account. Seierstad may have overheard all these stories in the months she lived with the family but she wasn’t actually there and I would have found her account as a westerner drawn into their world more interesting. 

This could be down to the fact that having read both ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini first this seemed to pale into comparison slightly. Maybe if I hadn’t read ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ this would have rated much higher with me as the struggle of women in Kabul is made fully clear in ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ and wasn’t in ‘The Kite Runner’. This is a great book; don’t get me wrong I just wish I had read it before any Hosseini as though his is fiction it reads much better. If Seierstad had written her experiences from her perspective I think this could have been outstanding, and if she ever does I will be down to the book store buying a copy on the day of release.

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Filed under Asne Seierstad, Review, Virago Books

The Breaking Point – Daphne Du Maurier

As I constantly drum into the heads of anyone that will listen, I am a huge fan of Daphne Du Maurier, even though I have actually own read ‘Rebecca’, ‘Jamaica Inn’, ‘The Parasites’ and ‘The Rendezvous and Other Stories’. When Virago actually sent me a copy of the re-issued (for the first time in around two decades) ‘The Breaking Point’ I almost popped with joy. After the initial ecstatic feeling one of dread came over me… what if I didn’t like it? What if it hadn’t been published for all this time because really it just wasn’t as good as one of my favourite books ‘Rebecca’ or other greats like ‘Jamaica Inn’? well I should have had dread in mind, but not for the quality of the stories or the writing…

‘The Breaking Point’, named because “characters are caught at those moments when the delicate link between reason and emotion has been stretched to the breaking point”, was originally published in 1959 and hasn’t been published since the early 80’s. Until this year of course! Daphne has always been known to write quite dark tales however this is said to be one of her darkest which of course added to the thrill of reading the book and I have to say that these are incredibly dark and brooding indeed. Written when her husband was ill, she was relocated nearby to a small cramped flat and then faced with her husband’s long term adultery, so possibly in quite a dark place herself.

Now this is a collection of eight of her short stories and me telling you about each and every single one of them might get a little dull and ruin the objective of actually buying the books yourselves. So I will focus on a few and simply say that all of them are quite chilling, even when at first you think that they might not be.

‘Ganymede’ for example is just one such tale, it starts with what seems like a tale of “the unspeakable act” of a classical scholar who when holidaying in Venice becomes besotted and slightly obsessed with a waiter. Of course in this day and age this really isn’t that shocking, however as the tale goes on what could be a romance story has a huge twist that shocks you and is then followed by a small chapter that then makes you completely reshuffle the story and its motive as you read the last line. It’s difficult to review any of these without giving away the twists in the tale at the end which all of them have in abundance.

‘The Pool’ is slightly different, as is ‘The Archduchess’ as they both have a slight, if dark, fairytale quality to them. Both seem to be set in ‘secret other world’ and yet deal with changes in emotion. The first is very much about a girl going through puberty and the change from child to adult and all the emotions that brings, forming women from other worlds that only she can see. Whereas the latter is more about the greed and darkness of the male human psyche and its endless need to devour and control as Daphne describes the made up land of ‘Ronda’ in Europe and its demise. Emotions are also at the forefront of ‘The Chamois’ which is a tale of a couple climbing a mountain and as they climb, the more they are pushed and the more the tensions in their marriage show its incredibly clever and of course has that all important twist.

My two favourites have to be ‘The Alibi’ and ‘The Blue Lenses’ for how dark they are (though ‘The Menace’ – which does what it says – is equally dark) and both of which are easily the eeriest things that I have read in quite some time. ‘The Alibi’ actually made me think of ‘Amercian Psycho’ as a man suddenly whilst walking with his wife, realises that he could kill someone randomly and so he sets about randomly organising it. It’s really, really creepy and the randomness of his decisions and actions makes it all the more real to imagine.

‘The Blue Lenses’ reminded me in some ways of something that Margaret Atwood might come up with. Set in a nursing home Marda West undergoes an operation to bring back her sight via the power of a new find in medicine called ‘The Blue Lenses’. When her sight is regained she sees things more clearly than she thought as people’s personalities create the heads of creatures that have their traits and though it sounds slightly out fo this world and comical, when she meets the person with the snakes head I promise it will chill you and turn you cold.

