callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

March Books

How Green are my Wellies?*, Anna Shepard
Lilies That Fester, Hazel Holt
Mary Todd’s Last Term, Frances Greenwood
Teatime for the Traditionally Built, Alexander McCall Smith
The Murder on the Downs, Simon Brett
The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
The Cipher Garden, Martin Edwards*
Silent in the Grave, Deanna Raybourn
Singled Out. How two million women survived without men after the first world war, Virginia Nicholson
Green Grass, Raffaella Barker
Nella Last’s Peace

How Green are my Wellies?* Anna Shepard.
I picked this shiny new book by mistake in the library, thinking it was about gardening. Had I looked inside and seen the ‘Bridport. Green Issues’ sticker, I would never have taken it home. Anna Shepard writes (wrote?) the Eco-Worrier column for The Times; the column name and the punning book title hint that the idea is to be amusing as well as green. I can’t really count the book for the Library Challenge as I only dipped into it but it’s a dipping sort of book, with handy hints for greener living presented seasonally. It’s a pretty book and the author seems nice, so why does it make my hackles rise?

The truth is, I’m rather anti-green. I try to conserve energy in the house (The bills! The bills!). I use bicarbonate of soda to clean the fridge and microwave and wipe the windows with vinegar. I recycle dutifully and keep a compost pot by the kitchen sink. I garden almost completely organically. I refuse to buy organic garlic flown in from Argentina or Israeli carrots when we can grow both crops here. I do these things from choice and common sense, not because I imagine for one moment that switching off a light or allowing nettles to grow in the garden will save the planet. And I think anyone who measures their own carbon footprint is the most arrant prig who has found a substitute for religion.

Lilies That Fester, Hazel Holt. Already reviewed. The best I’ve read yet.

Mary Todd’s Last Term, Frances Greenwood. Charismatic Mary is given the responsibility of being head girl in spite of previous wild behaviour. She carries out her duties capably while at the same time breaking rules herself in a most outrageous way; new girl Pen is her nemesis. An interesting character study.

Teatime for the Traditionally Built, Alexander McCall Smith. This series just can’t go wrong, in my opinion and I loved the book. The TV series is rather a let down, I find. Mma Ramotswe is the problem; not fat enough, not kind enough, showing a petulance we don’t find in the books. It’s all too much Lark Rise to Gabarone for me but Mma Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose) is PERFECT and I’m rather in love with Mr J L B Matekoni (Lucian Msamati).

The Murder on the Downs, Simon Brett. Not one of his best, as already mentioned.

The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart. Top! Already reviewed.

The Cipher Garden, Martin Edwards*. Unfinished.

Silent in the Grave, Deanna Raybourn. Unfinished

Green Grass, Raffaella Barker. I’ve already written
about how much I enjoyed her Summertime but none of the others has lived up to that title. One sympathises with Venetia and loves her children but in Green Grass it’s harder to like spoiled Laura. Her husband and children are irritating: huh? Sounds normal to me, not a reason to go off the rails. I suppose I just don’t care for rich, discontented women. The book is set in London and Norfolk and Barker writes well about both. She’s now moved back to London herself; I wonder if this book was a way of working out which to choose? BTW, in one of those weird coincidences that crop up between here and Letters from a Hill Farm I was just finishing this book when Nan posted about it.

Singled Out. How two million women survived without men after the first world war, Virginia Nicholson. I’ve been reading this on and off all month and very interesting it is, too. Virginia Nicholson has obviously done a huge amount of research for the book and has produced potted biographies of numbers of women; some famous, like Elizabeth Goudge, a few one feels ought to be famous and many completely obscure until now. I was particularly interested in the section on ‘business girls’ as the unfortunate secretarial wage slaves were known. Anyone familiar with between-the-wars novels and The Girls’ Own Paper & Woman’s Magazine knows already the horrors of the room-with-gas-ring.

Two million ‘surplus women’. Not very pleasant, to be regarded as surplus and a problem because there weren’t enough men to go round. Jane Austen pointed out that a single woman could only avoid ridicule if she were rich (look at the example of Miss Bates) and it’s obvious to anyone that it was easier to be a lone woman if you had resources. Living alone just wasn't respectable. Interestingly, Nella Last touches on this when writing of an elderly relative. After the aunt was widowed, two other family members immediately offered to ‘take her in’. She refused but only escaped censure because a (male) cousin came to share her house. For me, the heroine of the book is Florence White, a doughty working class woman who campaigned for pensions for spinsters at fifty five. After fifty years working in a factory single women faced destitution; Florence’s organization succeeded in getting pensions for spinsters at sixty.

I could have done with more conclusions in this book. It’s not clear whether one is supposed to feel sorry for the women unable to find a man or to admire those who managed so well without one. Both, I suppose, but it rather clouds the issue to include Radclyffe Hall and other women who would never have married anyway.

Nella Last’s Peace Already discussed.
Tags: alexander mccall smith, books read in march, green issues, raffaella barker, school stories, women in wartime

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