This is a fantastic collection of short stories be you a fan of Daphne or not! If you like complex and psychological, suspenseful and dark, if you like looking into the depths of the human mind or if you just want a fantastic read I cannot recommend this collection strongly enough. Daphne once again delivers, and it’s a treat for all those who turn the pages.

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Filed under Daphne Du Maurier, Review, Short Stories, Virago Books

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

Finally a book review I hear you cry! Apologies that this has been so long in coming (get read though there are about to be quite a few) but I have to say that I really had to give myself a little space from Sarah Water’s ‘The Little Stranger’ before I could review it. I have so far only read two of Sarah Water’s other books ‘Affinity’ and ‘The Night Watch’ both of which I really enjoyed, particularly ‘Affinity’ as I found it incredibly dark, brooding and creepy plus I really love books about Victorian London in which it is set.

I have yet to conquer ‘Fingersmith’ which I have heard nothing but brilliant reviews about and I have always veered away from ‘Tipping The Velvet’ as the TV show is still very deeply etched in my mind and though the actresses were fantastic I would like to create the characters from scratch in my head. When Virago kindly sent me a copy of ‘The Little Stranger’ some weeks ago I was in the middle of reading the Orange Shortlist and so had to force myself to hold off. Whilst away a few weeks ago I went could hold back no longer.

The book opens with Dr Faraday returning to Hundreds House for the first time since his childhood when his mother was maid there. The house is much past its heyday, war and rationings and lack of money in the country have turned it into a shadow of its former self. It’s dilapidated and a little bit creepy and the son and heir Roderick is selling land to make ends meet but slowly and surely the house is falling into more debt and more disrepair. He is there to see the maid who is ill, once there he finds she isn’t and that she is simply homesick and scared of the feelings of a presence in the household, something she believed is evil and lurking at Hundreds Hall. From there Dr Faraday makes a bond with the family and Mrs Ayres and daughter Caroline in particular and so witnesses some ‘unnatural’ events as they occur and things start to spiral out of control.

Sarah Waters fifth book sees her writing all about a totally new period in history (post-WWII Warwickshire) from her others. The first three (Affinity, Tipping The Velvet, Fingersmith) were all set in the Victorian Era and The Night Watch moved into the second world war. It also sees her first cast of only ‘straight’ characters as before the leads have tended to been lesbians, so it seemed from the outset that Waters was trying something a little different which is always exciting (and slightly nerve-wracking) when its an author that you like. I needn’t have worried because one thing that you always know with a Sarah Waters book, well it is what I have found so far, is that whichever era, setting or background the story has its going to have been researched to the maximum and her writing will envelope you in that era without any effort from you at all.

In fact for me the book was more a story of the fall and decline of society and the ‘rich family piles and country homes’ than a ghost story as until about three hundred pages in only a few odd things had actually taken place. Oh I should note if you are a dog lover one of the occurrences results in one of the saddest scenes in the whole book which actually really got to me, but I shall say no more. Though there is a great sense of paranoia and unease through out the book and some shades of ‘The Turning of the Screw’ and sensationalist novels from the likes of Wilkie Collins and indeed ‘Rebecca’ by my favourite wrier Daphne Du Maurier with a sprinkling of Grey Gardens thrown in, I never actually felt scared or chilled by the book. In fact after what was quite a ‘me’ opening of the book, a big spooky house and mysterious events going on it petered out and I was left, and I feel awful for saying this as the writing was wonderful, I came away slightly disappointed.

I was expecting a huge twist at the end and at first I couldn’t see one at all. However I would recommend that should you read the book, and I think people should, you might want to re-read the final few chapters as I suddenly saw a huge twist that shocked me a little and actually the very last line alludes to slightly which I then had to re-read. If my second reading and discovery is true then that gave me the chills far more than the ghostly parts of the book did. I don’t know if anyone else has? If you have read it and did then don’t comment on here but email me as I don’t want to give out any plot spoilers.

All in all I wouldn’t classify this as a ghost story, I would definitely say it’s a view of society at a very changing time, the love story between Dr Faraday (who was beginning to really grate on me towards the end) and Caroline was interesting in terms of class and how it all worked in the past but was evolving towards for the future was very interesting too. I look forward to what Waters does next; in the meantime I think I am going to definitely have to pick up Fingersmith very soon.

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Filed under Man Booker, Review, Sarah Waters, Virago Books